The Next Big Idea

Bill Berg and Mindy Cameron had a big idea in 2002 which led to the founding of Panhandle Alliance for Education. Twenty years later, we have a lot to celebrate but even more interesting, we have our next big idea and we invite you to be a part of it.

First, a brief review

When Bill Berg and Mindy Cameron arrived in Sandpoint in the late 80s, they were troubled by what they saw in the school district. At that time, there were many excellent and dedicated teachers but our schools lacked needed resources and graduation rates were low. 

There are not enough dollars to keep Idaho public schools competitive with the rest of the country. This is a challenge that can only be resolved with individual and local support. And so, they founded PAFE in 2002. 

“A quality school district is a must if we want to attract families and employees for our local businesses and healthcare institutions,” said Mindy Cameron, “I’ve always been interested in education and believe public schools are the cornerstone of democracy where children in a community go to school together regardless of socioeconomic status. Our goal with PAFE is to get the community and businesses engaged and care about schools.”

Georgia Simmons, then President / CMO of Coldwater Creek, immediately supported the idea and became a key player in hosting PAFE’s first fundraiser and engaging the community for support because she understood first-hand the importance of having a strong school district in order to attract high quality candidates to Sandpoint.  Georgia set the stage with how local businesses could play an integral part in supporting students in our district.

Twenty years later, our mission remains the same: To promote excellence in education and broad-based community support for the Lake Pend Oreille School District. As an independent organization, we will create and sustain an endowment to provide resources in support of effective teaching, learning and school management.

How exactly do we promote “excellence in education”?

Through three key channels: 

  1. Strategic initiatives: Each year, in collaboration with school district leadership, we select projects that will have a long-term impact on students across the district with clearly measurable outcomes. In 2021, those initiatives included professional learning communities for teachers, a fleet of musical instruments for all sixth graders in the district to experience playing, and career connection videos for high school students to better understand skills needed and available opportunities after graduation. They have also included in past years, English Language Arts (ELA) updated curriculum, a Math Collaborative Classroom, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum.
  2. Early childhood literacy programs that support children from birth through first grade. 
    • Born to Read impact: Since the program began in 2018, approximately 880 new parents at Bonner General Health have received Born to Read kits.
    • READY! For Kindergarten impact: In just the past five years, more than 200 area families have joined READY! for the first time to learn how to prepare their children for Kindergarten and beyond.
    • Learning with Lucky impact: Our school district has outperformed the state average and students grew an average of 30% from fall to spring on reading scores. This first-grade reading initiative has been a PAFE grant since 2012 and was approved as part of the Early Childhood Literacy program this year.
  3. Teacher grants allow teachers to extend learning in their classrooms with innovative programs. 
    • 838 teacher grants totaling over $2M have been awarded since inception.

A thriving community relies on a high-performing school district, and education funding from our federal, state, and local levels can only do so much. We have been repeatedly told that PAFE extends that funding by giving teachers and school leadership resources and tools they wouldn’t otherwise have. 

A big milestone for us this year is that our endowment will reach a capacity to fully cover overhead expenses, which means 100 percent of donations go directly to the classroom and strategic initiatives. 

  • PAFE is looked at by Idaho Business for Education, a group of nearly 250 business leaders across the state of  Idaho, as an example of what can be achieved when local citizens and businesses work closely with school leaders.
  • With the help of many PAFE science grants through the years, Southside Elementary became the home to Idaho’s first STEAM SmartLab and is 1 of 6 schools in the state to be STEM Designated Schools.
  • SHS Post-Secondary Guidance counselor was hired in 2008 as a result of a PAFE Teacher grant. SHS was one of few schools in the state to offer these services to students. The district saw the immense value and began funding the position. The impact of this role has had ripple effects in the 14 years since. 

What now? The Next Big Idea

Our work will never be done because our students will always need support. 

We have asked Lake Pend Oreille School District what their greatest need is right now. Their answer: They’d love to offer a residential carpentry and pre-apprenticeship program as part of an enhanced Career and Technical Education.

The demand is great for work in this area and could give our high school students a pathway to a career they love. 

But also, it is a catalyst for even more significant additions down the road. Learn more here:

If you are as excited as we are, you can get involved or make a donation here.