October 13, 2014

Inspire through teaching and change the world

For the past four years, Project Inspire has worked to recruit, train, and support excellent math and science teachers for Hamilton County schools. In August, a new cohort of teacher residents entered Dalewood Middle School, Tyner Middle Academy, and Tyner Academy, eager to begin their first year of residency. Side-by-side with their clinical instructors (veteran teachers of Hamilton County), the residents will dive into curriculum, instruction, and relationships with students. The staff of PEF and Project Inspire will continue to support these residents as well as graduates throughout the year.

However, an additional task is fresh on our minds. It’s time to recruit the next incoming cohort of teacher residents who share Project Inspire’s passion for equity and excellence in the Hamilton County public schools.  This year, Project Inspire has received funding from a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation. In the past, the program has been able to recruit teachers with a variety of undergraduate degrees, so long as they had sufficient math or science coursework. This year, however, the NSF grant provides an exciting opportunity for those who hold a degree in the STEM field—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Project Inspire is part of a national recruiting effort to recruit, train, and support STEM teachers. This connection positions Chattanooga nationally next to other large organizations who are devoting efforts to answer the nationwide shortage of quality math and science teachers. Locally, Project Inspire hopes to encourage recent STEM graduates as well as professionals. Through the teacher residency and ongoing professional support through Project Inspire, PEF, and Hamilton County Department of Education, the goal is to create a new story about teaching in low-performing schools—elevating the profession and giving teachers the opportunity to be entrepreneurs in their own classrooms.

On October 23, Project Inspire invites candidates to the first meet-up of the year at the Lamp Post Group for those who want to start a dialogue about teacher residency. The ideal candidate for the program is someone who is passionate about innovation, teaching, and is compelled towards social change. Candidates should hold a STEM degree or be pursuing one currently. While in many parts of the country teacher residency is aimed at recruiting undergraduates, Project Inspire is also an opportunity for career changers to gain a teaching license and masters in curriculum and instruction in a short amount of time. No matter if the candidate will be fresh out of college or is thinking about making a career change, the most important candidate quality is a compelling vision and passion to provide students in Hamilton County with the best science and math teachers possible.

To RSVP for the Project Inspire meet-up, e-mail The meet-up will be held at the Lamp Post Group community room at 5 pm.

- Erin Harrell, Project Inspire Program Associate

September 24, 2014

$3 million NSF grant helps meet the need for math, science teachers in Hamilton County

The National Science Foundation has awarded a nearly $3 million grant to help meet the need for math and science teachers in grades seven through twelve in Tennessee.

Tennessee Technological University, the Hamilton County Department of Education, and PEF together will administer Project Inspire, a teacher residency program that helps people with math and science bachelor’s degrees earn a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from TTU while learning and teaching alongside a mentor teacher in a high-need classroom.

Learn more about the grant from the press release, and visit for more on the residency program.


September 2, 2014

College Knowledge lunches resume; registration open

PEF is reaching out the community and businesses to provide important information on preparing for college & careers. One of the ways we’re doing this is by hosting, in partnership with businesses, the College Knowledge Lunch Breaks. Sessions run from noon to 1 p.m., providing a convenient time for parents, counselors, and other community members to quickly gain valuable knowledge they can share with young people in their lives.

The first “lunch and learn” will be Wednesday, September 24th at PEF on Resume Writing & Interviewing Skills. Larry Tong, Assistant Vice President of Benefits, and Shawnel Rogers, Director of Benefits, will be joining us from Unum to bring their unique employer perspectives.

As students complete their senior year in high school or college they’ve built a wealth of knowledge and skills.  An area that doesn’t get a lot of attention, until students seek employment, is fundamental resume writing and interviewing skills. We’ll discuss the resume and interview from the employer’s perspective during an interactive session:

1) What does an employer look for in a resume and interview?  A basic understanding will help students be strategic with their preparation and build their confidence.

2) Insight to be shared—do’s and don’ts in your resume / interview, cover letters, key business words, social media, elevator speech, professionalism, etc.

A buffet lunch is available for $5 or participants may bring their own lunch; sessions are FREE but online registration is requested.

Subsequent workshops will take place at businesses in the community. We are looking for businesses to provide space so that we bring in experts to talk about college & career related topics to its employees and the general public. For more information about hosting a College Knowledge Lunch Break, contact Janice Neal at 423.668.2423.

 - Stacy Lightfoot, Vice President, College & Career Success

August 21, 2014

Last day to help PEF win $5,000!

Today is our last day to win $5,000 from First Tennessee Foundation! PEF needs your help NOW for our mission of improving student achievement in Hamilton County public schools.

Visit, search for “public education”, and vote for PEF (look for our logo). You DON’T have to register, get a password, or anything. Just search, click, and vote.

