Unum boosts aid to Hamilton schools (with video)

Unum boosts aid to Hamilton schools (with video)

July 13th, 2012 by Kevin Hardy in News

Dan Challener, president of the Public Education Foundation, speaks at a news conference at Unum announcing plans to continue a multiyear investment in Hamilton County's public school system.

Photo by Alyson Wright /Times Free Press.

Unum is upping the ante of its commitment to schools by announcing a gift of nearly half a million dollars to local education projects.

School and company officials met Thursday in the Unum atrium downtown to celebrate the company's $450,000 pledge to schools over the next three years.

The company will give $150,000 to fund minigrants for teachers and $200,000 to the Principal Leadership Academy, a partnership among Hamilton County Schools, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the Public Education Foundation. Unum has funded both efforts in the past, though officials said this is a larger amount given over a shorter period of time.

Unum already had announced it would give $100,000 to Hamilton County's science, technology, engineering and math -- or STEM -- school that's set to open in August. The school has been billed as a model of innovative teaching that should improve science and math instruction across the region.

Education officials praised the disability insurance giant as an example of corporate citizenship for other area businesses. In the past five years, Unum has given $400,000 to the minigrant and principal training programs, and its employees have volunteered more than 7,000 hours to the school system, said schools Superintendent Rick Smith.

Smith described Unum's involvement in education as "bold" and said "no other business in Chattanooga has been as generous as Unum."

"If other businesses took the cue from Unum, and invested time and money getting to know our schools, mentoring our teachers and leaders and investing in our students, we could change the face of public education in this city," he said.

Unum employs about 3,000 workers in Chattanooga and always is looking to expand, said Tom White, senior vice president of investor relations. But with options across the world, where employees are hired depends largely on the quality of the workforce, he said.

"As we look to expand, we're looking for the best possible employees we can find. We'd love to find them here," White said.

Working to improve the local school system is one of the best ways to ensure a strong workforce, he said.

Senior Unum executives have worked closely with principal prospects in the Principal Leadership Academy, a yearlong program of intensive training that involves monthly sessions, summer institutes, and mentorships with business executives. So far, 15 of 25 graduates are working as principals.

Dan Challener, president of the Public Education Foundation, said Unum's original gift was what got the program going off the ground.

As business leaders work to lure companies to the area, prospects often cite the quality of the local workforce as key, said Tom Edd Wilson, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. As more businesses look to relocate here, Wilson said, increasing focus is trained on raising the quality of the local workforce.

"If we put pressure on our workforce, we put pressure on our public education system," Wilson said, "because they create the workforce."