Eastern Kentucky, at the center of Appalachia, has long been one of the highest-poverty regions of the United States. In the 1960s, widespread hunger and poor health in Appalachia helped spur the federal War on Poverty, and in the decades since, the gradual declines of the coal industry, and of small farming and light manufacturing, backbones of the region’s economy, have kept poverty high even as it fell substantially across the nation. In the past few years, as much of the rest of the country has recovered from the big recession, the area has been further hit as some of the last remaining coal mines shut down and associated businesses, like CSX railways, which provided the towns’ only well-paid jobs, left.1
In 2015, the poverty rate in the region’s smallest county, Owsley County, was nearly 40 percent, median household income was just under $21,000, and over one quarter of households were living on $10,000 or less.2 In 2000, when the share of Americans with no more than a high school diploma had fallen to 20 percent, almost 36 percent of adults across Appalachia were in that status, and only 41 percent had any college education, and fewer than one in five Appalachian adults had attained a bachelor’s degree, versus 51 percent and nearly one in four Americans overall, respectively.3

Schools in Clay, Jackson, Knox, Owsley, and Perry counties suffered not only major declines in population, but a shift over those decades from largely intact families to situations like that of Clay’s Big Creek Elementary School, where at least half the 220 students do not live with either biological parent. Virtually every child in the region has been touched by drug abuse, and many have parents who are emotionally absent or physically gone – in jail or dead of an overdose. Beyond their impact on test scores, some principals report trauma-driven spikes in chronic absenrce and behavioral problems as students find it impossible to get to school and, when they can, to focus on what is going on in class. Compounding all of these challenges, teachers and principals in Eastern Kentucky struggle to engage parents in their children’s educations given those parents’ own lack of education, distrust of schools and teachers, and an attitude among some that college is unnecessary, an intrusion into family cohesion, or both.

There is no kid in Owsley County who doesn’t know someone who’s been affected by drug abuse. Because the area is so deprived of everything, no jobs, no access, more and more people are turning to drugs. How do you get kids to think about even going to class when mom or dad could be overdosing at home right now?

– Frankie-Jo B. Berea College sophomore and Owsley County High School graduate.


Unlike other areas of Appalachia that have been ravaged by job loss and drug addiction, this region benefits from a unique institution with a history of investing in education as a way to counter the forces of poverty and isolation that impede its residents’ success. Established in 1855 by ardent abolitionists who envisioned it as the “Oberlin of Kentucky,” serving men and women, blacks and whites, Berea College is the only leading higher education institution in the country to guarantee virtually debt-free college degrees to all of its students.4 The small liberal-arts college admits only “academically promising” students from low-income backgrounds, most from Appalachia, and charges no tuition.

In 1967, Berea established a new department, since renamed Partners for Education (PfE), to manage Berea’s new Upward Bound program. Today, Partners for Education collaborates with schools, families and community partners on over a dozen federally funded programs to meet the educational needs of nearly 40,000 students in southeastern Kentucky. Its core service area includes Madison county (its home county), eight counties that are part of a rural Promise Zone (Bell, Clay, Harlan, Knox Leslie, Letcher, Perry and Whitley) and Jackson and Owsley counties, which were part of the original rural Promise Neighborhoods. Partners also supports the educational needs of students in an additional 21 counties, primarily through the federally funded GEAR UP program. PfE’s model is built around four key strategies: Engaging Families, Lifting Educational Aspirations, Building Academic Skills and Connecting College and Career.


Because Partners for Education has been working for 50 years to cultivate partnerships with a diverse range of community organizations, it was uniquely positioned to develop a coalition to comprehensively serve the region’s students and families. Coalition partners include those who serve both the broad region and a more intensively supported, four-county section of it, as described below.

In 2011, Partners for Education (PfE) received the first federal Promise Neighborhood grant for a rural community. Unlike many other federal grants, Promise Neighborhood grants set out clear guidelines regarding what recipient communities were responsible to monitor and deliver in terms of data and outcomes, but offer substantial flexibility as to how programs are implemented in order to produce those outcomes. As such, PfE was able to expand strategies it already employed to serve its rural population as well as to work with communities in the three-county PN region to come up with new ones. After demonstrating successful implementation and substantial progress in kindergarten readiness and proficiency on state language and math assessments with its first four-year grant, PfE obtained a second Promise Neighborhood grant in December 2016 that allowed it to bring the approach to a fourth county, Knox.5


Partners for Education is led by Executive Director Dreama Gentry, who also established the department at Berea College. Gentry is the architect of Partner’s approach to improving educational opportunities within the region and has proven particularly adept at weaving together various funding streams to create cradle-to-career supports for children and youth living in rural areas. She is joined in that work by two associate executive directors, Mike Hogg and Penny Jordan. Hogg, the chief operating officer, is tasked with overseeing facilities, developing staff, and linking the work of programs to best serve students. Jordan oversees the strategic initiatives team, which includes grant services, communications and special projects. Much of her team’s work is geared toward identifying new opportunities to serve the region and strengthening regional partnerships.

Core Partners

Core partners include both public/agency partners and private implementation partners. The former consists mainly of education institutions: primary and secondary schools and school districts in its 26-county service region, as well as several institutions of higher education, including Eastern Kentucky University, Somerset Community College, and Hazard Community and Technical College. As discussed below, initiatives established under the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act have also played important roles in boosting the efforts of PfE and its allies. These efforts are also supported by key private nonprofit organizations—such as Save the Children and the Collaborative for Teaching and Learning—that provide a variety of services including tutoring, program evaluation, and family supports.


Partners for Education employs a cohort of full-time staff to oversee the logistics and operations of its various programs and to support students and families. Most of the staff members have previously worked in education and social service fields in the region—some for decades—and many are graduates of Berea College: Berea College Partners for Education employs 10 family engagement specialists, who meet directly with families and help to coordinate services. In addition, three family partnership staff members support the specialists in their work. The major staff contribution comes from the 83 specialists hired by the College to provide academic, college preparatory, and wraparound services to students across Berea’s extended service region. Dozens of contractors and a number of Berea College students also provide support. All of the staff are led by project directors who manage the day-to-day operation of each of PfE’s major initiatives and report to either the family partnership director or one of three team leads.


The staff are complemented by a large volunteer corps that works in multiple areas of Berea’s PfE initiative. Several AmeriCorps grants provide Partners for Education with 105 AmeriCorps volunteers, who work full-time in select middle and high schools. In addition, the federally funded Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA), run by PfE for its service region, trains volunteers each year to provide free help with income tax preparation to residents of Eastern Kentucky. And the Governor’s Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership trains parents to become volunteer advocates for public schools. Finally, both directly and through its partner organizations, PfE enlists college students as mentors and tutors, who interact with students both in person and electronically over Skype.

Comprehensive supports

Modeled loosely on the Harlem Children’s Zone, Promise Neighborhoods’ cradle-to-career supports are designed to wrap services around children and their families from birth to college and beyond. Based on the premise that students at high risk of academic, and thus life, failure, are disadvantaged by disparities in resources and in opportunities to learn (support and opportunity gaps), PfE and other Promise Neighborhood grantees work across their communities to identify, leverage, align, and, where needed, develop supports to fill those gaps.

