We Must Always Remember the Children

by Joyce Pollard
Published in SEDL Letter Volume IX, Number 4, November 1996, Technology Comes to School

Schoolchildren in the Southwestern Region of the United States are about to lose a staunch supporter. After 28.5 years of service with the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, including 15 years as president and chief executive officer, Dr. Preston C. Kronkosky will retire on November 30, 1996.

Picture of Dr. Preston C. Kronkosky
Dr. Preston C. Kronkosky, Southwest Educational Development Laboratory CEO, retires after 37.5 years of service to public schooling

For 30 years SEDL has been a leading developer of educational research-based products and services designed for educators, parents, and education policymakers in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. And for nearly that long, Kronkosky has led or contributed to many of SEDL's most significant development and research activities.

Kronkosky will leave SEDL as confident of its future as he is proud of its past. "I believe my successor will find as solid an organization and as talented a group of colleagues as one can find anywhere in this country," he said. "With imagination, thoughtful planning, and the grace of God, they will see that SEDL continues to address the needs of children well into the 21st century.

"Even when we get caught up in our daily tasks of administration or management, we must always remember the children."

A deep concern for otherwise unserved or underserved children and youths-and a desire to ensure they receive equitable educational opportunities in the public schools-has fueled Kronkosky's 37.5 years in education. It has shaped his work as he advanced from classroom teaching and education administration for the Corpus Christi, TX, Independent School District to conducting education research at local, state, and regional levels, and has directed his leadership of SEDL.

Kronkosky's research career began in July 1966, when he joined the staff of the Governor's Committee on Public School Education, created the year before by Texas Governor John Connally. This special committee undertook what many at the time considered to be the most extensive state examination of public school conditions and alternatives ever conducted in the United States.

"When Governor Connally's committee finished its work, some educational leaders called it the most comprehensive, far-reaching set of recommendations for school improvement. Some say it still is," Kronkosky said. "Roughly 60 percent of the committee's recommendations were implemented immediately after they were presented; others have taken much longer. Only now are we almost addressing one of the committee's recommendations: equalization of funding among Texas school districts."

Even when he served as a committee staff member, Kronkosky's personal and professional fortunes were intertwined with those of SEDL. One of his first tasks was to visit a new organization called the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, Kronkosky recalled.

"I was impressed with SEDL's visionary founding director, Dr. Edwin Hindsman. But it wasn't until after I finished my work for the governor's committee that I was invited to work there," Kronkosky said. "Rogers L. Barton, who recruited me, had been my supervisor in Corpus Christi. He was an extraordinary thinker, but so demanding a taskmaster that I had sworn never to work for him again. Yet when I had a second chance to work for him, I leaped at the opportunity because he had made me grow professionally."

Kronkosky may have come to SEDL because of Edwin Hindsman and Rogers Barton, but he stayed because of SEDL's work in school improvement. He could combine his commitment to helping underserved children with the intellectual challenge of conducting applied education research.

"In its early days as a regional laboratory, SEDL was active in curriculum development, particularly of bilingual materials for early childhood educators," Kronkosky said. "SEDL developer-teachers were constantly out in schools and districts working with teachers and administrators to address difficult problems-the kind that are complex, that may have deep roots in the conditions of a community, and that ultimately affect the schools. You know-those problems you can't resolve with a quick fix or a legislative silver bullet. You push in one place and something gives or changes in another; they are deeply systemic. Your strategies need to be implemented at different levels, and your results will probably be realized over time."

These seemingly intractable educational issues became the focus of Kronkosky's career. An example is SEDL's Follow Through Program, a 25-year effort in which low-income students received training and support that helped them make the transition from Head Start Programs to success as primary and secondary students. In directing SEDL's Follow Through Program, Kronkosky joined a national network of reformers striving to bring equal educational opportunities to disadvantaged youth.

Among these reformers was Dave Weikart, now president of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti, MI, who recalled that Kronkosky always took on the "the hard stuff" at the Follow Through national planning meetings held during the 1970s and early 1980s.

"He tried to make Congress and the public understand the contribution that Follow Through could make in the development of young children," Weikart said. "He was a rabble-rouser and a peacemaker in trying to get issues resolved." In particular, Weikart said, Kronkosky helped the many Follow Through programs scattered across the country present a unified face "to Congress and to critics who would say, 'What's the point of trying to make a change at all? These problems won't go away.' He made sure that the work was done."

As a staff member and later as SEDL's CEO, Kronkosky has been instrumental in creating or directing other notable programs, including:

  • Bilingual early childhood curricula that are used in classrooms today.
  • The Basic Skills Learning Center Project, where SEDL provided its previously developed bilingual curricula to more than 100 school districts in Arizona, California, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Texas and trained teachers and administrators in how to deliver those curricula.
  • The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory's Regional Exchange, a harbinger of SEDL's current role as a source of education R&D and technical assistance that address needs unique to schools in its regional service area.

The immediate past chairman of SEDL's Board, Alma Williams, who manages community relations with the Entergy Corporation of Little Rock, AR, described the source of Kronkosky's commitment. "Preston works at staying attuned-and keeping SEDL attuned-to the needs of major client groups. As CEO, he has represented the needs and interests of educators and those of us concerned about education wherever such representation might serve public education well.

"Probably the quality that distinguishes him among his counterparts," Williams continued, "is his unflagging commitment to SEDL's mission of ensuring educational opportunity and achievement for all children."

The institution that Kronkosky leaves on his retirement is very different from the fledgling organization he joined in 1968. Today, the Austin-based company is an $11-million-per-year private, nonprofit corporation with a proven track record in winning competitive educational R&D grants and contracts.

During his tenure as CEO, Kronkosky has led the corporation to win three successive five-year contracts from the US Department of Education to continue operations of the regional educational laboratory. He has also diversified SEDL's funding base and expanded its programmatic portfolio, positioning the organization to win contracts and grants that extend its field operations to many other states.

As he reviewed his career at SEDL, Kronkosky said, "I have proudly spent most of the last 30 years in service to public schooling in the Southwest through my association with SEDL. I've watched changes in approaches, products, and services. But I've never doubted that SEDL remains well positioned to put the best of education research and practice into the hands of those who can use it. To me, the role of the regional educational laboratories has always been to help address those problems that others are reluctant to tackle. I think, to some extent, it will remain the role of regional educational laboratories in general, and SEDL in particular."

The SEDL Board of Directors appointed a ten-member committee, headed by its chairman Sandy Garrett, to conduct a nationwide search for SEDL's new president and CEO. Garrett, who is Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the search committee is working with Policy Studies Associates, a research consulting firm based in Washington, DC, to select and interview candidates. She anticipated that Kronkosky's successor will be named by mid-November.

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