Public Education Partners’ Grier Mullins retiring after 28 years of improving our schools

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Grier Mullins believes that all children should have the same kind of experiences and educational opportunities her children had.

The mother of three, a former Head Start teacher and PTA president, Mullins has worked to make that happen for 28 years as executive director of Public Education Partners of Greenville County, a nonprofit organization that is independent from Greenville County Schools but works with the school district to improve public education.

When teachers needed classroom materials and support for innovative teaching, PEP, which was then known as the Alliance for Quality Education, created a teacher grant program that doled out more than $2 million directly to teachers for projects. Then PEP turned its attention to mentoring first-year teachers. Later, after the state’s teacher evaluation process fell short of meeting local teacher and district needs, PEP and the school district created a better system of teacher evaluation. Through its “Make Summer Count” campaign, PEP is trying to raise $3.2 million to give students at Greenville County’s 29 poorest schools 12 free books from 2015 to 2018. Through the program, 25,000 children have begun to build home libraries, a resource that will help combat summer reading loss. According to education expert Richard Allington, summer reading loss accounts for 80 percent of the achievement gap between rich and poor kids.

When Mullins retires this month, Ansel Sanders, PEP’s associate director, will become executive director.

Recently, the Greenville Journal spoked with Mullins about her nearly three-decade-long career as an advocate for children’s education.

What is PEP’s biggest achievement?

Public Education Partners has not only been responsive to local education gaps over the years but also the organization’s leaders have remained knowledgeable about the latest research on what works and what matters most for children. Examining data, listening to local educators, listening to parents and working with community partners are key components of our organizational strength. We are proud of the fact we have remained independent — listening to differing voices and ideas — and we have remained nimble, ready to take action and being creative while doing so. The fact that our Greenville community — businesses, foundations and individuals — have been with us all the way has made all the difference. Our partners have been patient and persistent at the same time and we learn from each other every day. After all, this is an endeavor that values learning and doing above all else.

What is the biggest issue facing GCS? Education in S.C. as a whole?

One of the biggest challenges facing our country in the last few years has been a teacher shortage. It’s not just in urban areas or suburban areas. It’s across the board. Greenville County is not immune to this national issue. We must ensure that our community attracts, retains and supports great teachers. Greenville has an opportunity to tackle this issue head on if we work together on solutions, both new, innovative ideas and tried-and-true practices. Teacher effectiveness impacts student achievement and growth more than any other school factor.

What is your biggest regret? The thing you wanted to do but were unable to?

There are no regrets. There have been good days and better days, but there has rarely been a day when I didn’t learn something new, maybe from a child’s perspective, many times from a teacher’s perspective, often from a parent’s perspective, sometimes from a colleague or a donor. What a great seat at the table I have had for 28 years.

What’s next for you?

I don’t know, but I can’t wait to figure it out.

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