published Saturday, August 11th, 2012

PEF sets broader goals for schools

Dan Challener, president of the Public Education Foundation, speaks at a news conference at Unum announcing plans to continue a multiyear investment in Hamilton County's public school system.
Dan Challener, president of the Public Education Foundation, speaks at a news conference at Unum announcing plans to continue a multiyear investment in Hamilton County's public school system.
Photo by Alyson Wright.


• Develop and support leaders who create superb schools where every student meets Tennessee's rigorous new standards.

• Develop and advance highly effective teaching so that all students learn in classes that are engaging, relevant and rigorous.

• Prepare every student for success as a learner, a citizen, an employee and a leader.

• Inform the public about what does -- and what does not -- work in the world of school reform and become an even stronger advocate fro great public schools.

Source: PEF Strategic plan

PEF Strategic Plan
PEF Strategic Plan

The core mission will remain much the same, but over the next five years, the Public Education Foundation will venture into new territory, including school districts outside Hamilton County.

A long-term planning and rebranding effort for the educational nonprofit will change everything from the logo to the name -- it's now simply PEF.

With new industries rolling into the area and newly implemented educational reforms at the state level, PEF leaders said it's an important time to capitalize on educational progress.

"We think this is a pretty important moment in time. It's a huge opportunity to do work in transforming public education," PEF President Dan Challener said.

For the first time in PEF's history, its work could cross over into other districts throughout the region. Challener said outside school districts often have asked for PEF's guidance in the past, though the group has remained focused on Hamilton County.

The new five-year strategic plan calls for up to 20 percent of the organization's revenue to come from districts other than Hamilton County.

"Economically, we're a region. So it's in everybody's best interest to have really good schools," Challener said.

PEF's new plan also calls for a greater emphasis on school leaders. The group currently operates the Principal Leadership Academy to train aspiring principals and the Leadership Fellows program for teachers.

In the future, PEF wants to create a districtwide leadership plan, providing support and training to principals and central office workers throughout their careers.

Instead of continuing to bring in trainers to work with teachers broadly across schools, PEF's new strategy calls for working with specific groups of teachers, such as elementary literacy teachers, those who teach English as a second language students or those who work in high-poverty schools.

To create their new plan, PEF officials sought input from more than 1,000 people, including teachers, principals and national experts. Many teachers and leaders expressed interest in receiving more support from the organization.

"What we got back was them saying, 'Work with us directly to put a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal at the head of every school building.' That's a different focus," said Jim Hill, chairman of the PEF board of directors.

In recent years, funding for PEF dried up from large organizations such as the Carnegie Foundation. This is the last year of a multimillion-dollar and multiyear grant from the local Benwood Foundation that allowed PEF to work in elementary schools, which began by targeting the lowest-performing elementary schools.

In the past few years, PEF has come to rely more and more on smaller contributions from individuals and corporations. This year's annual fund had about 400 donors, officials said.

While PEF has built a more diverse funding portfolio, officials say it doesn't fundamentally change the work it does in schools.

"Our mission hasn't really changed," said Christa Payne, director of development and external relations for the foundation.

In future years, Payne said the group will produce more research, data and analysis to inform the public better on what's happening in public schools. She said it's not a public relations campaign, but is designed to create more local advocates of public education.

And interest in schools seems to be growing already, Challener said.

"More and more people are really focused on public education. To become the community we've all dreamed of becoming, we have to have stronger schools," he said. "We have made progress. Now, let's go to the next level."

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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