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Sep 20, 2021 |

After a nationwide search, Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith will start as NCFL’s new president on September 27, 2021. A lifelong educator and national thought leader for teaching and learning, Dr. Smith brings decades of valuable experience to advance NCFL’s mission of working to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families. 

Dr. Smith will become the second leader over NCFL’s 32-year history, succeeding its founder, Sharon Darling. NCFL’s board of directors selected Dr. Smith through a rigorous national search, citing her noteworthy accomplishments working alongside students on family literacy and engagement initiatives across local, state, and national levels in both the public and private sectors. She joins NCFL after departing from her role as the senior director, U.S. Regions at the National Geographic Society, where she oversaw the development and implementation of National Geographic's education strategy for scaling, innovation, and delivery of game-changing tools, resources, and learning experiences. 

“Felicia is committed to supporting our nation’s families in local communities while also promoting innovation across the field,” said NCFL’s board chair Richard Barr, former vice president of Airline Operations at UPS. “She is an outstanding leader who will enhance NCFL’s history of exceptional work while also making sure we are ready to meet the educational demands of the future.” 

Dr. Smith has held pivotal roles influencing the future of education both nationally and globally. At the National Geographic Society, she led a team to steward 31 regional partnerships from incubation and strategy development to execution. As a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, she helped to shape and reimagine the Foundation’s K-12 education investment portfolio focused on place-based strategies for education leadership and advancing college and career ready efforts, P-20.

Dr. Smith has also had a tremendous impact catalyzing positive change in Kentucky’s education system, serving as the associate commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Education and then as the assistant superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, where she successfully executed the strategic plan that supports over 100,000 students and their families annually. Her work spearheading family literacy and parent engagement professional development initiatives has dramatically shifted the culture of literacy and learning outcomes in Kentucky’s schools, especially for students in Title 1 schools.

Dr. Smith’s successes and dedication to improving education systems to best serve families has contributed to her reputation as a national leader, influencer, and advocate in education nationwide. In 2020, Dr. Smith was appointed by Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear to the Southern Regional Education Board. Recently, she was elected to serve as vice chair of this board. At the forefront of centering equity in education through inclusive programming, in 2021 she was selected to participate in The Equity Lab’s prestigious year-long Nexus Fellowship. Dr. Smith embraces her opportunity to give back in service to support various other local and national education organizations addressing key challenges facing the field. She collaborates with non-profit, philanthropic, corporate, and civic organizations to address race, diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in their communities.

Throughout her career Dr. Smith has been a longtime advocate of NCFL and a recent board member. “Engaging students, families, and community stakeholders has been a priority for the equity-driven work I have led throughout my career,” she said. “I am honored to follow Sharon Darling as the next president and will be a good steward of the brand and legacy that has already transformed millions of lives across the country.”

NCFL’s founder and president Sharon Darling will be an active member of NCFL’s board of directors. She said, “There is no individual who is more prepared than Felicia to lead NCFL during a pivotal time for both society and for the education landscape. I have known Felicia for many years and have tremendous respect for her accomplishments and deep commitment to ensuring every child and every family has equitable opportunity to quality education. Dr. Smith is the right person at the right time to lead NCFL into the future.”

As a national leader in embracing and moving families forward through education, NCFL aspires to lead the field in transformative virtual education solutions, develop and scale equitable and inclusive learning programs that are created in partnership with families, and promote policies, systems, and practices that best support the family education needs of the future.


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NCFL Partners

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Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities

William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.

Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, it has invested in our organization’s Sharon Darling Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.

Learn more about the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to guide potential students and volunteers to literacy services, community education programs, and testing centers in their communities.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

PNC Grow Up Great

PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994, most recently in Louisville, Kentucky, to support Say & Play with Words, our pre-Kindergarten vocabulary-building initiative.

NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.

Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great

U.S. Department of Education

Initiated through the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program provides 12 grantees and 13 states with five-year, $5 million grants to promote and implement systemic evidenced-based family engagement strategies. NCFL was selected to lead SFECs in two states, Arizona and Nebraska, and is a primary partner for two other SFECs in Kentucky and Maryland/Pennsylvania. 

The SFECs work to support family engagement through state- and local-level agencies while providing both professional development to school districts and direct services to families related to children’s academic outcomes and overall well-being.

Learn more about the U.S. Department of Education

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

NCFL was named a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s "Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge," which seeks to elevate diverse voices in order to broaden the conversation about the issues inhibiting economic mobility and generate deeper awareness along with actionable understanding. NCFL will develop and launch a podcast series that will highlight the remarkable stories of low-income, diverse families across the U.S. who have improved their communities through Family Service Learning.

Foundation Website