Education foundation chooses new director

July 24, 2012

Jeff Howell spent Monday and Tuesday at the Public Education Partners office in downtown Aiken, readily acknowledged he has a lot to learn.

The former Houndslake Country Club general manager recently was named executive director of PEP – a local education foundation that supports the Aiken County School District with grants and other services.

He’s just the third director of PEP in its 17-year history. Diane Mangiante took that position when the organization was founded in 1995. She was succeeded by Natalie Fox, who accepted a position at the Aiken County Career Center in the spring. During its history, PEP has raised more than $4 million in support of educational grants and innovative programs and equipment.

Howell said the new opportunity came about following a conversation with Monica Key, a member and former chair of PEP’s Board of Directors.

“I told her what I’d like to do is work with a non-profit and it went from there,” Howell said. “I’m very thrilled with it and I hope to do a wonderful job.”

Throughout much of his career, he has worked as a golf professional, including a four-year stint at Houndslake from 1982 to 1986. For the next 14 years, he sold golf carts for E-Z-Go Textron in Augusta before returning to Houndslake in 2000 as general manager.

Howell’s daughters are Aiken High graduates. PEP’s board was looking for someone in the community who had a connection with public education and has been a supporter, said Key.

“Jeff meets that criteria,” she said. “He was one of the original founders with helping First Tee get established and really had his heart in that. With his background as the Houndslake manager and his knowledge of the community, Jeff will give us some fresh ideas with some of the challenges facing the school district.”

When Aiken High culinary arts teacher Jean Gorthy heard about Howell’s new position, she immediately responded, “Awesome, awesome, awesome.” In 2009 Howell had read a newspaper article about Gorthy’s program and called Gorthy and Aiken High principal Garen Cofer about a possible collaboration. Early in 2010, Houndlake hosted a fundraiser for the culinary arts program – inviting Gorthy’s students to prepare a full-course dinner and serve it to guests.

“Jeff is very service-oriented,” said Gorthy. “He loves people and loves kids. I think that’s why he started this partnership with us. He wants them to succeed, and his involvement with our program has helped it grow through more community exposure.”

Over the past three years, Howell hired some of the culinary arts students to work at Houndslake while attending school; two remain on staff. In 2011, Gorthy nominated Howell for an industrial service award through the S.C. Hospitality Association. A few months later, Howell was named the state winner.

That kind of involvement with the local community and his work with Family Y and First Tee are important factors, said PEP Board Chair Kimberly Canada. With his understanding of the business community’s needs and an appreciation of the education system, Canada said, Howell is the perfect person to lead the organization.

“The community faces economic challenges, and the schools have such challenges at the state and local level,” Canada said. “We have to tighten our belts, but we can’t lose focus on investing in our future. It will be interesting to see the perspective that somebody from the outside can bring.”

Howell is currently getting up to speed on several PEP endeavors – the career-oriented Synergistic labs for middle schools, “Great Ideas” grants, an annual “Summer Institute” for teachers and the school district’s Teacher of the Year banquet.

“With the school year starting soon, I need to get familiar with all of it in a hurry,” Howell said.

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