In its early years, HAEF focused on such traditional projects for local foundations as making grants to teachers to support innovative classroom instruction (awarding approximately $200,000 to 160 teachers since 1988), coordinating activities of the Adopt-a-School Advisory Committee, developing and implementing teacher workshops on grant writing and student assessment, and developing a collaborative writing improvement project for area teachers and students.
In recent years, motivated by the need to raise additional funds and by pressure from its constituencies to spur systemic change, HAEF has become involved in education reform issues.
A grant from the BellSouth Foundation in 1994 enabled HAEF to conduct a community-planning initiative to develop a long-range plan to improve school readiness among area children.
In 1995 HAEF brought together school board members from the five school districts to discuss the feasibility of participating in a national demonstration project, "Public Conversations About the Public's Schools." The purpose of the project, co-sponsored by the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) and Public Agenda, was to demonstrate, through a series of town meetings in diverse communities throughout the U.S., effective communication processes to engage the public in dialogue about issues important to public education (see the article by Jacqueline Danzberger and Will Friedman on page 744 of this Kappan).
With the knowledge gained from its evaluation and from the town meeting, HAEF is poised to bring together representatives from all segments of the community to discuss what changes in the education system and in the community's understanding and attitudes will be necessary to truly support educational excellence.
Supporting the development of HAEF's strategic plan, which has a target date of August 1997, are the Phil Hardin Foundation (Meridian, Mississippi), the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), the Hattiesburg Area Development Partnership, and local school entities in the greater Hattiesburg area.
HAEF and other local education funds are well-positioned to stimulate community accountability by collecting and disseminating information about school and community performance, best practices for improving education, and ways citizens can become involved in educational improvement.
HAEF is a member of the Public Education Network (PEN), a national nonprofit association of 47 local education funds in 26 states and the District of Columbia.