Given extensive needs and few resources in Eastern Kentucky, PfE must figure out how to best address those needs given its limited resources. Communications director J. Morgan says that

As PfE developed, we have been faced by the question of how best to serve the region. Should we be as engaged as possible in as many eastern Kentucky counties as possible, or should we focus our efforts on providing deep levels of support (with help from partners) in a smaller region? The current thinking is that we will continue with college access work across the region but that we will have a smaller footprint for our more intensive projects. Currently that footprint includes the eight Promise Zone counties, Jackson and Owsley from the original Promise Neighborhood, and our home county, Madison.

Early Childhood Education

The gaps that disproportionately prevent children growing up in poverty from succeeding in school begin long before they enter kindergarten. In Appalachia, the disadvantages that many children face include parents with little education and a lack of knowledge about child development and the parenting skills needed to make that development healthy; lack of resources to pay for quality child care and private preschool (along with the lack of options for well-funded public childcare facilities), and physical and mental health needs that go unaddressed. As such, Partners for Education collaborates with a range of community and regional partners to fill those gaps and help more children be fully ready for kindergarten.


Through the Promise Neighborhood grant, PfE was able to help Save the Children, which works to improve health and educational outcomes for young children, expand its work in Clay, Jackson, and Owsley counties. Many families with children ages birth-to-three participate in Early Steps to School Success, a Save the Children Program aimed at preparing students to enter kindergarten ready to learn through a combination of home visits, book exchanges, “transition to school” activities, and programs to help parents develop knowledge and skills to support child development and create strong family-school relationships.

PfE also works with Community Early Childhood Councils to host activities and events such as Week of the Young Child, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, and Kindergarten Transition Programs, as well as to disseminate child development information to parents.

State pre-k

Low-income children across Kentucky benefit from the state’s high-quality pre-kindergarten program, which is among the country’s best resourced and most accessible.6 Indeed, Kentucky was an early pioneer in pre-k investments and has expanded over the past 20 years to serve one quarter of the state’s four-year-olds and nearly one in ten of its three-year-olds. The rural nature of the counties served by PfE, however, limits access for Clay, Jackson, Knox, and Owsley County preschoolers to these quality programs. Knox County, the largest of the four, has 13 elementary schools, Clay has 7, Jackson has 3, and Owsley, which serves only 693 students in all, has just one. Lack of space for prekindergarten classrooms is thus a challenge, and many of the children whose families want to enroll them cannot get slots.

Transportation poses a second challenge; many of these children must ride 30 or even 40 minutes each way by bus to get to the schools, and some parents are reluctant to put small children on a bus for such a long time. And some other families either live in such remote locations that it is not an option or encounter so much stress in their daily lives that they cannot manage the preschool application, let alone getting their children to the schools.

Sunny the Readiness bus is one of two based in Manchester, KY that serves roughly three dozen children ages 3-5 across Clay County.

Readiness buses

In Clay County, PfE obtained a grant from the Kellogg Foundation to serve some of the young children most in need of preschool enrichment who cannot get to the schools. They devised an innovative solution to the multiple barriers standing between children and early education: two buses that have been specially retrofitted as preschool classrooms to serve young children and their parents/ caretakers.

The buses arrive at the homes of designated families once a week for a one-hour session that is divided between time that parents, children, and the two early childhood specialists spend together and a half-hour session in which the child learns with a teacher while the parent works on family goal-setting, child development, parenting skills, and other topics that help both him/her and the child move toward kindergarten readiness and family well-being. This enables PfE to serve families in very remote areas, to provide families with child development information, to act as liaisons between parents and schools to facilitate family engagement, and to connect the most vulnerable parents with other critical supports, both social and financial, thus enriching the whole household and further advancing children’s school readiness. Tennant Kirk, who directs early childhood initiatives for Partners for Education, describes the buses’ importance:

By working with parents to create their own unique family goals, the early education specialists design a process that strengthens the well-being of the family enabling them to raise healthy children who are ready learn in kindergarten.”7

Training and PD for early childhood caretakers and educators

Leveraging a new state law that evaluates preschool classrooms using a broader set of metrics, PfE designed a system around experienced early childhood coaches who could help early childhood providers meet the standards for teacher-student relationships and classroom environment. Tennant Kirk,  notes that “the initiative really helped teachers enrich environments and understand how to use resources and materials to optimize children’s growth and development. It had a powerful impact; we saw immediate and profound gains in child outcomes.”8 Big Creek ES principal Nadine Couch says training for ECE teachers has been a tremendous asset for her kids and school.9

Head Start and Early Head Start

Clay County has both an Early Head Start and a Head Start program, as well as two Head Start/public preschool blended classrooms serving more rural parts of the county. Differing program requirements make blending challenging, but also creates more opportunities for children to attend preschool and helps improve kindergarten readiness. PFE partners with Head Start to enrich the classroom learning environment with supplemental curriculum, materials, and professional development as needed. Twenty preschool teachers received intensive coaching for one-to-two years to improve the quality of their classrooms as measured by the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (ECERS), one measure used in the Kentucky Preschool Program Review conducted by the Kentucky Department of Education. All three of the districts PN served received acceptable scores on the ECERS and passed other elements of the Review.

Home visiting

Berea had a Save the Children office before PfE’s first Promise Neighborhood grant that operated a home visiting program for children before preschool, from birth to three. The grant enabled the expansion from six to 11 schools, and the second PN grant will further expand that into seven Knox county schools, enabling PfE to serve 140 families. Save the Children also provides early literacy programs in schools and is now adding other services, like parent-child playgroups for preschool-aged children.10

Online support for early childhood development

Partners for Education has a grant from the Bezos Foundation for VROOM, a program of brain-building messages that can be delivered in various ways. Parents who download the app receive daily lessons and fun brain development activities they can do at home (or in other places) with their children. PfE works two ways, with local network leaders who ask top management to send messaging, and with child care training and assistance teams to disseminate the information locally, from the ground up. VROOM works well in rural communities, as the information can be shared in meetings, newsletters, and through texts, or lists of tips in local restaurants for families without cell phones.11

Academic Enrichment

With their tiny towns, scattered residents, and scant resources, schools in Eastern Kentucky struggle to provide basic education at a decent level, let alone the enrichment that they know their students need and deserve. A combination of state cuts to education since the 2008 recession that have not been restored and reductions in federal assistance for poor schools has hit those in places like Appalachia especially hard. In recent years, this situation has been compounded by the loss of local revenue from the coal industry, which makes it very difficult for education to serve as the vehicle to move people past a coal economy culture. In a 2014 Lexington Herald-Leader article, John Cheves exposed how these funding differences in Kentucky schools – students in the tiny Appalachian town of Barbour receive just over $8,000 per student, while their counterparts in wealthy Anchorage have almost $20,000 to pay for teacher raises, new textbooks, technology, and arts – leave students in economically distressed areas at a significant disadvantage.12

At the same time, schools in this region are even more critical to student access to such options, since community theatre, music, arts classes, and other enrichment opportunities are few or nonexistent. Promise Neighborhood grants have enabled PfE to bring students and schools in these counties a range of enrichment options, with arts playing a central role. And because Berea College is dedicated to uplifting the culture and history of Appalachia, it ensures that art, music, and literature from the region feature prominently in programs, initiatives, murals, and other arts items supported by PN grants.

