Voice Recognition

KSBA News Article

In Conversation With ... Julie Pile

Julie Pile

Kentucky School Advocate
November 2023

In Conversation With  features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate.

Julie Pile is a former Boone County school board member, current member of the Kentucky Board of Education and president of ParentCamp (parentcamp.org). November is National Family Engagement Month, so we talked to her about the importance of parents getting involved in their kids’ schools, ways they can get involved and how ParentCamp fosters parental involvement.

Q. You were involved with the Boone County schools for quite a while. Why did you decide to get involved?

I’ve always liked to connect with others, so I attended a PTA meeting when my daughter was in kindergarten. There were speakers at that meeting, and it seemed like everyone assumed we all knew who everyone was. I didn’t feel very valued or welcomed. I got involved because I like to push people outside their comfort zone, and, eventually, I became PTA president. We invited people in and had more volunteers than we knew what to do with. My daughter is in college now but we parents who met during that time often say it was one of the best years of our kids’ lives. We surrounded the kids in love. There was vibrancy and happiness. It shows what can happen when we take the time to build relationships.

Q. Why do you think more parents don’t become involved in their kids’ schools?

Sometimes there’s the perception that educators know everything and don’t want us there. But if parents talked to educators, they’d realize administrators and teachers do want them to be involved. Sometimes parents had a bad experience at school in childhood and that keeps them from getting involved. There are other barriers: transportation, economic, social.

Q. What can be done to encourage involvement?

The two sides must meet in the middle. Educators need to do more to reach out, but parents also need to push themselves out there. Often, schools offer family engagement that’s just “sit and get” but relationships are built by talking to each other. In our ParentCamps, you aren’t listening to one person speak and then asking questions at the end. Our sessions are facilitated dialogue. There’s a facilitator in the room, but they’re not a presenter. It’s a safe, nonjudgmental environment so people become vulnerable and authentic.

Q. You served on the school board in Boone County. What did you not realize about school board service that you learned after you joined the board?

There are more restrictions on school board members than people think. The other revelation was understanding the SEEK funding mechanism. It was designed with great intent and to be equitable, but variables have changed, and it needs to be revisited.

Q. You’ve made family engagement your career now, as president of ParentCamp. Tell us about it.

ParentCamp is a nonprofit registered in Kentucky seven years ago. My colleague, Laura Gilchrist, and I work together. She is a teacher in Kansas City so she’s strong on the instructional side; I’m the parent side. ParentCamp is the door for a parent who wants to be involved, wants to learn and needs to advocate for their kids. We help build parent and leadership capacities. ParentCamp typically lasts two hours and, usually, if it’s held at a school, it includes dinner and childcare.

Q. You also do a virtual version?

Yes, our national virtual ParentCamp is held once a month for an hour at night. We’ve had people from 48 states and seven countries join us, and we hear the same thing in the virtual version as we do in-person. People say they realize they are not alone in their parenting concerns and that they’re not a bad parent or doing it wrong. It gives that validation that we’re all going through these things and we just need to support each other. And maybe a parent will hear about something that another parent is doing that is working with their child that they can try. A lot of our schools are in rural areas, where traveling to an in-person meeting can be a challenge, so they like the virtual option because it has opened opportunities for people to be more engaged.

Q. How do you create a ParentCamp program?

We contract with state departments of education, school districts or schools, and then we go out to them. They form a team that includes administrators, teachers, parents and other educators and leaders. The school team does a day of training. When they walk out of training, they have planned their first ParentCamp. Every school has a coach who works with them for 12 months. Our contracts are for an entire year. Our goal is for them to have four ParentCamps in a year, because it takes that much dedicated time to build those relationships.

Before becoming a Boone County school board member, then a member of the Kentucky Board of Education, Julie Pile was actively involved in her children’s school becoming PTA president. Photo provided

Q. Do you work with schools in Kentucky?


That’s a little tricky, because while I was on the Boone County school board, I couldn’t do anything in Boone County as it would be a conflict of interest. I did do some pro bono work there. And now I’m on the state board of education, so I must also avoid conflicts of interest.

Q. This is National Family Engagement Month. What are three things parents can do this month to be more engaged in their kids’ schools?

Talk to your kids’ teachers. Share with them some quirky, fun things about your kids so they get to know them. I would always set up a time at the beginning of the school year to chat with my kids’ teachers. I’d tell them about things that would almost guarantee to get my kids’ attention in case they struggled to hold their interest. I’d also tell them that I know my kids are not perfect so if they do something, let me know because I’m going to have your back and deal with it at home. Reach out to school principals and ask what can I do to help? Do you need speakers for career days? Schools need parents and community members to be involved. Parents need to realize they have value and a gift to share with their school, so don’t be afraid. Share what you would like to do. I had a parent tell me they liked to take pictures, so I had them help with the yearbook. It’s about finding out what makes people tick and what they’re passionate about.

Q. A lot of your fellow members on the Kentucky Board of Education are former educators. Do you think it’s important to have a voice like yours on the board?

It is helpful to have somebody who has a different background. I’m a parent but I’ve also been a businessperson, so I look at things differently. I throw out ideas and the others might say, ‘Oh, I hadn’t thought about that.’ It’s always good to have different lenses in a group that’s making decisions. I consider myself an education geek, but I’m not an educator.

Q. What are some of your goals for your service at the state board level?

I want to push the envelope and not allow the status quo to continue because we’re very innovative in Kentucky, and our kids deserve better. There are things we need to grow and improve like project-based learning and workplace experiences. We need to think outside the box, constantly question why we are doing things a certain way. If you can’t give me a good reason why, maybe we need to change it.  One frustration is that so much of education is tied to Kentucky legislation, so our hands are sometimes tied. One of my goals is to build good relationships with legislators so they understand where we need to go to make Kentucky one of the best education systems in the country. There are two silos: legislators and education people, and those silos need to be broken down so that we’re conversing and all going in the same direction, not fighting each other. We’ve got to sit down and talk to each other.

Q. How do you think school boards around the state can help foster more parental engagement?

Meet and mingle with people. Go to events and talk to people you don’t normally talk to. Go to business council meetings, community service meetings like Rotary and Kiwanis. And talk to kids because they will tell you like it is. Be open to other perspectives. Some may be contradictory to your beliefs, but try to listen to understand instead of listening to respond.

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