Advocate Staff Report
The 2012 Friend of Education Award winner was nominated by her local school board, but her influence on public education has been felt in every corner of the state.
Helen Mountjoy of Utica, a former member of the Kentucky Board of Education and former secretary of the state’s Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, received the award from the Kentucky School Boards Association on Feb. 3, during the group’s annual conference in Louisville.
The award, established in 1988, recognizes an individual, business or civic organization’s commitment to the promotion of public elementary and secondary education.
Mountjoy was nominated by the Daviess County Board of Education, on which she served from 1981-1988 – the last two years as chairwoman. The nomination notes that she was involved with the historic 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act from the beginning, calling the positive changes that have resulted from that legislation “the fruits of seeds she helped to sow.”
The fertilizer that helped those seeds grow, however, has dwindled in more recent years. In accepting the award, Mountjoy noted that the General Assembly is in session, telling the audience, “They will talk about the money that they are going to give to education.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the legislature doesn’t give education anything. They invest in the future through you and your students. And quite frankly, in this economy, it’s the only investment that can boast that it guarantees a return – a return that continues decade after decade.”
Get that message out to communities, constituents and legislators, Mountjoy urged school board members. “If we don’t carry the message, nobody else will, either.”
Mountjoy said she was both surprised and gratified by the Friend of Education Award, but added, “local school board members, as we all know, are the real friends of education. You are the ones who, day in and day out, spend your time envisioning, implementing and supporting all manner of educational opportunities to ensure that your students are able to be successful at the next level, whatever that level might be.”
Mountjoy’s service to the Kentucky Board of Education ended in 2006 after 15 years, including six as chairwoman. She was appointed secretary of the state’s Education and Workforce Development Cabinet when Gov. Steve Beshear took office in December 2007 and held the post for two years. More recently, Mountjoy was a member of Beshear’s Transforming Education in Kentucky task force.
Her past positions also include serving as vice president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation. As part of her work with that organization, she provided leadership for the Greater Owensboro Regional Alliance for Education, bringing together employers and educators to ensure that schools meet work force needs.
Currently, Mountjoy is heading Daviess County’s efforts to become a Work-Ready Certified Community, aimed at ensuring students are ready to move to the next level of study, training or the workplace. Her goals include identifying or creating programs for students to learn the “soft skill” that employers require, such as punctuality, attendance, teamwork and leadership.
The Friend of Education Award is just the most recent of honors for Mountjoy. She has been recognized by the Kentucky Board of Education with the Dr. Samuel Robinson Award for outstanding leadership, commitment and service in promoting equity and opportunity to learn at high levels for all Kentucky students. She also is a recipient of the Flag of Learning and Liberty from the Kentucky School Public Relations Association for her contributions to public education.
In 2002, Mountjoy was honored with the Distinguished Service Award of the National Association of State Boards of Education, which cited her leadership on education reform on the Kentucky Board of Education.
But, as the Daviess County school board noted in its nomination for the Friend of Education Award, her legacy “is best summarized not in the awards, trophies and honors that have been bestowed upon her – deservedly so – but in the fact that, due to her visionary leadership, tireless efforts and positive contributions, education in Kentucky has focused its emphasis on student performance and achievement, which in turn provide equity and opportunity for all students to achieve their goals in life.”