“When Elvis leaves the building, it’s time for me to go,” Patte Barth mused as she was taking down the big Elvis portrait that for so many years had hung from her office wall. It was September 21, 2018, at about 5 p.m.; Patte was retiring after a long career that included the last thirteen years as Director of the Center for Public Education (CPE) at NSBA.
On June 7, 2019, Patte Barth passed away after a long battle with cancer. While she has left us physically, her research, her dedication to public education and her passion to serve every student in public schools will endure as her legacy at CPE.
Center for Public Education was launched in 2006 as an NSBA initiative. As its director, Patte led a research team that used data to effectively inform the public about the successes and challenges of public schools. In 2017, CPE published the report “Busting the Myth of ‘one-size-fits all’ Public Education,” using data as powerful evidence to support public schools. As the leading author of the report, Patte said, “The neighborhood public school remains the school of first choice for the large majority of families, as school districts offer a growing range of options in their efforts to better serve the different interests and needs of individual students.”
Patte not only advocated using data to cheer for public schools, but also provided school leaders with evidence-based solutions. In 2016, CPE published a research brief titled “Educational Equity: What does it mean? How do we know when we reach it?” In this study, Patte wrote, “Our hope is to provide a common vocabulary for school boards to help them start conversations in their communities and thereby bring the nation closer to fulfilling its promise of equal opportunity for all.”
Among many studies conducted by Patte and her team, the career and technical education (CTE) had always been a strong focus. “It’s been clear for some time that 21st century jobs are going to demand higher level knowledge and skills,” said Patte. “No student can learn anything if they don’t have the opportunity to learn it.”
As a de facto think tank for NSBA, CPE has the mission to provide accurate and objective information for public schools to create effective programs to prepare all students for the 21st century jobs and life in our democratic society. Patte’s leadership was instrumental in the fulfilment of this mission. She will be remembered with both affection and respect.
At a personal level, Patte Barth hired me and was my supervisor for several months. As a new employee, I was struck by her respectful, kind and mild manners which, in my eyes, only enhanced her leadership skills and professional status. In retrospect, as I think about her last day in the office, I cannot escape the feeling that, to her, “Elvis has left the building” was not only about retiring, but maybe a metaphor for her own demise which, unbeknownst to the rest of us, she felt was fast approaching.