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.

July 1, 2014

The Learning Lab: Open letter to a homeroom teacher

She was struggling with her list, trying to hold the paper down and write with the same hand. Her free hand was occupied with repeated sweeps of bangs from forehead. I was doing dishes (because I am by far the best dishwasher in the family) and watching her concentrate on each letter, word and line she wrote. Just as I was expertly positioning the final soiled dish in the dishwasher, she stopped writing and asked if I was finished washing yet because “… I am done with my list and need some things for my ‘office,’ Daddy.” School had just ended a day or two prior, and I was a little surprised by her behavior, because every night for an entire semester, she fought and screeched like a cornered wolverine at even the mention of homework.

I believe all children have tremendous learning potential, but I also believe in multiple types of “intelligence” and the idea that one size does not fit all. The truth is my oldest does not have the ideal “school” personality for the current high-accountability standards environment. I know she gives her teachers fits. She is interested in formal school activities for about 45 seconds. However, she will talk to you about centaurs and alicorns all day. She can’t tolerate book reports but spends hours writing and illustrating her own books in her “office.” Like many kids her age (and many adults as well), she likes to make art, dance, sing and walk around the yard looking for “treasures.” Not since Napoleon Dynamite has a kid been so obsessed with ligers and sketching what other hybrid animals may look like. Though I am biased, of course, I am certain she is a blast to hang out with if you are 6 years old. If, on the other hand, you are a teacher charged with not only keeping order in the classroom but also implanting as much standards-based content as possible into the minds of 5- and 6-year olds, I am guessing she’s a bit of a nightmare.

I am writing this as an open letter of thanks to her homeroom teacher and all the other school-based grownups who kept her on track during her first year of school.

Dear Mrs. Homeroom Teacher:

I am writing to thank you for all the nurturing, support, guidance and discipline you gave to my child this past school year. I know she tested your patience. I know she did not always listen or even pretend to listen. I know she distracted others, and I know she is spoiled completely rotten. But here’s what else I know:

—She grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil, all by herself, and wrote the “office” supplies list I mentioned above.

—As she listed each item, I could hear her quietly sounding out “big” words she wasn’t sure about.

—The list she made had some logic to it, with similar types of items grouped together: pencils and pens together, paperclips and staples together, etc.

—Every item on her list was accompanied by a drawing of either the item or the item’s intended use.

—She read the list to me and then wrote down things I thought we needed at the store (again with a picture beside each listed item).

—She was confident in and proud of her list and read it to her baby sister, her mom and me countless times.

—When we took her to the store, she used her list to guide us to the items she needed to bring her home office up to first-grade standards.

Most importantly, in my opinion …

—She was genuinely excited about getting the supplies she needed to make more lists and do more work and manufacture more creations in her little office.

Now, while we support and model some of the things listed above, we knew whom she was imitating and whom had inspired her interest. We knew who got her excited about the processes involved with reading, writing, thinking and creating. We knew who taught her to think about what she was doing and to put some methodical reins on her creativity in order to do so mindfully. We knew who took our beautiful, illiterate creature, adorned in a wolf suit, and turned her into a partially civilized kid who was thinking and excited about the next school year.

We know it was you, Mrs. Homeroom, and we thank you and all those who supported you in your quest to tame a truly awesome but completely wild little lady. It does not seem fair that you did all the work and we get to enjoy the good stuff, but please know how much we appreciate your efforts on behalf of our baby girl and the sons and daughters of so many others who were probably equally as surprised when their kids dragged them to the office supply department at the local Targ-Mart, pulled out a list and started zestfully shopping for school supplies for their own “offices”—never saying out loud but knowing inside how proud you would be.

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.

June 17, 2014

The Learning Lab: 2014 summer “vacation”

Education is a myth-filled field. The Washington Post even published an infographic listing 18 common education myths. One bit of misinformation only alluded to on the Post’s list is the perception that teachers get summers off.

