The 2017 award recognizing excellence in school board service goes to a board member who led by example, whether it was around the board meeting table or in the classroom as a volunteer.
Gretchen Weigel Cole, who retired last year after 23 years on the Somerset Independent school board, received the Warren Proudfoot Award for Outstanding School Board Member during KSBA’s annual conference, Feb. 24-26 in Louisville. The award is sponsored and judged by the Kentucky PTA, named in honor of a former Rowan County board member and KSBA president.
Gretchen Weigel Cole, who retired last year after 23 years on the Somerset Independent school board, receives the Proudfoot Outstanding School Board Member Award Saturday, Feb. 25 during the KSBA’s 81st Annual Conference in Louisville. From left, KSBA President Allen Kennedy; Kentucky PTA President Cherie Dimar; Cole; and KSBA Executive Director Mike Armstrong.
In receiving the award, Cole thanked PTA, the district, its employees and her family. “It has been especially gratifying to represent and give back to the community in which I was raised and to the school from which I and my seven brothers and sisters and our four children, a niece and four nephews graduated,” she said. “To say this was personal for me would be an understatement.”
Cole noted all the changes Kentucky public education has been through during her tenure, adding, “Though the goals are noble, sometimes I feel we change the target so often our teachers’ time spent teaching versus assessing can be marginalized.”
Cole said the one thing that has not changed is “who we serve – our students. How we serve them certainly has. Schools are asked and expected to do much more than teach. For some of our kids, school is the best seven hours of their day. So to the lawmakers in Washington and Frankfort, please lead by example for our young people and work together to enact policies that will positively impact the home lives of our Commonwealth’s and nation’s families and children.”
During Cole’s time on the board, which included stints as its chairwoman, the Somerset district saw the renovation of all its school buildings – including upgrade of an 800-seat auditorium, new wing and improved HVAC systems – implementation of AdvanceKentucky at the high school and the first distance learning lab in the state, and continued placement in the top 10 percent to 15 percent of the state in student achievement. Cole also was instrumental in the district’s establishment of a summer enrichment camp for at-risk students, in its receipt of a parent involvement grant, and in development of its Transformation Plan.
But it is her volunteerism in schools and the community that also qualify her for the award, her nomination notes.
Cole has volunteered weekly in kindergarten reading groups to help students who need extra assistance, has volunteered to teach character development lessons to third-graders, and gives teachers a hand during state testing days.
“To truly evaluate and put in perspective the importance of the leadership roles Mrs. Cole has taken during her tenure, all one has to do is speak to those around her, attend board meetings or review her past performance,” wrote Meece Middle School PTA President Pamela J. Burkett in her letter supporting Cole’s nomination. “She has a presence and is involved in numerous activities that occur within the district. She has volunteered and helped PTA many times over the years without reservation, and on a moment’s notice.”
Cole’s ability to collaborate with parent groups is one of her strongest points, her nomination states. She served as a member, officer and worker in PTA and athletic booster clubs, as well as working with parents on elementary special reading programs, festivals and character education. She worked on both Project Graduation and prom night to provide safe and fun activities for students and promoted a student/staff recognition program at board meetings. She also is a member of the district’s Hall of Fame Committee that recognizes those who have made significant contributions to its athletic programs.
Cole’s training likewise was above and beyond state requirements. During the implementation of Kentucky education reform, she served on several state education department committees, on the Governor’s Scholars Selection Committee, and on KSBA’s board as a regional chairperson. Cole attended many seminars and statewide training on gifted education, and attended training to better understand core content.
Cole also led a yearlong District Improvement Plan that involved parents, students, teachers and administrators, “while working more hours than most committee members,” the nomination notes. She similarly helped initiate district-wide strategic planning involving all stakeholders to improve all aspects of the district, from curriculum to staff development.
Fiscally, the board during Cole’s service has voted as needed to set a tax rate that produces 4 percent more revenue than the prior year. Her nomination says that she worked to ensure the district is financially sound while encouraging providing raises to faculty and staff when possible.
In the community, Cole and her physician husband direct education programs at their church. As a registered nurse, she volunteered at the Somerset pregnancy support program.
Cole also researched the history of Somerset Independent Schools, tracking down photos of all the district’s school buildings from 1888 to the present. She had them framed, with a short history of each, to be displayed in the central office.
“Mrs. Cole takes the responsibility of a school board member very seriously,” her nomination notes, “and goes over and above what is generally expected of a school board member … She cares so deeply and has worked so hard for Somerset children.”