PN grants also enable PfE to embed academic interventionists in every school in the five counties served, and the highest needs schools may have more than one. In Knox County, both Knox Central and Lynn Camp schools have Full-Service Community Schools site coordinators. Teachers in these counties also receive extra support. Advanced Placement (AP) and pre-AP middle and high school teachers in Clay, Jackson, and Knox Counties receive professional development through the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) teacher training program. And the original PN grant supported PfE’s partnership with the Collaborative for Teaching and Learning, a 20-year-old organization that provided professional development to teachers and school and district leaders, provides professional development to teachers of young children in Clay, Jackson, and Owsley counties focused on supporting the development of math and early literacy skills.13

Special curriculum options

PfE enabled schools to purchase new curricula like Envision Math and Reading Street. They have built-in interventions to help students who are low-achieving, and they are differentiated, so they help students work on and build up specific skill areas where they are weak.14 At Big Creek ES, principal Nadine Couch notes that the new PreK-3 reading program adopted in the first PN year did not support older students. So she asked for and obtained parallel reading materials for her fourth, fifth, and sixth graders, along with a summer school program that had high attendance its first year.

To address students’ limited access to age-appropriate books, PfE used PN funding to purchase Kindles for every student at Big Creek elementary along with the MyON reading program. After an internet safety training, students can take the devices home, giving them access to over 10,000 books.

Arts residencies

When PfE received its PN grant, state budget cuts that compounded long-standing resource shortages in high-poverty schools had nearly eliminated arts programming in most Eastern Kentucky elementary schools. Middle and high schools had visual arts and music teachers, typically one each per school, though they often taught other subjects and had other teaching responsibilities that they shared with other schools as well, and communities provided almost no out-of-school arts opportunities.15 Natalie Gabbard, who had been hired by PfE as the Content Specialist for Arts and Humanities, went out with Judy Sizemore, a teaching artist and arts consultant based in the Promise Neighborhood, to area schools. At Tyner Elementary, where Gabbard had gone as a child, they gradually won over teachers, then parents, and finally principals who saw that children were doing better in core subjects as a result of their enhanced engagement. Employing teaching artists from the region to establish residencies in the schools served multiple purposes: providing income for artists, giving students access to expert instruction in Appalachian art and culture, and helping teachers attain the skills to conduct art activities in their classrooms.16

So many students have no idea of their cultural heritage or its artistic excellence and need to know about strengths, also the connection to African, African-American, and Native American culture in Appalachia.17

– Natalie Gabbard, Associate Director, Arts and Humanities, PfE

The residencies at Tyner and McKee Elementary in Jackson County, which now hosts an annual evening with the arts, opened the door to arts programming at several other schools. And three years after Principal Tim Johnson told Gabbard he had no interest, he asked her and Sizemore to help align the school’s reading curriculum with the arts, an enhancement that is still sustained. The school has continued to apply for arts funding on its own and hosts an annual arts night/student showcase. Tyner Assistant Principal Melissa Baker remarks on the impact arts have had on her school. During “culture week,” one parent and all her kids dressed up for different cultures. And for Christmas, now they do Christmas little suitcases and pretend they are going to different countries in classrooms. Last year, the second grade did Mexico, and third grade did France.

Before we had [PN funding], there was not nearly as much art going on. Now it’s just part of our culture. And that exposure to the arts boosts self-esteem for kids who aren’t into other subjects. But it goes beyond that, it changes the whole culture and gets parents involved.18

Theatre programs

In tiny Owsley County, regional artists Bob Martin and Anne Shelby introduced a program called Homesong that is designed to help Appalachian families and communities “tell their own stories” through theatre.19 English and other teachers encourage their students to interview family and community members about their stories, which are then woven together by script-writers and turned into a play, which also features original songs written by students and community members. Berea College student Frankie Jo Baldwin, a graduate of Owsley High School, was among the first students to participate and says that the experience still opens up opportunities for her. She describes spending eight-to-ten hours a day running scenes and blocking to prepare. At the beginning, people did not believe in it and didn’t think anyone would come, but it sold out every night and now they even do encore performances.

There’s all this negativity about being in the poorest county in the US. We are trying to push back against all of that. The experience of getting to tell your own story was really powerful for some of these people. We had women who were 75 and girls who were seven. We asked, ‘Do you want a part in this play, so you can tell your own story?’ and they said, ‘no way, I could never do that.’ And now they’re the star of the show. It wasn’t that someone came in and created this. It was all driven by us, community-made and community-led.20

– Frankie-Jo Baldwin, Berea College sophomore and graduate of Owsley County High School

Creative use of technology

The isolated, rural context in which PfE operates has prompted teachers, principals, and others to look to technology for alternative avenues for education and enrichment. The MyOn reading program at Big Creek elementary and other schools is just one example. Even in remote areas, most families have internet access, so the one-time purchase means that after the PN grant expires, every student has extensive access to books for at least three years.21 Likewise, VROOM brings early childhood development to parents who could not otherwise access it.

All eighth graders and three-quarters of ninth graders in the Promise Neighborhood counties receive traditional, face-to-face mentoring over Skype for 30 minutes twice a month through a program called Connecting the Dots. Most of the mentors are current college students, many of whom grew up in Kentucky and come from low-income backgrounds.22

Owsley County High School Principal Charlie Davison and his wife Stacy, Owsley County Schools’ supervisor of instruction, decided in 2017 to invest in three zSpace machines for the school’s tech lab. The machines can be connected to 3D and Virtual Reality goggles and, depending on the software purchased to support them, enable students to engage in such activities as studying a beating heart. “Right now, we have Vived Science, zSpace Studio and zView,” Stacy Davison says, “and our plan is to continue to add software packages and hardware until we have a full lab.”23

In order to stem summer learning loss, PfE created a summer program with the Collaborative for Teaching and Learning that mails books to middle school students over the summer and hosts online book club meetings. This program, which served 329 students in 2015, reflects the unique needs of students in areas of rural poverty, and the importance of targeting programs that meet them.24

College and career preparation

Geographic isolation and lack of exposure to diverse education and job opportunities make it hard for schools to prepare area high school students for college and make higher education feel like a viable goal. Teachers and principals thus draw on a combination of traditional and unique strategies to create a college-going culture and persuade students and their parents to prioritize it. At Owsley High School, principal Charlie Davidson sometimes is at the school at 5 am to get students on a bus for their job shadowing at the Toyota plant in Georgetown, nearly two hours away close to the Ohio border.

Through its Accelerating Academic Achievement in Appalachian Kentucky (A4KY) program, Partners for Education offers Advanced Placement test preparation, high school academic counseling, and college counseling for families in Clay, Jackson, and Knox counties. A pilot program, Horizons, uses Skype to match high school students with Berea College students who can walk them through their junior and senior years and the application process.25 Specialists also assist students and families with college applications, financial aid and preparing for the ACT. Finally, PfE cultivated a partnership with Somerset Community College through which it built the Synergy program, which gives students an opportunity to enroll and get through a lot of the initial paperwork, with assistance, before they finish their senior year in high school.

Academic specialists and postsecondary specialists who work in the high schools organize college and career trips based on student interest. For example, students with interests in the medical field, forensics, or veterinary medicine went to the University of Tennessee and Lincoln Memorial University, and on one trip they toured the veterinary school at LMU. At UT, they had a question-and-answer session with forensic pathology professors and had an opportunity to view and touch two complete skeletons. They also talked with graduate students.