It is amazing how many times I’ve heard colleagues, acquaintances and random people on whom I was eavesdropping say, “I should have gone into teaching so I would get all that time off in the summer.” That is the equivalent of saying, “I should have become a preacher so I would only have to work on Sundays.” The reasons why the former is as untrue as the latter are very similar. This article on does a comprehensive and insightful job of “debunking” the “summers off” myth.

Specifically, in Hamilton County this summer, educators will be working through a huge menu of professional learning opportunities under the super-headers of humanitiesiZone schools, K-12 literacy, elementary and secondary math and science, prekindergarten, Principal and Assistant Principal Summer Institute, response to intervention and Academic Coaches Institute. The specific professional learning offerings under these topics or within these institutes require at least two days, and many require three days to almost one week of participation. Professional learning courses started May 28 and will run at various times until Aug. 1, when educators begin the new school year and square things away for students’ arrival Aug. 7. Take a look at this calendar and tell me if it looks like your idea of a summer off. If you really want to be blown away, visit, the state site dedicated to Common Core preparation and information—and the driving force behind many of the topics listed above.

In addition to the professional learning opportunities described above, in which hundreds of teachers will take part, some educators are giving up even more of their summer to enhance student learning. Twenty-three Hamilton County teachers received Fund for Teachers Grants, enabling them to travel the world in order to bring valuable insight and opportunities to Hamilton County’s classrooms. Not only are these 23 teachers working during a large chunk of the summer, they are doing so as the result of an extremely competitive and rigorous selection process through which only the most creative and impactful proposals were considered for funding. In other words, these teachers worked hard before the summer so that during the summer they could work even harder.

Specific initiatives and professional learning work aside, there are additional summertime challenges facing educators. While some educators will have the luxury of teaching the same subject in the same school, in the same room and during the same time slots, many will not. Some are transitioning to leadership roles of one kind or another, while others are preparing to serve as mentors to new teachers. Some will be starting over at new schools and/or with new subjects. At the very least, think of the time it would take to simply “reset” a room in preparation for a new set of students—sometimes more than you served before.

Oh, and all this while juggling two sets of standards. Hamilton County educators have been preparing to implement the Common Core Standards, and they spent all last year preparing for the new standards while under the old standards’ accountability model. The implementation of those standards has been delayed for at least one more year. This means teachers and administrators are being trained to implement the new standards while being held accountable for performance under the old standards. If you’ve ever moved from one house to another, recall that small window of time when you were kind of at both residences—dirty laundry at one, washer and dryer at the other. Now, imagine being in that limbo for a whole year, making it through the year and then finding out you had to do it again. Without the right guidance and support, standard-straddling can become a demoralizing experience for administrators, parents, teachers and students.

Similar to the clergy example from the first paragraph, most teachers feel “called” to teach; and they are actually working, in one way or another, all the time. Those of you with friends who are teachers know that it is almost impossible to do any activity without the education angle being pointed out: “Would a miniature golf example be an engaging way to explain friction and drag?” “Can I get everyone’s weight so I can use this canoe trip to discuss displacement with my class on Monday?” “Don’t throw that stuff away. We are working through the first three books in ‘The Boxcar Children’ series, and I can use those empty containers [pile of trash] to provide contextual insight.”

Teachers don’t just show up Sunday morning to wing it from the pulpit and pray the magic happens. Before one bottom hits the pew, they’ve prepared the message, helped pick out the hymns, scrubbed the baptistery, arranged the flowers in the vestibule and made endless notes on what parts of the sermon are most important to which people. The only way to achieve their personal and professional standards is to do their own homework, and much of that work is done during their summer vacation time.

So, if you or someone you know has seriously considered a career in education for a cushy summer break, I would strongly suggest you pick a different career. If all you want is summers off, go into snowman wrangling or iceberg spotting. Leave teaching to those who aren’t afraid to sweat it out in the summer heat and who don’t mind working during their time off.

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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