You can vote from ALL your devices ONCE a day: your phone, iPad, laptop, desktop, etc. each day, and all those votes will count. Please share this through your networks, social media, and help public schools by helping PEF!

- Shannon Edmondson, Development & Communications Officer


August 20, 2014

Save the date: Transforming Public Education Luncheon

Please save the date for PEF’s Transforming Public Education Luncheon: a celebration of our 25th Anniversary and excellence in teaching, leading, and student achievement.

Wednesday, October 22
11:30 am – 1:00 pm
Chattanoogan Hotel Ballroom

Table and ticket sales will begin after Labor Day; visit our 25th Anniversary page for information as it becomes available.

Contact Shannon Edmondson (423.668.2430) for more information, including sponsorship opportunities.

August 18, 2014

Teacherprenuer 48Hour Launch results in funding for 15 teams of teachers

PEF, Benwood and HCDE in collaboration with CO.LAB hosted the first Teacherpreneur 48Hour Launch weekend and pitch event, with 28 Hamilton County teachers pitching ideas to transform public education. The Teacherpreneur Incubator was designed to provide support, time and space for teachers to incubate big ideas and execute them in the best interests of their students, their profession and the Chattanooga community.

The top 5 projects received prize money for the teachers and funding to carry out the ideas, while a total of 15 projects were awarded financial support. All 28 projects will continue to receive support from PEF, Causeway, Co.Lab, and other community partners.

“The Teacherprenuer Incubator exemplifies the power of connecting innovative teachers to the community,” stated Robert Sharpe, Assistant Superintendent for Leadership and Education.   “If the excitement and support from the 48Hour Launch weekend carries throughout the year, Chattanooga will be known as a place that invests just as much in Teacherprenuers as entrepreneurs.”

Keri Randolph, Vice President of Learning for PEF, explained, “Teachers have great ideas, but they often don’t have the time, support and energy to get those ideas off the ground. We really envision much more than just a typical grant. We’re creating a community of teacher leaders who, with the support of one another and their community, will launch big ideas.”

The first –place prize went to The Howard School’s Jessica Hubbuch and Sean Brown for their “Standards Driven Project-Based Learning for High School Sciences” project. They will develop a project-based curriculum tied into Common Core standards and will use technology to support student research.

The second-place prize was awarded to “Beth’sList,” a website akin to Craigslist for teachers created by Red Bank Elementary’s Beth Wilson to connect teachers with other teachers and local businesses that have extra classroom and office supplies needed for the classroom.

The third-place prize was given to “First Person Fixer,” an interactive computer diagnostics and troubleshooting seminar proposed by Normal Park Museum Magnet’s Matthew Craig.

Lee Friedlander’s “AgLab” greenhouse, which uses food and ornamental crop production at Hixson High to teach problem solving, teamwork, innovation, and STEM principles, tied for fourth with “Leadership Think Tank – 21st Century Communication and Beyond,” a project from Bess T. Shepherd Elementary’s Valerie Brown, Linda Bugg, Lindsey Hagan, and Patricia Russell. The Think Tank team is planning to create a collaborative space for students and teachers to brainstorm ideas and use multiple technologies to make a positive impact on the community.

In addition to the top 5 teams, the following 10 teams won funding and support:

  • All-Star Assessments, Dan Basler, Ganns Middle Valley Elementary School
  • ATOMS: A Team of Motivated Scientists, Natalie Cothran, Central High School
  • From Ordinary to Bomb Diggity, Kimberly Elbakidze, Red Bank Middle School
  • Math Strategies App/Website, Derek Beaty, Ganns Middle Valley Elementary School
  • One Book, One County, One Child – A County-wide Book Club, Angela Davis, Hardy Elementary School
  • PassPort, Lance Myhan, Ooltewah High School
  • Riding the Winds with Drones for Science and Safety, Leah Keith-Houle, Red Bank High School
  • Seminar Toolkit App, Cindy Gaston, Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts
  • The MakerSpace @ Our Library, Cristol Kapp, Clifton Hills Elementary School
  • Virtual Seminars – Expanding the World for Students, Ashley Cox, The Howard School

To help mentor or support one of these teams, please contact Keri Randolph at or 423-668-2426.

August 11, 2014

PEF’s Stacy Lightfoot organizes GEAR UP conference

Did you know PEF’s Vice President of College and Career Success, Stacy Lightfoot, organized the TN GEAR UP Youth Summit? Building on years of experience working with high school students, this conference focused on eight graders and their options for college. See Stacy at about 1:30 in the video below.