Family engagement specialists also organized college and career events that included parents. One year, they went to see a play at the University of Kentucky, toured the theater and learned about arts and humanities offerings at the university. Beth Brown says these trips were especially good for parents who hadn’t attended college because it gave them an idea of what their child would be going to. In some instances, the trips also helped students realize they would like, or dislike, a place as big as UK so they might change their mind and apply to a smaller institution, like Morehead.

While these college visits are a key way to increase exposure and reduce students’ and parents’ fears, logistics and finances still pose barriers for many students.

The biggest thing is to emphasize that it’s REALLY possible [to go to college]. Yes, it’s far, and it costs money, but you can do it. They’ve been taught to be practical, so they just push it off the table, so the first step is making them know that it’s a genuine possibility. For kids whose parents are struggling to get food on the table or get enough gas for a visit to a college, it’s hard to get them to look past their fear of crippling debt. I just keep telling them that it’s an investment in your future.26

Finally, because some students in the region enroll in online classes, PfE is able to offer them some support as they begin their college career. For example, in Owsley County they can use the school’s computers, and the PN postsecondary specialist is there to assist them if they run into problems.

Health and Nutrition

The same poverty-related factors that make it hard for parents to access quality child care and preschool limit their children’s regular visit to doctors and dentists. In many schools, subsidized lunches are a major source of students’ food, with families stretched to provide nutritious meals. Mental health is perhaps the biggest concern; on top of the toxic stress of growing up in poverty, especially deep poverty, the opioid epidemic means that children see their aunts, uncles, siblings, and parents high, being arrested and taken to jail, and even overdosing and dying.

Family Resource and Youth Service Centers

Another product of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act, FRYCSs help to support the physical and mental health of all of the region’s students. Berea High School, for example, houses the Berea Family Resource and Youth Services Center, which offers health and education services for families, including expectant parents and crisis counseling, and referrals to community agencies, free of charge for all members of the community who have children. Across the counties served by PfE, Clay County elementary, middle, and high schools house FRYCSs, as do schools in Jackson and Knox Counties, and Owsley County is home to both a Family Resource Center and a Youth Center. In addition, Promise Neighborhood grants have been leveraged in several ways to enable PfE to enhance the well-being of area students and their families.

Dental health

The Kentucky Oral Health Commission awarded grants to all three Early Childhood Councils in Promise Neighborhood counties to provide oral health training for new parents.

Physical health and wellness

The Berea College Promise Neighborhood collaborates with schools and community partners to provide activities such as a run/walk club, summer fitness program, gardening, food preservation, a Jump Start program, and more. In addition to FRYSCs, individual schools may employ innovative programs. At Owsley High School, for example, the school nurse can use a program on her laptop to connect with a doctor remotely to assess and report a student’s vital signs and symptoms, enabling her to receive a diagnosis, a prescription if needed, and if the illness is more serious, a referral to a regional hospital. This benefits students and the school, as it eliminates the need for a student to leave class for an appointment, so they miss fewer school days.

  • Clay County Storywalk: Another barrier to learning in Appalachia is the dearth of safe spaces to get exercise, which contributes to poor health. Children in Clay, Jackson, Knox, and Owsley counties live in the ironic situation of being surrounded by natural beauty that is hard, in practice, to access. Roads are windy and can be treacherous and sidewalks are rare, so walking from home to any destination is unsafe, and distances can be many miles. Partners for Education responded to this gap in Clay County by building “community storywalks” at several elementary schools and in the public park. Young children and their parents or caretakers can walk a loop that tells the story, along the way, of Scaredy Squirrel, who is initially scared to go camping, but learns that the real thing, out in the woods, is better than an online experience. At Tyner Elementary, Promise Neighborhood funding helped build a walking track and purchase athletic equipment that the school has only to maintain.

Mental health supports

Partners for Education addresses safety in Promise Neighborhood schools through bystander prevention work, character education, and recovery coaching.

Clay County Middle School is one of several supported by PN grants that have adopted the Green Dot violence prevention program. For students who “are already angry when they come in” due to struggles with poverty and issues at home, or who don’t want to come to school because they do not know if their parent will be home or in jail when they return, Principal Steve Burchfield says that Green Dot has really helped. 27 The Green Dot trainer teaches students who participate in the training how to recognize their peers’ moods by their facial expressions and the words they use and provides them tools to de-escalate situations. Behavior problems and fist fights have gone down substantially. The program also helps to reduce bullying by explaining to victims that children who bully often are dealing with bigger problems outside of school, and by bringing bully and victim together to discuss underlying issues. Owsley County schools also used PN resources to buy a new curriculum, Bullying 101, Coping or Stopping, that teaches children how to be resilient.28

Schools also support their students’ mental and emotional health in other ways. Tyner Elementary assistant principal Melissa Baker says that the school has changed its approach to red ribbon week (which is about drug awareness). In the past, they just had kids wear silly socks and put up anti-drug logos. This year, the family resource director “wanted to do things that matter,” so she brought in guests every day to meet with children in small groups, encouraging them to open up about how drug abuse and addiction was affecting them personally. “Schools have a responsibility to educate kids, to stop them from doing the same negative things their parents did, and take care of their needs to the extent we can. We can’t stop the drug issue, but we can take part in doing that.”29

Finally, art is integrated into health and wellness through dance residencies, safety and wellness programs that discuss substance use awareness and healthy relationship awareness, and murals in school cafeterias that promote healthy food choices.

Parent and Family Engagement

In Appalachia’s tightknit communities, gaining the support of parents and families is especially critical for children’s success. At the same time, long distances between schools and homes, many parents’ limited formal education and discomfort with school administrators, and those parents’ lack of exposure to the possibilities for post-second education, make engaging them in their children’s schools a major challenge. As Rochelle Garrett, director of family partnerships, notes, many parents are like her own – they focus on practical outcomes for their children, so they emphasize getting a job after high school. College is either not on their radar or a distraction from what is.30 In recent years, these barriers have been exacerbated by the increasing number of students being raised not by their parents, but by grandparents and even great-grandparents.31 These non-parental caretakers need even more support to support children academically and learn how to engage with schools to do so.

Partners for Education has thus made engaging parents, grandparents, and other “extended family” caretakers a high priority. PfE places family engagement specialists in each county, with the goal of supporting parents early in their children’s lives and building sustainable strong relationships and community leaders who will carry on the work after the PN grants expire.32

Parents and caregivers need a network of supporting relationships, because when you have those, they have a lot of the same questions, they get that courage to go into the school for parent-teacher conferences, and they know what to ask to help their grandchild to be successful.33

– Rochelle Garrett, Director of Family Partnerships, Middletown

Family engagement specialist Sue Christian started the Owsley County Parent Task Force “not to do bake sales, but to be educated about Common Core, what goes on in schools, school policy.” She wants parents to be involved in things like wellness committees in schools, and she says it is working. A food bag program almost ended last year because the school said it had to abide by a state law limiting what students could bring on the bus. But a task force parent found that the school handbook did not reflect the law, so he raised the issue with administrators, who decided to let the food bag program continue with parameters. “Some self-educated parents have empowered themselves to sustain a program that was very important to kids that were getting food on weekend. There’s one thing about rules, there’s a whole other thing about being hungry.”34

The county action team also supports grandparents who are raising children, changing its name from “grandparents as parents” to “Adults Raising Others’ Children” to be inclusive. And it works to help parents support their children’s math, which school leaders say poses the biggest challenges across the region. Few parents can provide substantive help, so teachers come to demonstrate strategies that make math more fun and less scary and connect students with folks at school who can help them.

