Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Public Education Foundation President Dan Challener wants Hamilton County public schools to look different five years from now.
He wants to see excellent leadership in all schools, more Hamilton County students graduating from college, more community involvement and a stronger emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math in all schools that can prepare students for college or the local workforce.
“This is a real moment in time,” he said. “We are experiencing enormous economic growth in this area. There are some really good jobs available and we want to make sure it’s our kids who benefit from this. The moment is now.
“Five years from now the die will be cast and we could miss the opportunity to be the community we’ve always dreamed of being.”
To help make these goals a reality, PEF underwent a 10-month strategic planning process and has released a new master plan with an emphasis on school leadership, college and career preparation, community involvement and STEM.
During those 10 months Challener said the staff and board at PEF spent many hours benchmarking what other respected educational institutions have found successful, interviewing more than 60 community leaders, surveying Hamilton County Department of Education employees on all levels and reflecting on the foundation’s 20-year legacy in the community to determine what has worked in the past that might also work in the future.
A PDF file containing the entire strategic plan is available at www.pefchattanooga.org, but some of the highlights include the following:
“Every school has a leadership team, it’s not just the principal,” said Challener. “We are focusing on leadership through groups of teachers where we feel we can add value.”
Some of the teacher groups PEF plans to work with as part of its new strategic plan include first-year teachers, teachers with a majority of English-as-a-second-language students, middle school teachers and teachers who seek to further develop their own leadership skills.
“We want to create a comprehensive pipeline for school leadership that can help fill lots of leadership roles with highly qualified people,” Challener said.
College and career preparation
Another focus of the plan is helping Hamilton County students attend and graduate from college, said Challener.
While developing better school leadership, helping teachers teach better and getting the community more involved in schools all work to achieve that goal, the foundation has also implemented several student-specific programs to help them achieve secondary education.
PEF plans to continue the college advisor program that places a college advisor at every Hamilton County high school, the SOAR program that mentors students at Chattanooga State before they transfer to UTC and several other summer programs that increase college readiness and achievement.
In an effort to get more community members, nonprofit organizations and area corporations involved in local schools, PEF has hired a full-time volunteer coordinator who works to pair people with volunteer opportunities.
“It’s important for everyone to be engaged with the schools,” said Challener. “These students are going to grow up and contribute to the community one way or another.”
To help people in the community stay informed, the foundation has also redesigned its website and amped up social media efforts so that people can easily engage and stay informed about what is going on in local schools, he said.
Perhaps the most visible part of the new strategic plan has been PEF’s involvement with the new STEM initiative in the county.
Thanks in part to PEF, Hamilton County now has a STEM school, a STEM Innovation Hub that provides professional development opportunities for local teachers, a STEM Teaching Fellows program that gives excellent local STEM teachers an opportunity to help other teachers develop their skills and the TEACH/Here residency program that equips STEM professionals with teaching skills that can help them move from a professional environment into teaching at a local school.
“I want the public schools in this area to be a magnet for people who want to live here,” said Challener. “I want them to be widely recognized as outstanding, because we know we can’t grow our economy without well-educated students.”
For more information about PEF or its new strategic plan visit www.pefchattanooga.org.