CCSSO Honors Dolly Parton with 2022 Distinguished Service Award

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Washington, D.C. (March 28, 2022) – The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) today presented its 2022 Distinguished Service Award to Dolly Parton for her work to expand early childhood literacy.

The Distinguished Service Award is the Council’s highest honor and recognizes individuals whose contributions have given strength to pre-K-12 public education in the United States. This premier award of the Council has been presented for more than 60 years. With this award, CCSSO recognizes extensive, long-term service and commitment to improving education. 

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is dedicated to inspiring a love of reading by gifting books free of charge to children from birth to age 5, through funding shared by Dolly Parton and local community partners. The impact of the program is supported through research which has shown enrolled families read with children more, and children are more likely to be ready for kindergarten and score higher on standardized reading assessments through elementary school. 

Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write, Parton started the Imagination Library in her hometown of Sevier County, Tennessee, in 1995. In the years since, the program has been replicated in communities across the United States and internationally, expanding to offer Spanish-language, audio and Braille books. The Imagination Library mails over 1.8 million books every month and had gifted more than 176 million books by the end of February 2022.  

“CCSSO and state education leaders are committed to improving literacy outcomes for all children,” said CCSSO Chief Executive Officer Carissa Moffat Miller. “It will take all of us, from state chiefs to classroom teachers to nonprofit partners like the Imagination Library, working together to ensure all students have the tools they need to succeed. We’re proud to honor Dolly Parton for more than 25 years of important work in early literacy.”

“I am truly honored to accept this award, and thank you for celebrating my dream,” Parton said in a video shown at the conference. “Together let’s continue to help inspire children to dream more, learn more, care more and, therefore, be more.”

Nora Briggs, executive director of The Dollywood Foundation, attended the conference to accept the award on Parton’s behalf.

“For nearly three decades, Dolly Parton has been a leader in early learning and literacy in Tennessee, the United States and across the world,” said South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, who serves as president of CCSSO’s Board of Directors. “The work of her Imagination Library and the Dollywood Foundation motivates and inspires us all to build better futures for young learners in our own communities. I cannot think of more deserving individual for this prestigious award.”

Last year’s Distinguished Service Award recipient was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, given posthumously. Previous recipients include Sesame Street co-creators Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, federal and state leaders of both political parties, and education researchers and advocates.


The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, Bureau of Indian Education, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues. The Council seeks member consensus on major educational issues and expresses their views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies, Congress, and the public.


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