THE KATHY WILSON STYLE
(And the Style of her Foundation)
Kathy was unique.
She was off-the-chart funny. Irreverent. Inquisitive to the point of annoyance.
Playful. And startingly direct.
“Whenever I have a confrontation where I remind someone about his/her purpose, etiquette,
or morality I always retell the story to my husband Dave by beginning, “I had to
pull a Kathy Wilson today.”
Children Together Board Member
Letter September 10, 2005
But most of all, she brought to early childhood education a political skill-set
honed from her many years in national politics. This made her an effective advocate
for children. She didn’t win every battle (like the time she failed to get through
city council a preschool on the West End side of town). But Kathy Wilson never ever
shied from a fight. To be honest, she frequently picked them when she discovered
a child who had been wronged.
"I’ll never forget when Kathy confronted me in the parking lot of Abracadabra at
the very end of the day. As usual, we were the last to pick up our daughter. Kathy
got about six inches from my face and said, “You need to change your life. One of
you has to take more time to be with your kids. You can’t be the first to drop them
off in the morning and the last to pick them up!” She got me. She spoke to my heart
as a mother. And we did it. We changed our life."
Kathy Wilson was ground zero in the women’s movement in the late 70’s. She joined
the cause when the cold water of life splashed her in the face. She was the top
sales person at a Kansas City hotel when a woman in accounting whispered to her,
“You know those two guys you’re training ? They’re getting paid a $100 a month more
than you are.”
Kathy became a feminist who strongly believed a mother (or father) should stay home
with your child. But if you had to work, you darn well were entitled to equal pay
and unlimited opportunity.
Before she began her second career in early childhood education, she had championed
the first woman on the Supreme Court,
been the principal advocate for the first woman on a national political ticket and
met to congratulate Sally Ride, the first woman astronaut, practically the second
Sally got out of her flight suit.
“By the time I was two, my mother had taken me with her to 45 states to be with
me when she worked.”
So in 1986 when Kathy Wilson got down on her knees to play with kids as a part time
classroom teacher at Resurrection Preschool in Alexandria, she was really more like
a coiled cobra ready to use those “political skills” to strike out in the protection
of her youngest charges.
She became searingly honest with parents, city bureaucrats and fellow educators.
It was refreshing to watch how her candor launched transforming experiences for
those on the sharp pointed end of her lance.
She was, to say the least, pro-active. Her Foundation will embody this Kathy
But Kathy was not only “direct” in confronting problems but also in issuing compliments.
Hours and hours of her time at home in the wee hours of the night were spent writing
recommendation letters, or painstakingly assembling scrap books to chronicle a student’s
time at Abracadabra.
A Story By Max Rickett
I was the kind of kid that was always in some kind of trouble.
My parents were always getting phone calls from other parents and teachers saying
how bad I was.
But there was always one person who never called my parents about the bad stuff
I did but about the good stuff I did. She was Miss Kathy.
Whenever I think of her, I will remember that when everyone saw the bad in me, she
saw the good in me just like God sees the good in all of us.
Baptist Temple Church
September 4, 2005
I wanted to “let you know how grateful I am that you took the time to tell me that
my children loved their son, my grandson, Holden, and how impressed you were with
their devotion to him.”
Letter, Mary Miller
“Ms. C_is one of those rare individuals who is as generous as she is gifted. She
models appropriate practice with top of the line High/Scope techniques. A candidate
of her caliber should not merely be certified. She should be embraced!”
Letter of Recommendation
From Kathy Wilson for a trainer of teachers
So you get the point. As Marcia Call wrote,
Kathy “stands squarely on the side of children.”
The attitude of this Foundation is going to be the attitude she personified.
Letter to Parent
The “Kathy Wilson Direct Approach”
The following letter (redacted* of names) is a splendid example of the Kathy Wilson
Style. It is a letter written to a parent who has obviously complained to Kathy
about her policy to deny their son/daughter admittance to Abracadabra on a day when
the parent was very busy at work and the child was obviously sick or symptomatic
to the admitting teacher. The punch line is in the last paragraph.
*Redacted is a wonderful Washington D.C. word which means deleted.
I've been thinking about your objections to keeping your son/daughter out of school
and it occurred to me that you may not understand our center's policies on sick
or symptomatic children or the reasons for the exclusion guidelines set by public
health authorities, which we follow.
Additionally, I think you need to know the degree of importance that I, as director,
attach to center compliance with the guidelines. It is for these reasons that I
Intentional policies that help prevent or stem the spread of infectious diseases
in child care and preschool environments are crucial because these settings are
uniquely conducive to transmission of infectious agents. Preschool-aged children
who are susceptible to virtually every infection congregate daily with their peers.
Each child brings viruses, bacteria, and parasites from his or her own family to
share. Furthermore, the gathered children have habits of personal hygiene that are
either questionable (at best) or deplorable (on average).
A child who acquires an infection may generously share these germs with teachers,
with his or her own parents and siblings, and with peers at the center.
Symptoms such as fever, lethargy, poor feeding, decreased activity, or unusual behavior
should be a warning that prodrome to illness may be occurring; any combination of
two or more of the above symptoms or symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, rash,
skin lesions, wound infections, cough, or runny nose should warn of the strong likelihood
of infectious disease. These symptoms may also be the result of other conditions
not related to infectious agents; however, most often they are associated with transmissible
microbial agents and children who are either sick or symptomatic must be excluded
in order to prevent their spread.
A secondary reason for exclusion is that the signs and symptoms of infectious illness
generally require a degree of care and person power beyond the staff's abilities
and available time.
Bringing a child with any of these symptoms to the center may cause other children
to get sick. If ALL parents keep sick or symptomatic children at home, everybody's
children, including yours, will be sick less often. And in the end, this will mean
fewer lost work days and fewer illnesses for parents themselves.
We work hard to limit the spread of infectious diseases at this center; following
public health exclusion policies is just one way. We also practice careful adherence
to public health recommended procedures for cleaning and disinfection of contaminated
surfaces, bedding, carpets, and toys and play equipment. We scrupulously follow
the recommended public health procedures for handwashing, diapering, and food preparation.
Our success at moderating the spread of infectious diseases is directly attributable
to our center's strict adherence to them.
It may be important to add that Abracadabra staff members are trained health screeners,
qualified and objective enough to make exclusion determinations.
If parents were given the authority to rule on whether or not their sick or symptomatic
children could attend school, we would doubtless experience far more infectious
illness than we do. Let me re-emphasize this point: Exclusion determinations are
not the purview of the parent.
I suppose that any or all parents could object to staff determinations on exclusion,
but interestingly enough, you are the first parent to have done so in my seven years
of directing this center.
I regard parental objection to this - or any policy or procedure related to health
and safety - as threatening because it could result in an unwise (yet understandable)
staff decision to allow an infected child to remain in the center rather than face
parental protestations of the sort you made the other evening.
It is for this reason that ANY future remonstrations from you on matters relating
to the health and safety of our center will be viewed with the greatest disfavor
and may result in the dismissal of your children. I just thought you needed to know
where I stand on this.
Don’t you just love the last paragraph. Classic
The picture below is of a young Kathy Wilson who at the
time was a two-term president of the National Women's Political Caucus giving serious
advice (with a smile) to the older woman. We can't tell by the picture how the woman
is coping with Kathy's advice, but she is is listening. The woman is Harriet Woods,
former Caucus President, former candidate for the U.S. Senate from Missouri and
no shrinking violet. It is a picture which evokes the "in-your-face-with-a-smile"
style that Kathy pioneered.