Families and Schools Together

Partners for Education works with FAST in several of its PN communities. The program is designed both to strengthen vulnerable and unstable families and to connect them to schools so that they can be effective partners in their children’s education.35 FAST builds teams of community, school and parent leaders, with many parent “graduates” becoming leaders of subsequent teams.

Smart and Secure Children

A subgrant from the Morehouse University School of Medicine Satcher Health Leadership Institute enables PfE to implement SSC, a zero-to-five program that focuses on successful transitions to kindergarten. Like in FAST, parents from the community become parent leaders, and each recruits five or so families for each team. Trained parent leaders have a curriculum that addresses issues like healthy eating and effective shopping. The ten-week relationship-building program supports a school-connection process, and parent graduates are connected to the parent task force. Sue Christian combined FAST and SSC in order to apply the latter’s curriculum to bolster FAST’s empowerment approach.36 Christian believes that, while there is a wide range of ability and stability across families, all benefit, perhaps most among parents who come in with little belief in their own capacity to be good parents. She recounts how one pair of sessions played out:

We ran two sets [of families] at the same time. One set had more families with “supports” – they were intact and had better participation rates.  That was smoothest. The group with the most issues were families who attended more sporadically. They were harder to retain, and they were much harder to help. These parents were the most isolated as single parents or extended relatives, but they really made connections with each other, so they got a lot out of it. At the end of the program, parents would tell you, “I’m not as big a muck-up as I thought. There are lots of other parents dealing with the same kinds of things I am.37

The Task Force recognized a gap not only between schools and parents, but between parents and their children. So they initiated a back-to-school-night at Owsley County High School to reduce parent-student tension. Parents get to learn their children’s schedules and meet their teachers at the start of the school year. Like other PfE-supported pilot programs, principals were skeptical. In the first year, however, 107 parents showed up (about a third of the student body), with numbers growing each year, and about two-thirds of students having a parent participate in fall 2017. The first year, PN also helped provide school supplies, which Sue’s team has since picked up. Checking in with schools on supply lists and bringing them to back-to-school night “helps kids show up prepared on the first day. Otherwise, it’s three weeks until their parents next paycheck, and they lose all that time and ground.”38

Christian’s journey to become a family engagement specialist who recruits other parents to FAST and SSC sessions illustrates why engaging parents like her is so critical to PfE’s work and the region’s future.

When I was a Site-Based Decision-Making Parent Council member, I didn’t understand the talk, because I didn’t have as much education as the teachers and administrators. College helped me learn what kind of student I was. I wanted to help educate parents to understand things. Before I went to college and learned to navigate the school system sometimes I sat at meetings and felt so stupid, and I was disadvantaged for it.39

Financial literacy

The combination of low family income, lack of experience with banks and saving, and predatory practices in the financial industry make it important to educate parents about how to spend and save wisely. PfE installed Virtual Teller Machines and partners with a local credit union to teach financial literacy. They also work in high schools to teach students about opening savings and checking accounts, based on evidence that kids who have savings account are more likely to graduate from college.40

Creative family engagement activities/initiatives

Schools have also developed unique activities to bring parents and entire families into schools in the evenings and during the summer. One Jackson County elementary school has created an arts night to showcase students’ artwork that has become one of the county’s most popular events in recent years, with the principal forced to go to overflow parking. At college and career nights, parents can learn about and even get help filling out financial aid forms. Others include family literacy night and All Pro Dads, a monthly meeting that brings fathers into schools with their children to read a book, as well as summer programs like Grilling with Dads or community-wide canning programs.

Comprehensive Services for the Extended Service Region

Within PfE’s 31-county service region, 11 counties are the organization’s area of focus. These counties include the Promise Zone, the two counties from the original Promise Neighborhood that are not in the Zone (Jackson and Owsley), and PfE’s home county, Madison. While students who live in these counties receive intensive support from Partners for Education, some of the same services are also available throughout the PfE extended service region. Partners for Education Associate E.D. Penny Jordan notes that

We are doing high-quality college access and success programming in these counties. These intensive programs follow cohorts of students from middle school through their first year of college to support their success.

Policies and Practices

Partners for Education’s work to improve education in Eastern Kentucky has been advanced both by practices it cultivated and by state- and federal-level policies. This section explores these and the policy implications of the community’s integrated student supports efforts.

PfE, PN work staffed by locals

Appalachia’s self-contained nature means that people who grew up there and made it through college want to return to the area if they can find jobs to support them, and few people from outside move in. Partners for Education thus is able to recruit homegrown success stories to serve as academic and early childhood, academic, and family engagement specialists who understand parents’ lack of confidence in trying to talk to teachers – many were themselves unwilling to engage with schools until they went back to school and felt sufficiently educated to do so. Most teachers and principals in Clay, Jackson, and Owsley County schools graduated from those same schools; they know first-hand the challenges their students face to travel the same path. Some recount having been mediocre students and someone outside their immediate families pushing them to consider higher education as a path out of the poverty they had grown up in.

I talk to every kid in this building once a year about their options and choices. I talk about my brother, who is in jail for selling drugs and has been in and out of jail his whole life. I am open about marrying my second wife when she was seven months pregnant and how hard it was to try to take care of a young wife and a new baby pumping gas. I hadn’t even planned to go to college, but my brother’s girlfriend was going, so I heard about it and was able to use the GI Bill. I tell [my students] that I faced many of the same barriers they do. These kids see all the issues and barriers they can’t get past, because they don’t know what’s out there. It’s our job to show them.41

– Clay County Middle School Principal Steve Burchfield

Across the board, PfE staff voice a powerful feeling that their success in having gotten up and out calls them to do “whatever it takes to get these kids a better life. They need to see that there’s a bigger, better world out there that they deserve and can reach. We can’t let the ‘normal’ school schedule hold us back. If we have to get our students on a bus at 5 am [to do job shadowing at the Toyota plant], and they return at midnight, we’re there.”42 When a principal shares his brother’s struggles with drug addiction and jail, students are much more comfortable opening up about their own families and turning to school leaders to help them avoid the same problems.

The homegrown focus also enhances the sustainability of PN-supported programs after the funding expires. The arts residencies, for example, continue to be funded in several schools through the Kentucky Arts Council. Tyner Elementary also has sustained the arts-reading curriculum alignment it designed under the PN grant and continues to host “culture week.” Melissa Baker, assistant principal at Tyner, says that since PfE used PN grants to help incorporate the use of data by embedding three academic specialists, the school requires all teachers to keep spreadsheets with every student’s data, which are reviewed at least three times annually and used to target academic interventions to keep them on track.43 Wellness equipment like the walking track and athletic supplies at Tyner and the Community Storywalk at Big Creek have only to be maintained by schools and will continue to serve communities for decades to go. And while PN no longer supports the task force in Owsley, the parent task force established relationships with local non-profits that provide space or snacks as needed.44

Finally, Berea College, which is home to Partners for Education, also philosophically anchors this work. It promotes higher education and makes it attainable in a region starved of it and encourages its graduates to return to their communities and “pay it forward,” with the many former students featured in this study evidence of its success. Given urgent demands to make higher education more accessible, affordable, and relevant to a much greater and more diverse swath of US graduates than ever before, perhaps Berea should be viewed not as an unattainable anomaly, but as a pilot case to be studied, adapted and/or replicated in other contexts.

