Dr. Vicki Phillips knows what it takes to fight for an education, and has spent her career making sure all young people have learning opportunities and understand the value of a college education.
Phillips, a native of Falls of Rough, Ky., has experienced firsthand the difference between low and high expectations, and how it can affect an individual’s life trajectory. Though she excelled at school, graduating near the top of her class, she was never encouraged to strive for higher learning. As a farm girl from Breckinridge County, achieving a college degree away from home was viewed almost as a betrayal of her roots and family, and not attainable because of her socio-economic status.
Thanks to a friend from the affluent side of the county who saw her potential and love for learning, Phillips chose education over family duty. She enrolled in Western Kentucky University. This is where she first understood the power of high expectations. Phillips wasn’t willing to accept that the gaps between where she grew up would determine where she ended up, and because of that, has become an education champion for all.
Phillips received a BA in Elementary Education and MA in School Psychology from Western Kentucky University. She earned a doctorate in Education from the University of Lincoln in England.
Fueled by a passion born from experience, Phillips is convinced that luck, background, and income should be taken out of the equation for student success. She holds that all children deserve to follow their dreams and passions, to set and meet high expectations, and to travel where their spirits lead them. Not by luck, but by design. In the land of opportunity, Phillips believes no child in this country should lack for a quality education.
For decades, Phillips has had a bird’s-eye view of the challenges and best practices in education around the world. She began her career as a teacher in Simpson County and went on to serve in senior executive positions in the Kentucky Department of Education. Phillips had a front row seat during the years immediately before and after the sweeping Kentucky Education reform Act (KERA) of 1990 where she served as Special Assistant to the Deputy Director of the Kentucky Bureau of Instruction and was Chief Executive Assistant to Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education.
Phillips spent eight years as director of education strategy and grantmaking for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She was selected because of her “deep understanding of the challenges facing American schools combined with her strong track record of school improvement.”
She also served as Superintendent of Schools in Lancaster, Pa., Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Superintendent of Portland (Ore.) Public Schools. Now residing in Seattle, Washington, Phillips is currently the Owner, Education Executive & Strategist at Drvickip, LLC and is CEO in Residence at Educurious.
Recently Dr. Phillips announced the beginning of a new adventure with the National Geographic Society as the leader of the Society’s education work in the U.S. and around the world. In her own words, Dr. Phillips expressed her excitement about taking on this new role. “National Geographic has had a longstanding commitment to education, and has recently made the decision to elevate its education work to impact more students and teachers. I’m inspired by National Geographic’s renewed commitment to education by equipping young people with the academic, contemporary, and community skills they need to become globally engaged citizens who live in the world responsibly. That combination – the power of education and protecting our planet, along with the extraordinary team at National Geographic made stepping up to this next challenge irresistible.”