From PTA to ParentCamp: Florence mom goes national

Julie Pile took her first step as an education advocate when her daughter was in kindergarten at Stephens Elementary School.

Pile volunteered to upgrade the PTA’s website, bringing experience from her day job as administrator at a Cincinnati law firm. The Florence mother of two eventually became PTA president, eager to make all parents feel comfortable about getting involved.

Today, Pile runs a nonprofit called ParentCamp, taking national her passion for family involvement and education success. Though it started in 2015, parents need guidance and fellowship now more than ever because of the pandemic’s effect on schools. She renamed it Virtual ParentCamp, and is busy training school districts across America so they can take off on
their own.

Pile was a featured speaker at “Radical Family Engagement: A Journey Like No Other,” an October event put on by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. During the week, she ran a Virtual ParentCamp, managing a Zoom event of 200 participants and 20 breakout rooms.

What is a ParentCamp? According to the U.S. Department of Education, it is a gathering of parents, guardians, grandparents, and other caregivers to discuss issues or ideas that will lead to a better education experience for children.

Every two weeks, Pile and her partner Laura Gilchrist, of Kansas City, conduct Virtual ParentCamp. Long before the pandemic hit, they were already conducting chats on Zoom, sharing their message of collaboration and training to 41 states − from the Maryland Department of Education to a school district in Walla Walla, Washington − and four countries.

Recent topics at a Virtual ParentCamp:
  • How to strengthen family resilience and self-care;
  • Addressing family trauma;
  • How to address parents online to make a difference in their families and communities.
Pile’s close friend Kim Webb, director of the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky, knew her back in the PTA days. She is not surprised at all by the path Julie has taken, even though it could not have been predicted.

“It's been a long journey to get here. It's not something that happened overnight. She's been doing and planning and building toward this, whether she knows it or not,” Webb says. She says her friend’s qualities of patience, tenacity, and “putting in the work” led to Pile’s achievements.

Pile ran for Boone County school board in 2018. She is three years into her first term and plans to run again in 2022. Though she has a background in finance, she is most interested in teaching and learning issues within the state’s third-largest school district.

“Educators can't do it all themselves. Our educators are in a silo. For kids to experience the whole world and everything and to have mentors and really pursue careers, educators can't do that by themselves,” she says.

If parents and teachers have a strong relationship and children see that, Pile says, the students are going to strive to do better.

Dr. Randy Poe, retired superintendent of Boone County Schools, has watched Pile’s evolution as an education advocate − from the school level to the district level, and on to becoming a school board member.

A thirst for more knowledge and tools led Pile to networking statewide, as well.

“Julie became involved in the Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership provided by the Prichard Committee and from there she learned how to be an advocate for all students and work schoolwide projects,” Poe says.

“Julie’s passion to see children learn has now moved to her heading a national nonprofit, ParentCamp, to get other parents as engaged as she is,” says Poe, executive director of the Northern Kentucky Education Council.

An engaged parent leads to an engaged student which leads to an engaged community, Poe explains, citing a concept from national educational author Phil Schletchy. “An engaged community leads to prosperity for all. Julie exemplifies this philosophy.

“Julie cares about community and the welfare of all students. What she wishes for her children, she wishes for all,” Poe says.

If she could have one wish to improve education, what would it be?

After a long pause, Pile says, “That we would eliminate the barrier of time. Kids have to learn things at certain points of time, or they're not considered grade level. Every kid learns differently ... and really, personalizing education, so that the focus is on the kids mastering the content, and they move on when they're ready.”

Pile’s extracurricular activities include daily swims, taking long walks with her dog or with friends, and serving on the board of the Florence Rotary Club.

Though a highly organized person, Pile loves a good laugh and is open to moments of serendipity.

One such happy accident occurred when she wanted to know more about “deeper learning,” a concept she came across in an article. Forcing herself a bit outside her comfort zone, she tracked down the author in Denver and put in a call. The author, Dr. Jason E. Glass, was kind enough to attend a Virtual ParentCamp. As the Zoom session ended, Glass said some news was imminent: He was a finalist for Kentucky Commissioner of Education. Glass ultimately got the job.

“I’m like, oh my gosh,” Pile recalls with a laugh.

Her daughter, Sophie, is now 16. Son Joseph is 14. They both attend Boone County High School, where Pile served as president of the recently formed Boone County High School PTSA.

“It's never been just about Sophie and Joseph,” says Webb. “This is about giving the same opportunities to every student, giving the same opportunities to every parent to really cross all the economic boundaries, language barriers, all of that. She wants every parent to succeed and every student to succeed.”
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