The following column, written by PEP’s Executive Director Grier Mullins, was published in The Greenville News on Sunday, November 13, 2016.
Thirty years ago a small group of business and school leaders in Greenville committed to high-quality public schools for every child launched a non-profit called The Alliance for Quality Education. The organization, a local education fund, joined businesses, foundations and individuals to strategically invest local private dollars into high-impact initiatives to move the needle on student achievement. That group today, renamed Public Education Partners (PEP) in 2010, invites you to celebrate with us in our 30th year at our annual Partner of the Year luncheon. At this event on November 21 we will honor the many Sidekicks in our community who work to ensure strong outcomes for Greenville’s 73,000 students.
Your definition of a Sidekick is likely similar to mine – someone you immediately think of as a helper, friend, partner, person you can rely on first and foremost. Our group, PEP, could list hundreds and hundreds of Greenvillians as Sidekicks as we’ve created lasting initiatives to improve student success. Our leaders knew early on that collaboration was our most essential core value. Our board of directors and staff from day one defined success by our ability to build strong bridges between the community at large – parents, business leaders, non-profits, elected officials, and the education community. We brokered relationships in 1986 and beyond that have emerged today as a hallmark for education innovation and promise, leading to significant impacts in teacher evaluation, balanced literacy, and home libraries for 25,000 students.
PEP plays the role of Sidekick in Greenville’s education community. We also have many Sidekicks walking along side us whose work ultimately supports students. Teachers all across Greenville have played invaluable Sidekick roles for PEP. They’ve shared data, they’ve shared stories, they’ve taken a chance on new ideas, and they’ve been honest and vulnerable. All along the way, we have learned and listened to our teachers. We recognize that they play the single most critical role in a student’s education experience. Talk about leaning on your Sidekick, just think of the number of times each day our students and teachers depend on each other. Further, principals, parents, and teachers are Sidekicks for each other but they readily admit they couldn’t do it without our community, without all of us, without you. Our “critical friend” role with the school district will only work if we listen, support, work hard, and lean in together when needed to ensure we do right by the tens of thousands of students in our beloved community. And our district colleagues, who are indeed our friends and Sidekicks, recognize and utilize this important role.
On November 21, PEP will honor our long-time business partner, ScanSource, an extraordinary team of people, each one a Sidekick, for their humble and generous investment of time, talent, and treasure to strengthen our schools. Employees of ScanSource hold themselves accountable for building a stronger community through supporting education initiatives. They aren’t waiting on someone else to do it. If ever there was an example of quiet, consistent, thoughtful, and dedicated service to our community, it is ScanSource.
Likewise, our keynote speaker at November 21’s Partner of the Year luncheon has spent a lifetime building our country’s understanding of important issues, ranging from education to politics to Wall Street. Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of several nonfiction bestsellers, will inspire us with the stories of Sidekicks from his books, with particular focus on a Sidekick in his life, his autistic son, Owen. Ron will share how Owen serves as a Sidekick to others and challenge us to serve as Sidekicks to one another, to our youth, and to our community.
As the founding executive director of Public Education Partners, I am excited and proud to retire from this organization in December as it is poised for a great future. Because of the dedication of many Sidekicks throughout my 28 years with PEP and the work we have done together, I am optimistic about PEP’s future. My main Sidekick this last year, Dr. Ansel Sanders, is positioned to lead PEP to new levels of engagement and impact. The work that all of us do to create better opportunities for children is tough work. And yet, it is enormously rewarding. You only need see to see a child’s eyes light up when they have learned something new to realize the enormous reach. The nature of this undertaking requires that Sidekicks continue to emerge from every corner, every space, every place, and every day. Please celebrate with us on November 21.
Grier Gower Mullins, the founding Executive Director of Public Education Partners, is a graduate of Greenville High School and Converse College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Tickets for the Partner of the Year luncheon can be purchased online at www.pepgc.org or by calling 864-233-4137.