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Henderson County Education Foundation Celebrates 30 Years

Henderson County Education Foundation Kicks Off  30th Anniversary Celebration with downtown event

The Henderson County Education Foundation (HCEF) will kick off the celebration of its 30th anniversary with an event on the steps of the Henderson County Historic Courthouse on Thursday, October 13 at 4:30 pm. The event is free and the public is invited to attend.

“This is an exciting time for the foundation,” said executive director Paul Knott. “In addition to celebrating our 30 years of service to Henderson County’s public schools, we’re setting our sights on the next 30 years.”

At the event, the Henderson County Commissioners will honor the Henderson County Education Foundation with a proclamation recognizing the organization’s many contributions over the past three decades. The organization will also unveil a new logo.

“The new logo is a symbol of how our organization is evolving to meet the changing needs of our educational system,” said Knott. “We like to think of the 30th anniversary not just as a milestone, but as a starting point for exciting new initiatives that will further enhance Henderson County’s reputation as an educational leader of the first order.”

Today, Henderson County’s public school system is ranked 4th among the 115 school districts in North Carolina.


The Henderson County Education Foundation was established as a non-profit in the autumn of 1986 as a way to manage the bequest by Vernon and Leander Johnson of their family farm to the Henderson County Public School system. Today, the historic Johnson Farm, under the continued stewardship of the foundation, serves as a cultural and educational heritage center for the students and community of Henderson County.

The foundation’s role has grown well beyond the boundary of the Johnson Farm to include a wide range of scholarships, grant programs and activities that benefit both students and teachers, including:

The Berrian Fund 

Created through a bequest by the late Dr. Mae Adele Berrian, this fund serves the stringed instrument education program in the Henderson County Schools and benefits over 140 high school and middle school students each year.

The Special Fund for Children 

Created through an endowment and maintained through donations from other donors including the Community Foundation of Henderson County, the Special Fund provides essentials such as clothing, medicine, scholarships, food and tutoring for at-risk students.

Education Scholarships 

The foundation also manages 21 higher education scholarships that are awarded annually to Henderson County public high school graduates.

Creative Teaching Grants 

The foundation has long provided teachers with funds and resources needed to develop and implement innovative teaching methods in the classroom.

Henderson County Education Hall of Fame 

Founded in 2003, the Hall of Fame honors noteworthy educators who have made extraordinary contributions to the growth and development of education in the public schools of Henderson County. To date, over 120 individuals have been honored.


One person who is especially excited about HCEF’s current and future initiatives is Henderson County Public School’s new superintendent Bo Caldwell.

“We’re excited about the partnership that is developing between the Henderson County Public Schools and the Henderson County Education Foundation,” said Caldwell, who began his new duties in June. “Our staff has worked diligently to establish a tradition of excellence in the county and for us to continue in that vein, the foundation’s support and advocacy for our work will be essential.”

The foundation is also keenly aware of the contributions by other supporters of Henderson County public education.

“Our aim is not to compete with the alumni organizations, teacher groups, PTO’s and booster clubs that already do such fabulous work for our children and schools,” said Knott. “Our goal is to identify and serve the unmet needs of our schools. I think we’re well positioned to funnel community support to our public school system in new and vital ways.”

“There are over 13,400 students in the Henderson County public school system,” said Knott, “Ultimately, we want to build and sustain the foundation to the point that our programs benefit each and every one of them.”


While the foundation is committed to continuing and expanding these initiatives, the organization has identified a number of new challenges that require renewed focus and additional resources.

“The world is a different place today than it was 30 years ago,” said Knott. “And nowhere is that more true than in education. The reasons to have an education foundation in 1986 and one in 2016 are vastly different.”

Knott cited the budgetary pressures that have been put on school systems along with the increased educational demands required to prepare a student for a job in the world economy.

“We, as a community, have to step up to fill the gap for the benefit of our children,” said Knott. “The good news is that there’s something in this for everyone. I have no doubt that our vibrant local economy has benefited greatly from the excellent education provided by our school system. And it will continue to do so.”

One important new initiative identified by the foundation is “The Leader in Me,” a whole school transformation process based on Franklin Covey’s best-seller, “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.” The program teaches 21st century leadership and life skills to students. Its aim is to create a culture of student empowerment based on the idea that every student can be a leader.

Since its launch in 2009, more than 3,000 public, private, charter and magnet  schools across 50 countries have adopted “The Leader in Me” process.

The program has already gained a foothold in the Henderson County school system, with impressive results at Dana Elementary and Sugarloaf Elementary Schools.

Since Sugarloaf adopted the program in 2014, the school has seen a 50% improvement in test scores. The Teacher Working Conditions Survey has seen annual improvements of more than 20% in the areas of managing student conduct, increasing teacher leadership, engaging parent/community support, and the recognition of Sugarloaf as a place of mutual trust and respect.

With these overall improvements, “Sugarloaf has gained a positive reputation in the community and become a place of pride for all stakeholders,” said Principal Peggy Marshall.

Dana Elementary, another “The Leader in Me” school, has seen similar results and reported a remarkable change in engagement by teachers, staff and parents in leadership development for their children. On the Teaching Working Condition Survey 98% of staff feel that Dana is a good place to work and learn.

“When compared to other schools of high poverty, we are in the top tier on math scores,” says Principal Kim Morgan. End of grade and end of year testing results have shown a consistent improvement trend since “Leader in Me” was started. Morgan continued, “The strength of Dana Elementary School is maintaining and communicating the purpose and direction of the school. Our focus on our mission, to contribute our voices as we design a better tomorrow, is emphasized on a daily basis.”

“We are committed to working with the Henderson County public schools to develop a plan to communicate the value of “The Leader in Me Program,” identify the steps needed to get their desired level of engagement, and then raise the money to make it happen,” said Dan Poeta, president of the foundation board of directors

The foundation’s ambitious goal is to extend the program to each of Henderson County’s seven other elementary schools over the next three school years.

“Numerous studies have shown the importance of developing a love of and commitment to learning early on,” said Knott. “If we can reach our children at the beginning of their educational journey, we can establish a foundation for life long learning. That’s why we want to prioritize elementary schools first.”

The program requires a commitment of resources, buy-in from teachers and administrators, and real dollars.

“We estimate the cost of implementation for each school to be approximately $35,000,” said Knott.

The foundation has pledged its efforts to raise that money and is stepping up its fundraising efforts to meet the challenge.

“Donors these days have lots of options,” said Poeta. “So it’s imperative that we make a case to donors that is clear, compelling and forward thinking.”

This annual fundraising project will kick off in October as well, and will complement other established fundraising initiatives and community events, including:

Fall Golf Classic, October 10 at Champion Hills Club 

The tournament is one of the foundation’s longest running, and most successful, events. This year, the tournament expects to raise over $30,000.

Berrian All-County Orchestra Festival, October 25 

Led by guest conductor Joshua Miller, the Henderson All-County High School Orchestra will perform at 7pm at the Blue Ridge Conference Hall, Blue Ridge Community College. Admission is free and the public is invited.

Food 4 Thought, January 2017 

A collaboration with local restaurants, this is one of the foundation’s newest fundraising efforts. Participating restaurants donate a percentage of their sales on that day to the foundation.

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