January 28, 2015

World traveler and former PEF employee blogs (with refreshing honesty!) about the hard work of teachers

Tracey Carisch, former Managing Director of the STEM Innovation Hub at PEF, spent almost two years working in Southeast Tennessee to engage the community in the development of the STEM Hub and Hamilton County STEM high school. During her time at PEF, Tracey managed to motivate adults from all different backgrounds to work together to launch an entirely new concept in STEM education for Chattanooga. Tracey and her family left Chattanooga last summer for an around-the-world adventure. And one of the things she has learned, as she points out in the blog below, is that motivating adults and motivating kids are two completely different concepts.

Read her thoughts at

As we head into the second semester of the school year, let’s take a moment to give thanks and appreciate how hard teachers work every day to ensure our students love learning.


January 22, 2015

Investor Spotlight: Hacker & Kitty Caldwell

PEF is delighted to announce an investment of $50,000 in Passport Scholars from Hacker and Kitty Caldwell!

Ms. Caldwell is a PEF Board Member and explains, “Hacker and I support Passport Scholars because we want bright futures for our public school girls. The summer opportunities available through Passport Scholars build confidence in young women, and in turn, they set – and achieve – high goals for college and careers.” See photos of the 2015 Passport Scholars

Stacy Lightfoot, Vice President of College and Career Success, says, “Passport Scholars represents the incredible potential of Hamilton County high school students. The growth you see between the application interview and the fall showcase where girls share their experiences with the public is inspiring. It’s not surprising that 95% of Passport Scholars attend college!”

We deeply appreciate our investors and their support of PEF.

Read about our college success initiatives and see how your donation can make a difference in the lives of students.

2014 Passport Scholars

2014 Passport Scholars

January 14, 2015

1:1 technology in six schools impacting student learning

Did you know that PEF is partnering with the Benwood Foundation and HCDE to provide Chromebooks and iPads to over 1,400 students in six schools? It’s called the 1:1 technology initiative, because the goal is a ratio of one device for every person in the classroom.

Check out the new 1:1 section of our website with links to a recent evaluation from North Carolina State’s Friday Institute detailing how this initiative is positively impacting students and teachers.

December 15, 2014

Register now for College Goal Tennessee

PEF is proud to sponsor the upcoming College Goal Tennessee conference on Saturday, January 31 from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.  at the UTC University Center. Download a flyer

This free, half-day conference will help students and their supporters learn from experts and each other how students can be successful in college.

Sessions include financial planning for college, what employers are looking for, navigating the college application for the student athlete, and much more. Sessions will be led by business leaders, college admissions and financial aid experts—experts in their fields.

At this conference, College Goal Tennessee will provide free on-site assistance to for high school seniors and current college students filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). All students are encouraged to complete this application to increase their chances of receiving financial support to attend college. Here’s a list of materials to bring in order to fill out the form.

To register for this free event, visit

PEF is partnering with UTC, YoungandWiser Inc, SACAC (Southern Association for College Admission Counseling) & College Goal Sunday to present this event.

- Stacy Lightfoot, Vice President, College & Career Success

December 10, 2014

Mentors and proteges: a two-way street

If you’ve ever had a mentor- whether professionally or personally – you know the impact one can have. There are many different definitions of a mentor, but my favorite is, “A mentor is a trusted advisor. A mentor is someone who guides another to greater success.”  This definition speaks to me because it is rooted in the words “trust” and “guide.”  Inherent in this definition is the idea of a relationship between two people both working together for success through guidance, not judgment.

When we launched the Principal Leadership Academy (PLA) five years ago, we knew it needed a mentorship component.  Most educational leadership programs have educators mentoring other educators, an important piece of professional development. However, we knew we wanted to connect aspiring principals to leaders outside the world of education. After all, PLA is a partnership between the Hamilton County Department of Education, PEF, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, and UTC, so the program should reflect  the strengths of each of these partners.  This led to the idea of having every participant in the PLA matched with a mentor from the business community.

When we started working with the Chamber to recruit business leaders, we all held the belief that these business leaders could help open up a new world to the aspiring principals. Maybe these corporate executives could offer advice on budgets. Maybe they had insight into best hiring practices. Maybe they could help aspiring principals gain a better understanding of the skills current employers demand.  And all of these things, and more, have happened.  But something else unexpected has happened as well. The business mentors were learning from their protégés.

