Jeff Howell, Public Education Partners' executive director the past two years, has resigned from the Aiken-based advocacy organization.

“Everything is fine,” he said by telephone on Tuesday. “There's not much there. I'm going to miss it, but there are other things I needed to do.”

Liz Stewart, the PEP board of directors chair, said Howell's departure was reluctantly accepted. He will be missed, she said, but “our committees are still doing all their work.”

Howell was the third director since Public Education Partners, or PEP, a public education advocacy organization, was established in 1995. The nonprofit originally was called the Greater Aiken Local Education Foundation.

In his two years at PEP, Howell said he had so much fun and appreciated the support from the PEP Board and School District administrator.

“I probably most enjoyed dealing with the teachers, and the Teacher of the Year (banquet) was a lot of fun,” Howell said. “I liked our Projects of the Month, giving teachers grants and also working with the Teacher Forum. It's been a wonderful two years.”

Stewart has served on the PEP Board for two years and has started her second year as the chairman.

“I've been a real advocate of public education,” she said. ”It was a natural flow to PEP and what we do in support of education.”

The board of directors has increased in numbers, Stewart said. Each member is strongly engaged in a variety of programs, such as the Aiken to Ride bicycle tour on Sunday, Sept. 7. The organization is taking a more strategic approach, she said, not just providing funding for small projects, but looking at more global issues.

PEP currently is focusing on creating public awareness about the Aiken School Board's one-cent sales tax proposal. School Board members will ask voters in the November general election to approve a one-cent sales tax hike. If successful, additional revenue would be used for new facility construction.

“This is informational,” Stewart said. “We're not advocating a side, but the community needs to be involved. We're trying to engage as many people as possible.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.