Featured Project


A community is only as strong as the opportunity it provides its residents. In our community, as in many others, public education forms a pillar of that opportunity. The Hamilton County Public Schools are responsible for nurturing the hopes, dreams and the future for over 43,000 of the children in our community. It’s a population that truly reflects the diversity of our community as a whole, connecting families from every corner and every walk of life. This magnitude of the role of public education in our community - and in the system itself - prompted the creation of the Public Education Foundation . School and community leaders saw the need for an outside organization to increase community investment in our public schools and serve as a catalyst for improvement in a way that isn’t possible through the School District alone. “PEF is first and foremost, a partner with the Hamilton County Department of Education,”says Dan Challener, President of PEF. “We work continuously to find ways to support the District in its most crucial role of providing a great education for every student in our community.”

Founded in 1988, with a mandate to “apply added resources to bold ideas for school transformation,” PEF raises over $4 million a year to help bolster professional development and innovation in Hamilton County schools. Hamilton County is one of over 220 communities across the country that have joined the Public Education Fund movement. And while public ed funds vary in size and scope, they all share the focus on supporting public schools as essential assets for the community.

Throughout the years, PEF has played an integral role as supporter, collaborator, advocate and catalyst for change with our local school district. PEF has launched and supported a range of programs, focused on supporting great teachers, school leaders, and connecting students with college and career -- but they all align around key values of data-driven understanding, supporting teaching talent and leadership, and excellent education and high expectations for all students, regardless of background. It is this strong focus, leadership and collaborative spirit that has led PEF to consistently be ranked among the top Public Ed Funds in the country (last year, it was rated 5th in the nation).

With Benwood’s focus on public education as a crucial determinant of our city’s future success, PEF has been an essential partner in ensuring that our resources are implemented in effectively. That partnership began in 2001, with the Benwood Initiative, which was focused on dramatically improving the performance of 9 elementary schools - all of which were among the 20 lowest performing elementary schools across the State of Tennessee. With a strong partnership with the School District, PEF was able to concentrate resources and expertise to support great teachers and leadership within these nine schools, in a focused way that the District would not have been able to do alone. After the first four years of the Benwood Initiative, all nine schools posted major gains in literacy - and the program was hailed nationally as an example of successful school improvement. In subsequent years, the Benwood Initiative expanded to more schools in the District and saw diminished improvement, due to less focused resources. Nevertheless, the hard work, strong partnerships and lessons learned from the Benwood Initiative have laid the groundwork for continuing efforts to ensure a great education system, like Chattanooga 2.0.

Today, PEF continues its focus on supporting teachers and principals as the key drivers of success in a school. Programs like Teacherpreneur, Teacher Policy Fellows, Project Inspire, and the Principal Leadership Academy, are all helping to ensure that our community is able to attract highly qualified teachers and then support them as leaders in their classrooms, schools and community. In addition, PEF progresses work towards ensuring that all students have access to a great education and opportunity through STEP Up, Camp College and other college access programs. As always, each of these programs are underpinned with strong research and evaluations that enable PEF to continually monitor and adapt programs to achieve a big impact. That commitment to continual learning, growth and adaptability has allowed PEF to play a major role in implementing key strategies from Chattanooga 2.0 - like expanding the number of Project Inspire graduates and piloting and then growing the Step Up Internship Program.

In its role as catalyst, PEF hasn’t shied away from pushing the school district and from constantly recognizing the need for improvement, reform and transformation. It has also raised awareness to the fact that improving schools is the responsibility of the whole community - not of the district alone. There’s no silver bullet or end game in school improvement, especially for a District as large and diverse as Hamilton County, and PEF is there to continually partner and support in the areas that matter most.