PEF was formed to provide support for public schools in Chattanooga and Hamilton County. 
At that time, the schools were separately managed by city and county governments. The superintendents of the two systems invited the community to establish a group that would help them to “create outstanding schools by applying resources to bold ideas.”


For six years, PEF focused on professional development as a means to school improvement.

  • Generous mini-grants gave educators opportunities to enrich their  teaching skills.
  • Principals formed a network to support one another and discuss  successful strategies.
  • PEF helped improve the libraries of 28 elementary and middle schools.


The Chattanooga community voted to turn responsibility for education over to the county, requiring the two systems to merge.

At the request of the Hamilton County School Board, PEF surveyed 3,300 area residents and convened 135 community members – educators, civic and government leaders, residents, parents and students – to help shape the vision for the new school system.


The newly consolidated system emerged, and the partnership with PEF continued.


The Superintendent asked PEF to develop a program to help train school leaders. PEF’s Leadership Initiative has grown to include an intensive, year-long Leadership Fellows program that trains future leaders; learning and literacy institutes for principals and other school leaders; and grants to form school-based book clubs focused on leadership.


PEF began two major school reform initiatives, both of which have been highly successful. In partnership with HCDE and the Benwood Foundation, $7.5 million was invested to create changes that have revitalized the county’s lowest-performing elementary schools through the Benwood Initiative; as part of the Carnegie Corporation’s Schools for a New Society initiative, $14 million was invested to reform each one of the county’s high schools.


The county’s middle schools were included in reform efforts, with a $2.5 million contribution from the NEA Foundation and $6 million from the Lyndhurst Foundation to support Middle Schools for a New Society.


The Benwood initiative expanded to include seven new schools. Middle and high schools are working to move students to advanced levels, and have broadened their focus to include math as well as literacy. Efforts will continue to prepare students for higher education and increase the number of graduates who enroll – and succeed – in college.


PEF merged with the College Access Center. The two organizations had been working so closely together over the last few years that a merger just made good sense. PEF is working to make sure that every student in the county has an opportunity to go to college. Among the college access and success initiatives are:

  • College Advisors in every school in Hamilton County
  • Peer mentoring programs that assign college students to help high  school students overcome barriers to college enrollment
  • Passport Scholars, a program that provides low income girls the  opportunity to experience outstanding summer programs, form  relationships with dedicated mentors and receive professional college  counseling
  • Camp College, an annual 3-day event held at the University of the South  to provide intensive college advising to 60 rising Hamilton County high  school seniors who would be the first in their families to attend college.

2009 – 2010

PEF hosted a series of Principal Leadership Workshops for elementary and secondary assistant principals.


Supported by PEF, the Chamber of Commerce, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Joe Davenport, Unum, the United Way, and an anonymous funder, the Principal Leadership Academy began in summer 2010 to provide more intensive training, mentoring and support over the course of one year to assistant principals interested in moving into a principal’s role.

PEF launched TEACH/Here, an innovative initiative to recruit promising new teachers from nontraditional backgrounds.


Hamilton County was one of only three districts in the state to receive funding as part of the Tennessee Department of Education’s Teacher and Principal Residency Competitive Grant Program. Part of the First to the Top initiative, these funds will be used by HCDE in partnership with the Public Education Foundation and Tennessee Technological University to expand the TEACH/Here program to include fourth through eighth grade urban math classrooms throughout the district.