July 29, 2014

The Learning Lab: Summer 2014 Camp College

Sewanee, how I love ya
It was way too late to be in Sewanee, and on a weeknight no less. The room was loud and filled with peoplepeople. Many of them had just met, yet they conversed like old friends. They were from many backgrounds, age brackets and universities, yet they ALL had the same kind of energy and vibe. We’ll call it “frenetic grace” for lack of a better descriptor. They gathered together in a home on the Sewanee campus to get their marching orders for the next three days. They were a collection of college admissions counselors, officers and similarly informed individuals, and they had agreed to serve as Camp College faculty to approximately 50 Hamilton County rising seniors from Thursday through Saturday. I was there as part of their orientation to go over some student data they would use later in the week. When I arrived at the orientation, I was wiped out by a long drive at the end of a long day. I left the orientation recharged and ready to take on the world. That’s the kind of energy these people have, the take-on-the-world kind, and they were going to expend and transfer every bit of it on students who will be heading off to college this time next summer.

Plan your work and work your plan
Research shows first-generation and low-income students often do not have support structures that go along with “next-level” knowledge, with no one to guide them through the postsecondary application, admissions, housing and financial aid processes. The Camp College experience provides this missing guidance and support for low-income students who have the drive and potential to succeed at college but who, because of their families’ economic conditions, are very likely to not attend postsecondary school, much less succeed with an eventual college diploma. Among the program’s key components are financial aid access, process sessions and college choice guidance designed to make sure students select the “best fit” for them academically and socially, both elements addressing key predictors of college access and success. In addition to Camp College participants’ high matriculation and retention rates, 98 percent of participants receive some form of scholarship or aid. In fact, the average total amount of aid awarded to participants each year is $2 million.

Matriculation and retention
Camp College participants, representing Hamilton County’s most economically disadvantaged students, attend and persist in college at higher rates than do national and local high-income comparison groups. Specifically, 84 percent of Camp College participants, all of whom complete and submit at least one college application, matriculate to a postsecondary school immediately following high school graduation. The national rate for students from similar economic conditions is approximately 51 percent. In fact, the Camp College participants’ 84 percent is 3 percentage points above the nation’s high-income student matriculation rate of 81 percent. Moreover, given postsecondary persistence trends, we expect less than half of low-income students to return to college for their sophomore year. Ninety-three percent of Camp College participants return for a second year of college, again bettering the nation’s 72 percent one-year persistence rate for high-income students. Camp College participants matriculate to college and persist. Finally, student participants regularly praise the experience for the fun and caring faculty and for providing opportunities to speak to actual admissions counselors in a one-on-one setting. Students realize what an opportunity it is to get pointers and feedback from people who make college admission decisions.

Piggy bank blues
Despite these impressive results, last year was almost Camp College’s last year. Even when people donate their time, serving 40 to 60 students over three summer days is expensive. The required materials, space and consumables add up quickly. Throw in faculty travel and room and board, and you have pricey program potential. The budget was so tight, in fact, that camp college faculty paid a $100 registration fee, while student participants were required to pay a $25 registration fee (which was more about the student’s commitment than the dough). Some of those in the group I described in paragraph one refused to let it go, and they reached down deep, called in favors and did a series of gut-checks to keep the program up and running. The good folks at Sewanee, who have already served as hosts and hostesses for the past 15 years, in collaboration with PEF, the Community Foundation of Greater, the National Association for College Admission Counseling and the Southern Association for College Admission Counseling did what it took to make it happen one more time.

Camp on
When I asked Stacy Lightfoot, the heartbeat of the Camp College program and vice president of College and Career Success here at PEF, if there was any talk of a 17th year, she shared with me the following quote from Sewanee Vice Chancellor Dr. John McCardell, who said in a speech Friday of this year’s sessions, “As long as I am vice chancellor, Sewanee will support this program.” Moreover, she said the faculty members are already buzzing about next year, and she’s received participation commitments from almost all the people who just finished this year’s commitment a little over a week ago. Laura Sensenig, a senior admissions counselor fromVanderbilt University and Camp College faculty member, reflected: “It’s one of my favorite events of the year. It’s inspirational and reminds me why I do what I do and how and why college access is so important.” There’s that energy again. Maybe it wasn’t as late as I thought. Maybe I just needed to pause a minute to catch my second wind. Maybe the faculty members really did transfer their energy to me. Whatever it was, it worked. Whatever it is, it works and it works to the benefit of Hamilton County students who need a plan to match their potential.

Director of Research and Effectiveness Keith White tells the stories behind the data. Keith’s columns will be featured on every other week as part of “The Learning Lab” series.

July 28, 2014

Teacherpreneur 48Hour Launch this weekend

There’s only one weekend left before the school year begins for Hamilton County teachers. Just 48 hours to spend with family, put the finishing touches on school-year preparation, or squeeze in one last trip before a busy year kicks off.

But over 40 Hamilton County teachers will spend their last weekend doing something completely different and completely Chattanooga. PEF, Benwood and HCDE in collaboration with CO.LAB will host the first Teacherpreneur 48Hour Launch on August 1-3. The Hamilton County teachers and their teams will gather during the weekend at Society of Work to develop short pitches for their innovative education ideas.

