Knox Ed Foundation: What’s next?

Sandra ClarkLet's Talk, Our Town Kids

Let’s update Saturday’s column about the new Knox Education Foundation.

Bridget Correll Waller, media contact for the new foundation, said the column reads like I had no idea that Project GRAD and the Great Schools Partnership would be consolidated into a new foundation.

She’s right.

Waller forwarded a couple of emails from November (actually, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving). Read them here: 11-26-19 Knox Education Fund Press Release and Questions_Answers Knox Education Fund 11 26 19

Moving on to what’s important:

Continuity of programing –

  • Community Schools – Currently serving 16 urban schools, each with a FT site coordinator and PT program assistant, with a goal to engage community resources and families to help kids; to establish each school as a trusted neighborhood center.
  • Project GRAD – Founded in 2001 for Fulton and Austin-East high schools and their associated feeder schools, 14 total schools, with a goal to increase the high school graduation rate. This program has worked. The graduation rate for Fulton and A-E has increased from 50% to 83%. And postsecondary enrollment has increased from 30% to 56%.
  • Innovation R&D Initiatives – Seven programs including TeacherPreneur and Leaders for Readers will continue and (hopefully) new ones will be developed.

Robust fundraising –

These programs are expensive and donors rightly note an overlap in schools served. The incoming CEO has extensive fundraising experience. The new 12-member board of directors includes proven fundraisers, along with elected officials – Mayors Indya Kincannon and Glenn Jacobs; Susan Horn, school board chair; Hugh Nystrom, county commission chair; KCS Superintendent Bob Thomas; and seven citizens – Anthony Wise, Larry Mauldin, Laurens Tullock, Crissy Haslam, Randy Boyd, LeRoy Thompson and Susan Brown.

Gov. Bill Haslam was a founder, financial underwriter and 10-year chair of Project GRAD. His wife, Crissy Haslam, on the board of Knoxville Education Foundation shows continuity and fundraising clout.

Diverse and vocal community input into policy –

Each program component will have an advisory board. These meetings should be announced and public. Community leaders, parents and grandparents must be involved from top to bottom for the programs to work.

Bridget Waller says the decision to merge was agreed on by both boards with the intent to provide oversight and streamline fundraising, finance and HR for all programs.

Chandler says programs will continue

We reached out to Vrondelia “Ronni” Chandler, executive director of Project GRAD, for comment. Chandler is positive about the new foundation and will continue in the top job at GRAD.

Ronni Chandler

There is a saying, ‘love will find a way.’ That is certainly true of this amazing community in consideration of the needs of all children served by public education in our Knox County Schools. The creation of the Knox Education Foundation is a tremendous commitment to the continued work of Project GRAD Knoxville, Community Schools, and Innovation, as well as creating a platform for new Foundation initiatives in better days to come.

GRAD Knoxville summer institutes, GRAD Knoxville scholarships, GRAD Knoxville Hands on the Future paid summer internships, and the WATE TV/GRAD Knoxville laptop telethon will all continue when pandemic circumstances allow, led by GRAD’s existing staff and leadership. GRAD’s highly engaged Board of Advisors will continue to provide important guidance and the chair of Project GRAD’s board will serve on the board of directors of the new foundation.

With Knox Ed’s supportive governance Project GRAD Knoxville’s well-established K-16 (elementary through postsecondary) programming will continue, in addition to helping Knox Ed bring about new future opportunities for children.

I do believe this is a very GOOD thing for the long-term sustainability of support for those served by Project GRAD Knoxville. We are grateful to this amazing community. From grassroots to every level – thank you!


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