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Remembering Phil Pickens

Phil Pickens looks into the sunset

When Phil Pickens was the State Special Education Director for Georgia,  back in late 2000,  he met Patti Solomon, mother, advocate and newly-minted Family Engagement Specialist at the Georgia Department of Education.  That meeting led to the creation of the Georgia Parent Mentor Partnership.

The GaPMP was modeled after a program in Ohio, which Solomon had been involved with prior to her family’s move to Georgia.  Pickens liked the idea, but had a slightly different vision of what this new initiative could be. He wanted to take the program, meant to encourage parent engagement for families of students receiving special education services one step further.  His vision was for those parents, or parent mentors as we are now known, to be considered more than volunteers… they would be trained professionals working in their local school districts.

In 2002, the Georgia Parent Mentor Partnership began with six pilot counties. Since then, the initiative has grown  to over 100 parent mentors who partner with special education directors in over 90 school districts to embed family engagement into school and district initiatives.

The work of the GaPMP has proven its sustainability, growing and adapting over the years.  Parent mentors suffered the loss of their own mentor: Phil Pickens,  who died in 2006. Solomon retired from her post at the DOE in 2012.

The following are some rememberances from Parent Mentors:


Scroll down for the nomination packet


From Edith Abakare, 2016 recipient of the Phil Pickens award:

Just a little under 7 years ago I joined ranks with an awesome group of Moms and Dads across the state of Georgia who were actively engaged in the work of building bridges between home and school. I was so excited that I had been given the opportunity to join this group of work-a-bees. From the smiles, tears , cookies and truths I felt so empowered to know that I was not alone. I followed their leads as I began to support parents in my local district with the knowledge that I  gleaned from my own personal experience with my daughter coupled with the many shared stories from my new found mentor-hood group. Within our great work there is always nestled in my thoughts a huge,” thank you” to the visionary of the Georgia Parent Mentor Partnership. That’s Phil Pickens, Director of Special Education at the State Level who had a heart for parental engagement. Mr. Pickens wanted parents to have a seat at the table with teachers and administrators and community partners. His vision was that in order for parents to be comfortable in that seat they needed trainers and friends to equip them with the knowledge they needed to build positive relationships as they partnered with schools and community to insure that students with disabilities received a free and appropriate public education. I never met Mr. Pickens. I am sure you are wondering how I know so much about him. Well,  that’s because  stories of his support have been shared over and over again within the partnership and we owe him for that vote of confidence that parents can and will do the work if giving the opportunity. So with that being said, each year an award is given to one parent mentor and one director who have excelled in the work and pushed past themselves to roll of outstanding leadership at the local and state level. I can never tell you how humbling it was to be nominated for such a distinguished award. It was indeed an honor that someone saw me in a crowd of 100 plus mentors and felt that I should be nominated. What a joy to be even  considered . Well at kickoff 2016, Georgia Parent Mentor Partnership awarded me the PHIL PICKENS PARENT MENTOR LEADERSHIP AWARD. When my name was called I was completely shocked. I jumped up and shouted, Metro Rocks! And ran to my fellow region members and asked them to take the floor with me. You see, the win was not for me it was a win for Metro Region for allowing me to grow with them as Regional Representative for 2 years. It was a win for Phil because his vision continues as we work, collaborate and  celebrate  each other on the way to successfully engaging parents to be active participants in their child’s education.


The following  have been recognized in acknowledgement of their hard work and dedication in the role of a leader:

2005 Phil Pickens

2006   Ms. Clemene Ramsey  Fayette County Schools SPED Director

2007   Dr. Julie Moilanen Grady County Schools SPED Director

2008  Mike Blake  Clarke County Schools  and   Scott Crain Hall County  Parent Mentor

2009  Dr. Mikki Garcia  Chatham County Schools   Ginger Henderson Meriwether County Parent Mentor

2010  Dr. Sue Carter Walton County SPED  and  Tracy Barber Seminole County Parent Mentor

2011  Joellen Harden Dodge County SPED  Kim Chester Bartow County Parent Mentor

2012  Joan Baird Madison County SPED  Pam Moore Madison County Parent Mentor

2013  Jennifer Mellor Jones County SPED  Teresa Johnson Walton County Parent Mentor

2014  Ann Cross Gordon County SPED Carol Smith Candler County Parent Mentor

2015 Andrea Pender Barrow County SPED April Lee Wayne County Parent Mentor

2016 Sandy Malone Seminole County SPED *parent mentor tie  Edith Abakare, Atlanta City AND Lisa Vaughn, Liberty County

2017  Dr. Mary Kay Berry White County SPED and Jackie McNair Gwinnett County Parent Mentor