Use of technology to tailor ISS to rural context

While they face many of the same poverty-related challenges as their urban counterparts, rural schools and communities have added issues and must devise unique strategies. With their deep understanding of Appalachian culture and context, Berea College and Partners for Education are well positioned to pilot such approaches. For example, PfE wanted to sustain gains it had made among early childhood teachers after funding for coaches ran out, so they purchased robotic cameras that teachers can use to videotape and share their lessons and playtime with students. This not only enabled peer-to-peer advice and supervisor feedback, but made it possible for supervisors who often wear multiple education hats and travel long distances between schools to provide helpful guidance. PfE is also piloting a new program, Horizon Fellows, in which high school students are paired with PfE graduates/college students. Last year, Frankie-Joe Baldwin worked with 23 juniors to mentor them via text. This year, she is helping them to prepare for college. “They don’t have anyone in their community to ask questions, so I support them, ask questions, and nudge them. Ultimately, if I didn’t have those people, I wouldn’t be at Berea.”45

State Pre-K

Kentucky was an early investor in pre-kindergarten and has grown its program to serve 26 percent of four-year-olds and nine percent of three-year-olds as of 2016. The program is of high quality and, in recent years, the state has built in a quality rating system for early childhood education providers as well as incentives for private-partnerships to provide quality, full-day care for more children.46 In response to concerns about poor preparation and support of early childhood educators, in 2015 the state began to fund specialists who target improvements to the teacher-student relationships and classroom environment, which are known to be critical to improving key outcomes like kindergarten readiness.47 Still, lack of slots in rural counties means that PfE and its partners, like Save the Children, must supplement state programs to ensure that more vulnerable children arrive at kindergarten ready to learn.

Kentucky has also benefitted from its Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund grant, which spurred the state to require all early childhood settings receiving public dollars to be rated for quality. The goal is to have 100 percent of early childhood providers enrolled, and PfE has done well in its counties, with every program in the PN counties enrolled and working with consultants to improve their rating levels.48 The state has developed a strong system of training and technical assistance, with quality and PD coaches visiting child care centers regularly and money available for incentives to boost quality.

Family Resource and Youth Service Centers

Another result of the 1990 education reform act is the establishment of Family Resource and Youth Service Centers, or so-called “FRYSCs,” in counties across the state. Roughly half of Kentucky students qualify for free or reduced-priced school meals, and any school in which 20 percent or more are eligible can compete for funds for a FRYSC. In 2008, changes to the law made changes to the core services offered at the two types of centers – Family Resource Centers that serve children from birth through elementary schools, and Youth Resource Centers that serve middle and high school-aged children. In the Promise Neighborhood counties served by Partners for Education, FRYSCs help support children’s and parents’ health and mental health; work to educate and empower parents; and improve overall family engagement in children’s education.

Time-limited federal grants enable this work AND present challenges to sustainability

While Promise Neighborhood (and other federal grants) enable organizations like Partners for Education to enact and expand enrichment and other programs that would otherwise not be possible, their time-limited nature also presents major challenges to recipient communities. As described above, PfE has been able to sustain many of the initiatives it put in place and the gains attained due to them. But in other, important cases, schools and students have lost ground when grants expired and the programs they supported could not be sustained. At Big Creek Elementary School in Oneida, for example, Promise Neighborhood funding enabled 40 students who live far from the school to participate in enriching afterschool activities in 2015 and 2016. But in 2017, they lost the transportation that made it possible, along with parent involvement and arts activities that had benefitted students and the school as a whole.49 Loss of PN funding eliminated several effective strategies and reduced children’s exposure to enrichment experiences, which was compounded by across-the-board state funding cuts and by the holding up of Title I funds.

PfE Executive Dreama Gentry sees both major benefits in such grants and inherent flaws that policy changes might alleviate. “While we are always thankful for the resources provided by programs like Promise Neighborhoods, we also know that the time limits mean grant funding will often run out before the underlying problems have been solved,” said Gentry. While she believes that longer term investments are needed, she also says that with each project her team has become more efficient and effective. “We really understand much better what works, and the people of Knox County will directly benefit from what we learned in our original Promise Neighborhood. Our ability to engage communities and use data is much greater today than when we started.”

Accountability, evaluation, continuous improvement embedded/built in

While they offer grantees substantial flexibility in designing and implementing strategies to improve student and community health and education, Promise Neighborhoods grants come with strict requirements around data and accountability. PfE has leveraged these requirements to build a data collection and analysis system that drives continuous improvement. The enhanced system is supported by an expanded data team, which now includes data analysts and data managers to oversee the comprehensive data management plan’s implementation, as well as ensure there are ample staff and/or contractors to manage PfE’s data collection, case management, and longitudinal data systems.

Sherry Scott, a PfE director of programs, says that the data team not only ensures compliance and quality control, but also provides recommendations and support for system improvement, like their recent implementation of a software system that provides survey creation and scanning to aid in the data collection process.

Our data system follows students over time tracking individual student demographic data, types of services received and dosage of the intervention.  The system allows staff and partners to explore the relationship between various variables and educational gain along with other outcomes.  The data system gives us not only the ability to collect and monitor the data, but also provides the necessary elements to analyze the data allowing for real time program improvements.  Supervisors review all service data on a monthly basis, meeting with partners and staff to discuss program improvements and expansions.  Staff meet monthly as a program team to discuss summary data reports and utilizing the principles of results-based accountability make the necessary program improvements.  We convene cross-sector community working groups for each of the results quarterly to review data specific to the population level result and make the necessary adjustments to strategy. We utilize a local evaluator to develop and implement an evaluation strategy that is both comprehensive and rigorous in determining the effectiveness of our program.50

Other state policies have been less helpful for PfE’s work and stand in the way of its potential expansion to other Kentucky communities.

School funding inequities, cuts

For over a decade after the enactment of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, which included requirements for higher and more equitable per-pupil funding, Kentucky saw its schools gradually climb from among the nation’s lowest-ranked. By the early 2000s, the redistribution of funds had narrowed the gap between the poorest and richest communities, such that per-pupil revenue in Appalachian Barbourville rose to 62 percent of that in wealthy suburban Anchorage. In 2008, however, the national recession drove state cuts to education funding that reduced equity and hit high-poverty districts especially hard. As education journalist John Cheves reports, “Kentucky froze its $2.9 billion-a-year SEEK program, the state’s primary funding source for schools. That was tantamount to a reduction as enrollment and costs such as fuel and health insurance kept rising. The state axed most everything else, including its assistance for textbook purchases, teacher training and technology upgrades.” Federal “sequestration” cuts exacted further pain to the same poor schools; in 2013, high-poverty Kentucky schools lost tens of millions of dollars in support.51 All of this has been compounded by the loss of local revenue as coal mines have closed down over the past decade.

