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Nonprofit Celebrates 20 Years

Panhandle Alliance for Education continues its mission to serve students and teachers By Jillian Chandler

“We have countless stories of students who have been impacted by a grant or a program funded by PAFE, and have gone on to pursue their dreams with either successful careers in the trades or in universities and then on to professions of their choosing,” affirms Amy Longanecker, executive director for Panhandle Alliance for Education.

With a mission to promote excellence in education and broad-based support for the Lake Pend Oreille School District, Panhandle Alliance for Education is proud to be celebrating 20 years.

Founded in 2002 by Bill Berg and Mindy Cameron, PAFE has been instrumental in education, creating educational opportunities for students and teachers that would not have existed without its inception.

The inspiration began when Bill and Mindy came to Sandpoint back in the late ‘80s. They recognized that schools lacked needed resources and graduation rates were low. Having previously been involved in an education foundation in Seattle, they were called to start something similar here in Sandpoint that would benefit the schools and the students. Thus, Panhandle Alliance for Education was born.

“A quality school district (as well as affordable housing) is a must if we want to attract families and employees for our local businesses and health-care institutions,” says Mindy. “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.”

One of PAFE’s first supporters was Georgia Simmons, former president and CMO of Coldwater Creek. A key player in hosting PAFE’s first fundraiser, she engaged the community for support, as she understood firsthand the importance of having a strong school district in order to attract high-quality candidates to Sandpoint.

“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,” shares Amy. “We have been told time and again that PAFE extends that funding by giving teachers and school leadership resources and tools they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

So how does PAFE promote excellence in education? This is executed through three key channels:

Strategic initiatives: Each year, these initiatives are chosen in collaboration with school district leadership—and with the criteria that they have a long-term impact on students and district-wide execution with measurable outcomes. In 2021, these included professional learning communities for teachers, musical instruments for sixth-graders in the district to experience playing, and career connections videos for high school students.

Early childhood literacy programs: Reading programs that support children from birth through first grade, these programs include Born to Read, READY! For Kindergarten and Learning with Lucky.

Teacher grants: These grants allow teachers to expand learning in their classrooms with innovative programs (838 teacher grants, totaling more than $2 million, have been awarded since its inception).

PAFE is proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish these past 20 years, acknowledging the importance of collaborating with local businesses, the school district and supporters. And the accomplishments speak for themselves:

• 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 one of six schools in the state to be STEM Designated Schools.

• Sandpoint High School’s 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 immense value and began funding the position. The impact of this role has had ripple effects in the 14 years since.

PAFE always welcomes and encourages the community’s support and involvement to continue, and further, their mission. To find out more about Panhandle Alliance for Education, and to make a donation, visit Be sure to subscribe to their quarterly newsletter and/or sign up for PAFE’s READY! For Kindergarten classes. For the past two decades, Panhandle Alliance for Education has been changing the lives of students right here in Sandpoint, and helping to create a brighter future. And with continued support of our local community, they will be able to continue their mission for many years to come.

As Amy states, “Our work will never be done because our students will always need support.”

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