Monday, April 26, 2010

The Public Education and Business Coalition - an Interview with Rosann Ward

As the Public Education and Business Coalition’s annual business and education luncheon approaches with keynote speaker Dr. John Medina, author of “Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School”, I have been taking a closer look at PEBC and wanted to learn more. Their work is impressive and worthy of more attention. Rosann Ward, the President of PEBC was enthusiastic about sharing information about the work of this organization.

First, what is the history and mission of PEBC?

It started out as two separate organizations. One of them started in 1983 and was called the Public Education Coalition. It was founded by two business people, both lawyers looking for ways that the community could improve overall school quality. They convened with superintendents from Denver, Cherry Creek, Jefferson County, Douglas, Littleton and Boulder and the participants concluded that the most pressing need was help with professional development for teachers. This was the first of nine of organizations funded with Ford Foundation funds. This was part of a larger public education network – there are many around the nation.

The other organization was started in 1982, called the Colorado Business Alliance for Youth. This group had the same leaders, though no superintendents and their goal was to understand how to support student achievement. This group developed mentoring programs, internships, and modules for health, science and math toward that aim.
In 1995 the two organizations merged and all board members stayed on. It is comprised of about 60% business people and the rest are superintendents, school staff, and the President of the teachers union.

Over time, we have spun off some direct student service programs to groups like the Chamber of Commerce, Good Will, etc. and we are now focused primarily on professional development. Our footprint is Colorado especially the Front Range from Thompson to Douglas County, but we do work nationally as well.

How have the vision and goals changed over time?

In the first 15 years we worked primarily in suburban elementary schools. Over the last 13 years we have focused more on urban K-12 schools, or suburban schools with high needs. We focus a lot on literacy and literacy in the content areas. Often the issues around math and science proficiency have more to do with literacy problems. We work a lot now in math, science, and social studies, as well as in the language arts with the focus on strengthening literacy in K-12 classrooms and schools.

PEBC prides itself in working on site with school staffs. Describe the direct work done with schools.

Each year, we work in about 50 schools in Colorado. We coach in classrooms working with teachers directly on site with kids. We work with principals, coaching and mentoring them to increase their instructional and organizational leadership skills. We create professional learning communities involving whole school teams or departmental teams. We support educators in employing best practices in instruction in a sustainable way without significant ongoing support from us. We also consult at the district level, and have multi-school projects. For example, in Cherry Creek we are working with the literacy coaches for all Title I schools.

Another example of the direct impact we have is the Boettcher Teachers Program. This is a program that recruits teachers from the across the country; many are second career folks from the business world. There are typically 100 applicants for about 30 spots. They get a fellowship that pays for the cost of their teacher certification and master’s degree along with a stipend, in exchange for a five-year commitment to teach in high priority schools in the partner districts. This puts high quality teachers in the classrooms.

Another important project of the PEBC is EdNews Colorado. With the closing of the Rocky Mountain News and the diminishing attention paid to education information and news in our state, we felt that there was a gap in education journalism, so Ed News Colorado was created. The site gets 1800 hits a day and is updated multiple times a day so that influencers, policy makers, parents and school staff can keep abreast of policy and other education news.

Why should business leaders care about schools?

Public schools are in their interest, especially in terms of the workforce pipeline and the implications of a highly prepared workforce on the economy of our region. A recent study done by the Alliance for Excellence Education calculated what would happen if Denver Public Schools halved their drop out rate. It showed that if there were 4400 additional graduates, Denver would see an increase of $69M in earnings, $47M more in spending, and $18M more in investing. Good schools are beneficial for students, communities, and businesses.

How can we see PEBC’s impact in community and schools?

The Boettcher Teacher’s Program boasts a 98% teacher retention rate. This means that highly trained, committed teachers in high needs schools are staying in the profession, far more than the national average. This is correlated to improved student achievement.

The schools we serve have 19% more growth in reading tests than at other schools. Over 27 years we have touched 18,000 teachers, 700 principals, and one million students.

Our staff has written and published 21 books, primarily action research from their work in classrooms and as classroom teachers. These books have sold nearly five million copies nationally. Normally it takes 10 years from research to actual practice to show up in the classrooms. The work we do abbreviates that time considerably.

What are the sources of PEBC’s revenue and how are funds spent?

87% of our funds go directly to program work. This is impressive because the average for organizations like ours is around 75%. We spend 11 cents on the dollar raising money (the average is 35 cents per dollar).

One third our revenue comes from fees. We charge districts in Colorado only 50% of the cost of the programs.

One third of our revenue is from national programs. When our programs are done nationally, they are charged cost plus and that revenue generated from national work is spent exclusively in Colorado.

About a third comes from philanthropy and all of that money is spent within Colorado.

We also have one big event per year, which is the annual business and education luncheon you mentioned. This event is May 6th and Dr. John Medina, whom you mentioned, will be the keynote speaker. This is an event open to the public and tickets can be purchased by April 29th at

When can you say “our work here is done”?

When I was hired 15 years ago the person who brought me on board said that she would like to think that in 10 years we would be obsolete. I bought into that vision, but it is not a reality.

Systems are in flux because of all of the reform measures. Most of the work being done under the guise of reform and is around structure. There is very little reform work that improves instruction. Districts don’t have the ability to get into the classrooms and help with instruction, so that is our niche. This is where the need lies.

For more information about the Public Education and Business Coalition or to purchase tickets to their annual luncheon, go to:

1 comment:

  1. It is encouraging to hear that organizations such as PEBC exist. Is it within your mission to help launch similar organizations in additional states? What are the primary ways that businesses get involved--is it mainly via donations? Have you thought about other ways--such as volunteering their time to teach skills specific programs?