School and community leaders in Promise Neighborhood communities relate the consequences of these cuts. Big Creek Elementary School principal Nadine Couch really wishes they had music. An artist who used to come had worked for several weeks in the afterschool program and did “amazing work” with some of the special needs students, tying music to math. “One kid on the autism spectrum, who didn’t talk otherwise, picked up an instrument and said ‘my dad’s gonna buy me a guitar.’” In Owsley County, Sue Christian describes the challenges of struggling with very few resources as schools lose students. In the high school (which serves students in grades 7th through 12th grade), getting down to just 300 students means the 16 teachers must be focused on core subjects, so there are very few options for electives. First they cut art, then P.E., since there was no regular P.E. teacher. They try to do “brain breaks” in the class, but they were hard for teachers to lead effectively. And the school day has gotten shorter than what it used to be.52

These cuts also further reduce already insufficient support for mental health. Elementary school Nadine Crouch describes this as perhaps her most pressing issue. The only services her students can draw on is district-wide comp care, which provides in-school and family counseling as well as a few afterschool programs. Monday mornings are rife with meltdowns among students who have spent a toxic weekend with mom or dad, as are Fridays, when students who do not want to go visit are facing that weekend. In the past three years, Big Creek counselors are dealing with major increases in self-harm, like cutting, and even suicide threats. Last year, a girl whose father had been Nadine’s student when she was a teacher, was sentenced to ten years in prison, along with her aunt, who was an accomplice to the murder.


In fiscal year 2018, Partners for Education will leverage $39 million to serve 41,000 young people and their families across 31 rural Appalachian Kentucky counties. Of these funds, roughly one third, or approximately $13.4 million, are used in Promise Neighborhoods counties.

The vast majority of that funding (96 percent) is public, from federal government grants, and most of these are from the Department of Education, followed by the Corporation for National and Community Service (4 percent). However, several PfE programs also have a cost-sharing component, where state and local sources may be used for matching purposes.

As noted above, PfE also receives a small amount of private funds from the Kellogg Foundation to support two Readiness Buses for early childhood learning and Bezos Foundation funding for VROOM.


It is difficult for initiatives that provide comprehensive/integrated student supports to disentangle the impacts of the various programs/components and thus to understand how given inputs are linked to specific outcomes. But PfE has worked hard to build in a rigorous system of continuous monitoring and improvement, and it has both anecdotal and data-based evidence of positive impacts it has had on students and families in the counties it serves.

Supports for Students and Schools

  • Since 2012, 4,009 elementary, middle and high school students in Promise Neighborhood counties have received one-on-one tutoring.
  • Over 5,000 students participated in arts programs in 2013 through Promise Neighborhood initiatives that provide arts training to educators and bring arts programming to schools.
  • A4KY serves 4,159 6th- to 12th-graders each year, and has provided training and professional development to over 130 teachers since 2012.


  • The Green Dot program encourages student participation and engagement: Every year, Clay County Middle School selects a diverse variety of 60 students to go through the training. But the principals notes that, “when the director was here in the cafeteria [to talk about Green Dot], every kid had a chance to participate, at least in a small part. The strategy is effective because it shows kids there are other options.” Green Dot is a research-based program developed by the University of Kentucky.53
  • Arts programs also engage struggling and disengaged students. Partners for Education staff often hear about students whose stories “don’t make it into the quantitative data,” but for whom the arts resonate. In one school, where traditional Appalachian arts are emphasized as part of place-based work, and the basket maker was doing basket-weaving instruction, the student who was the “problem” kid finished first and went on to help other students. Other students who had never before spoken in class became engaged when they got to read a monologue that connected to their experiences, or an interview with a family member.
  • At McKee Elementary School’s annual arts night, the second hour was a school-wide production of the Lion King, with every student having a role and a costume. Over a thousand people came to the event, in a community with fewer than 1,000 residents.
  • Internal analysis found that 61.3% of Clay, Jackson and Owsley County High School 2013-2018 graduates participated in a college or technical school visit. These visits help students visualize their post-secondary futures.54

Parent empowerment/community/other outcomes

  • At least 60% of Owsley County parent task force members have participated in the FAST program, so they went from barely or not engaged to engaged in a beneficial way, and internal data show growing partnerships between parents and schools.55 One parent engagement specialist thinks schools may not realize that they do better when parents know how to navigate the school system, who to talk to, and have a channel to divert their anger from the school to a parent group discussion. But schools benefit from parents who care more about how their children are doing and what’s going on in schools. Also, attendance and behavior both tend to improve when kids are in FAST.
  • The Owsley Task Force also helps schools in other ways. During College Application Week, it hosted a College 411 night for parents, where they could talk about financial aid and get help filling out the FAFSA, which 23 percent of students did on the spot. Roughly 60 percent of Task Force parents are familiar with Individual Education Plans (IEPs), so they are able to train other parents on how to negotiate for them for their children, a valuable tool in helping to navigate a complex school-based bureaucratic process.
  • The artist residencies have helped PfE build the capacity of local artists to sustain their work. As one example, Natalie Gabbard recalls putting out notices in local papers in three counties asking artists to come to schools and 40 came, many of them continuing to work in schools. Several of them have since successfully applied to the Kentucky Arts Council for continued funding.
  • Frankie-Jo Baldwin says that her participation in Homesong enabled her to work with famed Appalachian children’s author Ann Shelby and ultimately got her the job she now has at Berea.
  • Big Creek Elementary School principal Nadine Couch believes that her work with PfE to engage and empower children and their parents makes a big and lasting difference, even if the changes sometimes seem small and may be difficult to detect.

You have to take the attitude that every kid may not get to where you want ideally, but growth in any area is a good thing. We focus on continuous progress monitoring to track it. There are so many kids that are pretty much raising themselves. For the majority of kids [in our school], their providers are not parents. One family here is a grandmother raising 5 kids fourth grade and under, and she is doing a wonderful job. She comes to every event, and the kids are all successful. These are the caretakers we have to support, they make it possible for our students to have a better future.

– Nadine Couch, principal, Big Creek Elementary School, Oneida, KY56

Academic improvement

  • Kindergarten Readiness: Professional development for preschool teachers provided by PfE has had strong, sustained impacts on them and their young students.
      • PfE-sponsored opportunities enabled five teachers to complete their Child Development Associate credentials, and after working with coaches, all preschool teachers in the Promise Neighborhood region improved their Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (ECERS) rating.57
      • Between 2012 and 2016, seven early learning centers in PfE’s primary service region earned a STARS rating of three or four, signifying that they are high-quality learning environments.
      • In the years following the implementation of early childhood coaches to boost classroom enrichment and teacher-student relationships, kindergarten readiness among students in the pre-k program rose from 16.3 percent in 2012 to 35.5 percent in 2016-17.5
    • School improvement: Several schools in the three-county PN area have moved from the state’s watch list for struggling schools to the “distinguished” category. Tyner made the distinguished list two years in a row, and Assistant Principal Melissa Baker notes that student test scores improved even more in the third year, so the school would have been labeled successful had the state not changed its system.59 Principals credit the combination of PfE-sponsored academic specialists, wraparound support for students, and arts enrichment for the improvements.