The culminating Teacherpreneur 48Hour Launch Pitch Event, which will showcase these innovative pitches, will be Sunday, August 3 at 4 p.m. ET at Church on Main (1601 Rossville Ave). A group of judges will award funding and resources to many of the teachers with ideas that are innovative, impactful and feasible.

The Teacherpreneur Incubator is designed to provide support, time and space for teachers to incubate big ideas and execute them in the best interests of both their students, their profession and our community.  Too often teachers who want to be leaders feel like they only have one choice – go into school administration and leave the classroom behind. In this first-of-its-kind Incubator, motivated teachers will expand their reach beyond the classroom by leading a change in their school and the community.

After submitting innovative proposals early in the summer, over 20 teachers were selected to participate in the Teacherpreneur  Incubator. These teachers met multiple times throughout the summer to prepare for the 48HR Launch weekend.

No two ideas are exactly alike. They range from  a kite-based math and science curriculum to a MakerSpace in a school library to innovative apps. The teachers and their teams – made up of mentors from local businesses, community members and fellow teachers – will spend all weekend honing their pitches before Sunday evening’s pitch night. During the weekend, workshops will be held on public speaking, budgeting, starting a business, and more.

Teachers will receive some funding but, more importantly, they will also be paired with a team of community members and local experts to help them get their ideas off the ground. These teacher leaders are cultivating authentic ties to the community to create deeper learning opportunities for their students. They are taking advantage of Chattanooga’s unique technology tools and resources to personalize learning and share their experiences with others.

Entrepreneurs transform challenges into business opportunities. Teacherpreneurs will do the same for our schools. If you are interested in getting involved by mentoring, joining a team, supporting the 48Hour Launch weekend, please contact Keri Randolph at or 423-668-2426.  To support the teacherpreneurs by attending the 48HR Launch Pitch Night on Sunday at 4 p.m., please sign up at

- Lauren Deason, STEM Program Associate

July 15, 2014

The Learning Lab: Not-so-lazy days of summer

I don’t know if it’s because it was always the first assignment when returning to school in the fall or if the summer’s heat baked them into place, but I have many fond memories of “what I did over summer vacation.”

Growing up in the country, there was no shortage of work, and, luckily, I liked outdoor activities that required enduring heat, allergen exposure and heavy lifting. Whether it was picking strawberries, mowing yards, serving as a roofer’s assistant, hauling hay or helping out around any number of building sites, each job brought a whole new set of experiences and challenges. Of course, some jobs were better than others, but regardless of how much more fun painting is than weeding a garden, I was always happy to learn a new skill.

Now, as an officially old person, I am very grateful to have had such a menu of good memories to not only reminisce about, but also rely on when any number of fatherly duties arises. More important than the specific things I learned to do was the confidence I built. Every summer, every new job gave me another chance to prove to myself I could learn, overcome challenges, invent on-the-spot solutions and push myself past where I thought I could go. I didn’t know it, but I was developing deep and positive self-efficacy.

Grittiness, which we’ve heard more about of late, is, in my opinion, a byproduct of self-efficacy; and more and more evidence, both formal and anecdotal, is supporting the importance of providing learners with opportunities to try, fail, succeed, try again, etc. Whether through hands-on academic activities, sports, art or music, providing opportunities in which students are free to fail and try again is important. Hamilton County educators, in preparation for higher standards, are doing what they can to provide these kinds of opportunities in organic and integrated ways. Ideally, these kinds of opportunities would exist in other settings as well: at home, during the summer, after school, etc.

OTJ training
One of the most encouraging and inspiring parts about working at the Public Education Foundation is that you get to witness, firsthand, the power of “free to fail” experiences and how they help kids (and grownups) learn and grow. Last summer, we had the privilege of hosting an Eichenthal fellow. This summer, we are hosting two recent Hamilton County graduates as they serve as interns, readying themselves for postsecondary and career success. Speaking of college and career success, our College and Career Access and Success teams, a collaborative effort between the Hamilton County Department of Education and PEF, provide students with opportunities to learn more about college access and key career components, and which postsecondary options may be the best fit. Our STEM work promotes and develops the kinds of skills we are talking about. Finally, the new Pathways to Prosperity initiative is completely dedicated to providing students and teachers with career experiences we know are important to the Southeast Tennessee economy.

What did YOU do over your summer vacation?
What roles or jobs could young people experience at your company? How could you provide opportunities for students to make positive summer job memories? If you are a parent, how could you promote grit and build self-efficacy in your kids? Finally, I would love to hear about summer job memories. What summer jobs do you remember, and what did you learn that you still use today?

Director of Research and Effectiveness Keith White tells the stories behind the data. Keith’s columns will be featured on every other week as part of “The Learning Lab” series.

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