Over the past five years, business mentors have spent entire school days shadowing their aspiring principals.  They have talked over coffee, lunches, and dinners about both the challenges and joys of running a school. Business mentors have received emails from their aspiring principals at 4 am – because that is when school administrators have time to log on and respond.

Rob Bradham, the Vice President for Public Strategies at the Chamber, and I recently received this email from Hodgen Mainda.  Hodgen is the Director of  Business Development and Provider Relations at MDP Management and a mentor to Rashaad Williams, Assistant Principal at Orchard Knob Middle School.

“So I shadowed my protégé Rashaad Williams today at Orchard Knob Middle! First and foremost, I am so glad I agreed to do this. Rashaad is awesome! I saw him in his element today and he is a great person in general but also great at his job. His passion for kids is amazing and the job that he and the staff and teachers have done is awesome. I can go on and on but I thoroughly enjoyed shadowing him today – I wasn’t his mentor today, he was my mentor and I was the protégé. It was an eye-opener and I learned a lot!!”

Think about that: “I wasn’t his mentor today, he was my mentor and I was the protégé.” Trust and guidance is a two-way street.  Through the business mentor component of the PLA, both aspiring principals and corporate leaders are working together to impact students in our public schools.  What a great way to show kids that the community cares about their success!

- Christa Payne, Vice President, External Affairs

December 8, 2014

PEF’s Stacy Lightfoot honored twice in one week!

Congratulations to our Vice President of College & Career Success Stacy Lightfoot!

Dan and Stacy

Dan Challener and Stacy Lightfoot

The American Lung Association of Tennessee named Stacy a “Woman of Distinction” for 2015. The organization describes characteristics of their honorees: a woman who has “set herself apart through voluntary leadership or philanthropic activities in the Chattanooga area  and /or professional leadership and accomplishments in the business community. She has demonstrated qualities of integrity, dedication, motivation, and leadership in the community. She serves with honor and personal dedication to goal achievement.” See photos of the honoree reception in the Times Free Press. Stacy will be honored at a luncheon in April.

In the same week, Girls Inc. announced Stacy had been chosen as an “Unbought and Unbossed” honoree for 2015. According to Girls Inc., “Named for the phrase coined by Shirley Chisholm during her historic run for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination, the UnBought and UnBossed Awards honor local women who through their career achievement and/or community involvement, have made a significant impact on the lives of women and girls. Community members submit nominations of women residing in Hamilton County, and the 10 honorees are chosen by 10 high school-aged girls participating in Girls Inc.’s Women History Project.” Learn more about Stacy’s nominee and the event in the spring.


December 3, 2014

Computer Science Education Week begins Dec. 8

From PEF’s partner, STEM Innovation Hub:

Today, we’re surrounded by technology, yet very few of us understand how computers actually work. Simple computer science activities can help nurture creativity and problem solving skills. By getting a feel for computational thinking early, you can have a foundation for success in any future career path.

The Hour of Code initiative in Southeast Tennessee will demystify coding and get people of all ages coding through simple, easy-to-use tutorials. Schools and community organizations throughout our region can hold their own Hour of Code events for teachers, students and even parents. Opening the door to computer science means opening the door to learning, creativity and future careers.

Get Involved

Students should register for events at


November 25, 2014

Managerial Leadership


75 Jobs Will Change Chattanooga.  The Principal Leadership Academy (PLA) is part of the PEF-HCDE Leadership Pipeline, a collaboration focused on preparing innovative, effective school leaders.  Each month, the PLA meets for an entire day to learn from each other as well as experts in leadership.

PLA 2Last week for their November session, the current PLA participants covered the important area of school law with D. Scott Bennett , the HCDE school attorney. Mr. Bennett has been the attorney with HCDE for almost 20 years. This 2½ hour session covered relevant topics such as personal liability, school fees, student discipline, search and seizures, due process and religion in public schools, and student speech.  This interactive session is one example of how the PLA is helping to prepare HCDE’s future principals.

PLA 3Following this informative session about school law, the PLA participants focused on  the management and operations of schools with HCDE directors Karen Hollis, Gail Morgan and Steve Holmes and assistant superintendent Robert Sharpe. This session of the PLA is one example of how the Leadership Pipeline is helping prepare our future principals.

