Blount Education Initiative: Program ends its three-year commitment as education advocate

After promoting increased support and attention to education in the Blount County community, Blount Education Initiative announced recently that its three-year engagement will conclude this month with hopes that its critical message of educational advocacy will be sustained in the community.

BEI thanks the many supporters and strategic partners who championed its educational outreach and advocacy efforts.

While BEI, created as a three-year initiative, will cease its day-to-day operations, its website will remain available for information on local resources, the three school systems located in Blount County and educational initiatives statewide. The website can be accessed at www.blounteducation.org. The Blount Partnership, where BEI was housed, will carry on the BEI brand and continue to support several of its key initiatives.

“Blount Education Initiative was on the forefront of nonprofit organizations promoting educational advocacy and the state’s reform efforts,” said executive director Bonny Millard, whose last day will be Dec. 15. “We had a specific goal of leading the discussions on education in general in our community and sharing the critical message of education reform for the benefit of all children.”

Blount Education Initiative was an early leader in the effort to promote education reform in the state of Tennessee followed by many impressive organizations including Tennessee SCORE (State Collaborative on Reforming Education) and First to the Top Coalition. BEI partnered with these and many other organizations and efforts to promote the positive impact that a strong educational system can have on local communities like Blount County as well as on the statewide economy. Tennessee SCORE later named BEI one of the state’s top promising educational practices.

“I would like to express my gratitude to those who provided us with funding,” said BEI President Matt Murray. “There was no track record for us when we requested funds, but our requests were greeted warmly by businesses and others in the community.

“While I would like to see BEI continue in its current form, we have the opportunity to create a lasting and sustainable organization under the Chamber Partnership that is committed to being an advocate for education and workforce development.”

During its three-year run, BEI hosted and/or sponsored numerous events including an evening with then Assistant Commissioner of Education Susie Bunch to discuss the state of education followed by a Leadership Summit on Education that featured Gary Nixon, executive director of the Tennessee Board of Education.

A countywide survey was initiated by BEI to determine the community’s value of education and where it ranked on the priority list. The survey results were released during a news event at Clayton Homes with more than 90 educators and community members in attendance.

One of BEI’s achievements also included hosting the first Gubernatorial Community Forum in the state to discuss the future of education. The forum featured four candidates, including Gov.-elect Bill Haslam, and was broadcast live on WBIR’s 10News2 NBC station as well as being streamed live on WBIR’s website.

“We have been effective in elevating the importance of education in the eyes of the public and business community,” Murray said. “I am especially proud of our gubernatorial forum last year, the first debate of the campaign.”

Other efforts included:

• An annual high school senior survey

• Spotlights of local employees who have used education to further their careers

• A partner in The Big Read, a national initiative to promote leisure reading

• The development of an Educator/Business Leaders Task Force

• The creation of a Speakers Bureau

• A Partnership in the Educators in the Workplace: Lunch & Learn Series

• Development of an extensive website

BEI was created after several concerned citizens came together to talk about the importance of education in the community. After the decision was made to form a full-fledge organization, local corporate citizens and community organizations answered the call for help. As a result, Innovation Valley Inc., Blount Partnership, Alcoa Inc, Clayton Homes, Denso, Maryville College, Blount Memorial Hospital, Ruby Tuesday, Joseph Construction, Lawler-Wood, Mary Beth West Consulting LLC, Pellissippi State Community College, Tennessee SCORE, Center for Strong Communities and Leadership Blount became strategic partners to Blount Education Initiative by providing funding and/or other resources as BEI sought to launch a community awareness and local advocacy campaign. The hope is that BEI’s work will have a long-term impact through Blount Partnership’s continued work on education and workforce issues, said Blount Partnership President and CEO Bryan Daniels.

“The Blount Partnership has a long history of working to bring educators and employers to the table to discuss education and workforce development efforts in Blount County,” said Daniels. “Our focus will be to incorporate some of BEI’s successes into our plan as we continue to make this community a better place to live, work and play.”

Millard said she is pleased that the Partnership will continue some of the work of BEI.

“I have been honored and privileged to work with the Blount community for the last three years, and I hope the conversation that we helped to start will continue on for years to come,” Millard said. “I am grateful for the communitywide support that BEI received.”

Murray echoed Millard’s appreciation for community support.

“I would also like to extend my appreciation to those who have taken their time to serve on our board and provide other forms of assistance to our mission,” Murray said.

The legacy of Blount Education Initiative will be a continued community conversation about the importance of education and how it can be advanced most effectively for the children’s future and the region’s economic growth.

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