    • Increases in state test scores include an increase in math proficiency from 27.1% in 2012 to 39.9% in 2016 and English/Language Arts proficiency increasing from 37.1% in 2012 to 49.5% in 2016. Those two measures come from the state test.60
    • Family engagement boosts college enrollment: Across three high school graduating cohorts, the college enrollment rate is at 51%. In those same cohorts, among students who received 5 or more hours of family engagement services, the college enrollment rate is 71%.61


    Dreama Gentry, [email protected], 859.985.3622, or visit


    1. Elaine Weiss conversation with Dreama Gentry, Dec. 7, 2017.

    2. These contrast starkly with a state poverty rate that is also above the national average, at 18.5%, and 25.6% among children.

    3. U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau, 2000 Census of Population and Housing, Demographic Profile, Table 2. Kentucky state data indicate that, across the 55 Appalachian Kentucky counties, over 92 percent of students were graduating from high school in 2015-16. As is true of many state graduation statistics, these seem inflated and unreliable.

    4. While Berea provides tuition promise scholarships and requires student service in lieu of payment, students do accrue some debt from housing, books, and travel for those who study abroad.

    5. The work in Knox began in January 2017. As of January 2018, PfE is also serving a fifth county, Perry, through its PN grant.

    6. The 2016 Pre-K Yearbook by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) reports that Kentucky ranks 21st for access among 4-year-olds but 9th for 3-year-olds, who are served by many fewer states. It also ranks 9th for overall per-student spending and has met 9 of NIEER’s 10 quality benchmarks.

    7. Elaine Weiss interview with Tennant Kirk. Dec. 6, 2017.

    8. Elaine Weiss interview with Tennant Kirk. Dec. 6, 2017.

    9. Elaine Weiss interview with Nadine Couch. Dec. 7, 2017.

    10. Tennant Kirk points out that Save the Children, a British non-profit, had its first US location in Harlan, Kentucky.

    11. Elaine Weiss interview with Sue Christian. Dec. 8, 2017.

    12. John Cheves, “Tale of two Kentucky schools: Barbourville gets $8,362 per student; Anchorage gets $19,927.” Lexington Herald-Dealer. January 4, 2014.

    13. While this grant was completed in December 2017, and the professional development no longer available, PfE is seeking new funds to sustain the work.

    14. Elaine Weiss interview with Melissa Baker. Dec. 7, 2017.

    15. Elaine Weiss interview with Natalie Gabbard, PfE Associate Director for Arts and Humanities. Dec. 7, 2017.

    16. When Natalie Gabbard came to PfE, Kentucky had just rolled out new standards requiring schools to report what they are doing in arts and humanities (and writing, practical living, others).  Together, these constitute 20% of the school’s accountability score, which gave schools an incentive to bring in artist residents, invest in arts programs.

    17. Elaine Weiss interview with Natalie Gabbard. Dec. 7, 2017.

    18. Elaine Weiss interview with Melissa Baker. Dec. 7, 2017.

    19. “These artists worked closely with the Owsley County Action Team (backbone support for this project) and Owsley County Schools. PfE provided funding for the artist compensation.” Elaine Weiss correspondence with Natalie Gabbard, Jan. 5, 2018.

    20. Elaine Weiss interview with Frankie-Jo Baldwin. Dec. 6, 2017.

    21. Elaine Weiss interview with Nadine Couch. Dec. 7, 2017.


    23. Elaine Weiss correspondence with Stacy Davidson. February 2018.

    24. Berea%20College%20Promise%20Neighborhood%20Summer%20Reading%20Results%20Owsley.pdf

    25. Elaine Weiss interview with Frankie-Joe Baldwin. Dec. 6, 2017.

    26. Elaine Weiss interview with Frankie-Joe Baldwin. Dec. 6, 2017.

    27. Elaine Weiss interview with Steve Burchfield. Dec. 7, 2017.

    28. Elaine Weiss interview with Sue Christian. Dec. 8, 2017.

    29. Elaine Weiss interview with Melissa Baker. Dec. 7, 2017.

    30. Elaine Weiss interview with Rochelle Garrett. Dec. 6, 2017.

    31. Owsley County elementary school Nadine Couch noted that the growing share of grandparents responsible for raising the students in her school has shifted in the past few years to include more than a few great-grandparents. One family she mentioned involved a single grandmother raising five children ages 9 and under.

    32. Beth Brown notes that “We had one per county in the original PN, except for a short time when we had two in Clay.” Elaine Weiss correspondence with Beth Brown, Jan. 5, 2018.

    33. Elaine Weiss interview with Rochelle Garrett. Dec. 6, 2017.

    34. Elaine Weiss interview with Sue Christian. Dec. 8, 2017.

    35. The organization describes itself as “an internationally acclaimed parent engagement program that helps children thrive by building strong relationships at home.”

    36. FAST is very structured, but they merged these two programs to run them together, and SSC focused on kids 0-5. SSC curriculum provides structure lacking from FAST to apply to parent group time, very productive b/c it focuses on positive parenting, decreasing toxic stress. Elaine Weiss interview with Sue Christian. Dec. 8, 2017.

    37. Elaine Weiss interview with Sue Christian. Dec. 8, 2017.

    38. Elaine Weiss interview with Sue Christian. Dec. 8, 2017.

    39. Elaine Weiss interview with Sue Christian. Dec. 8, 2017.

    40. Elaine Weiss interview with Rochelle Garrett. Dec. 6, 2017.

    41. Elaine Weiss interview with Principal Steve Burchfield. Dec. 7, 2017.

    42. Elaine Weiss interview with Owsley County High School principal Charlie Davison. Dec. 7, 2017.

    43. Elaine Weiss interview with Melissa Baker. Dec. 7, 2017.

    44. Elaine Weiss interview with Sue Christian. Dec. 8, 2017.

    45. Elaine Weiss interview with Frankie-Jo Baldwin. Dec. 6, 2017.


    47. Elaine Weiss interview with Tennant Kirk, Dec. 6, 2017.

    48. Elaine Weiss interview with Tennant Kirk. Dec. 6, 2017.

    49. Elaine Weiss interview with Nadine Crouch. Dec. 7, 2017.

    50. Elaine Weiss correspondence with Sherry Scott. March 2018.

    51. John Cheves, “Tale of two Kentucky schools: Barbourville gets $8,362 per student; Anchorage gets $19,927.” Lexington Herald-Dealer. January 4, 2014.

    52. Elaine Weiss visit to schools, Dec. 2017.

    53. Elaine Weiss interview with Steve Burchfield. Dec. 7, 2017.

    54. Elaine Weiss correspondence with Rebecca Tucker. April 2018.

    55. Elaine Weiss interview with Sue Christian. Dec. 8, 2017.

    56. Elaine Weiss interview with Nadine Couch. Dec. 7, 2017.

    57. Elaine Weiss correspondence with Beth Brown, April 2018.

    58. Elaine Weiss interview with Tennant Kirk, internal data collected by Partners for Education as part of monitoring for Promise Neighborhood grant reporting.

    59. Elaine Weiss interview with Melissa Baker. Dec. 7, 2017.

    60. Internal data collected by Partners for Education as part of monitoring for Promise Neighborhood grant reporting.

    61. Elaine Weiss correspondence with Rebecca Tucker, April 2018.