November 21, 2014

“We turn and talk to each other, too!”

Recently, while leading a Friday morning seminar with Project Inspire’s fourth cohort of teacher-residents, I heard some valuable feedback. Recent classroom observations revealed that, during instruction, many of the residents were consistently glancing toward the clinical instructor (their mentor) for approval during the lesson. Of course, the students pick up on these subtle, nonverbal cues, and we were concerned about any perception of the resident as inferior. So, it was suggested that residents, when uncertain, let the students know that:  “Just as you as students turn and talk to one another about your ideas, we as teachers sometimes do the same. We also learn by sharing by our ideas with one another.” Sounds simple enough, right? However, I would wager that students rarely observe such open-ended dialogue among teachers.

We need a revolution in how we as a society think about teaching; it should be elevated as a craft that our most compelling and creative thinkers yearn to practice. I believe that the re-branding of teaching starts in the classroom, where young students develop those lasting impressions of teaching. In order to help our students appreciate the complexity and beauty of teaching, we need to redefine students’ strong misconception that teachers must be perfectly polished distributors of smart-sounding information, and I would argue that teacher residency provides the means for redefining and elevating the profession.

Recently, Ronald Thorpe, president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, wrote an article that embraced residency as an opportunity to transform teacher preparation. Residency, he points out, has transformed the medical practice throughout the past century, by driving the following changes in practice:

  1. Residency helps doctors to situate their specialty within the full context of the profession, something that can only happen in a teaching hospital.
  2. Residents enter these experiences as teams, and they remain in teams, which helps doctors to develop the essential habits of mind that their work can only be done in collaboration with others.
  3. After completing their first year of residency, all residents take on the role of teaching the residents who are coming after them, which helps to strengthen one’s content knowledge and craft.

Those of us who work in teacher residency strive to replace the word “doctor” in the sentences above with the word “teacher.” Project Inspire, Chattanooga’s urban math/science teacher residency, provides those with STEM majors and a passion for teaching access to the transformative opportunities that Thorpe is discussing. Project Inspire residents teach for a full year in a middle- or high-school setting alongside an experienced clinical instructor—grounding all learning from master’s level coursework within the context the classroom. Project Inspire residents and alumni are also working within the context of a team–whether collaborating with other residents at the training site, working alongside a content-specific coach as a program graduate, or joining their entire cohort for regular resident and alumni seminars. Finally, program graduates are consistently “paying it forward,” improving their own craft by opening up their classroom to current residents and their fellow teachers.

The retention of great teachers in the classrooms where they are needed begins with the preparation of those teachers. Project Inspire offers its residents and graduates an open invitation to dream, to be a real and meaningful part of the transformation of a school. We as teachers sometimes need to turn and talk; we can keep our brightest minds in this profession by allowing them to see the craft for the pure and collaborative wonder that it is.

If you are interested in joining Project Inspire as a math or science teacher-resident, please visit Candidates and interested community members are also encouraged to attend the next Project Inspire MeetUp on November 25 at 5:00 pm at PEF, 100 E. 10th Street, 3rd floor. Please contact Erin Harrell for more information.

- Mark Neal, Director, Project Inspire

November 19, 2014

Boys Summit inspired, motivated nearly 200

summit groupMayor Andy Berke poses with the Boys Leadership Summit organizers Temus Terry, Chris Ramsey, and Stacy Lightfoot.

The 5th Annual Boys’ Leadership Summit (BLS) was held on November 15, 2014. BLS targeted males in grades 6-12 and served as an opportunity for males to learn with and from each other. Keynote presenters included community leaders as well as a young man who has attended all BLS summits. Breakout sessions included warm-up icebreakers where the co facilitators (college men and seasoned men) created atmospheres for open dialogue and in-depth discussions on how to become successful and productive adults. The Summit was designed to help attendees learn to cope with issues and problems facing youth today.

boys summit slider

The young men – almost 200! – were pleased with how the day went: comments included, “I loved everything,” “I plan on attending yearly,” and “I found the togetherness most valuable.”

PEF was proud to be a partner in this effort!

- Janice Neal, Program Associate, College & Career Success








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