Public Education Partners expanding engagement, advocacy for schools

  • Thursday, February 6, 2014

Public Education Partners – an Aiken-based advocacy organization – is expanding its mission to include more direct support of the Aiken County School District.

Since its founding in 1995, the program – more commonly known as PEP – has assisted individual schools with small grants for teachers, helped fund several middle schools with synergistic computer career-based software and annually coordinates the District’s Teacher of the Year Banquet.

“We’re going to continue that,” said the PEP Board of Directors Chair Liz Stewart. “Now, we’re also looking at more strategic positions – not just individual school needs, but getting more focus on education and creating awareness of education needs.”

PEP has established a new community engagement committee. Its members will reach out to parents, parent-teacher-organization members, grandparents and others who have a link to people in the school system.

There’s a huge segment of residents who don’t have that direct connection, she said.

“We need to engage people in the system, whether they have a child in it or not,” Stewart said. “What kids learn affects us all.”

Diana Floyd has three children who have been in public schools.

Her interest in the schools led to her joining the PEP board a year ago, and now she’s the engagement committee chair. She finds so much good that happens in the schools, even with limited resources, she said.

“We want to look at the academic side of it. There are so many ways to measure numbers, such as graduation rates. Sometimes the measurements are not accurate, and we really want to get accurate information out there,” Floyd said.

Kimberly Canada, another board member, is chairing an advocacy committee.

That group is looking at issues that are more global, such as School Board candidacy, the upcoming election for a new state superintendent of education and encouraging more teachers to take part in the voting process.

“We need to have a state-level presence to see what opportunities are available to meet the needs of the schools,” said Canada. “A lot of funding is prescribed by the state, and there is not much local control.”

Aiken Schools Superintendent Dr. Beth Everitt has worked with PEP for several years and appreciates its growth and its initiative in introducing a broader approach.

“It’s a wonderful expanded mission,” she said. “We’re benefiting from their support and their advocacy.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.

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