PEF looking to hire as Sara Valkonen departs

Heather Frank

PEF office staff. Left to right: Sara Valkonen, Advancement Officer - Heather Meil, Communications Officer - Heather Frank, Executive Director - Lisa Peters, Operations Officer - Susan McLaughlin, Programs Officer - Betty Winnacker, Bookkeeper

After three years of managing events, fundraisers, and volunteers for the Piedmont Education Foundation (PEF), Sara Valkonen is stepping aside for other pursuits, leaving a vacancy in the PEF office.

Valkonen joined PEF in 2017, when she was brought in to manage Spring Fling, the tri-school’s annual, month-long fundraising event. PEF’s Executive Director Heather Frank asked her to stay on in a more formal capacity, and she has since served as PEF’s Advancement Officer.

“I would say that working with the amazing individuals, the PEF staff, board and volunteers has been my favorite part of the job,” said Valkonen. “The staff and environment are top-notch professional. It really is an amazing place to work and I will miss everyone there.”

Valkonen’s biggest challenge on the job was this spring, when all event planning had to stop suddenly due to the coronavirus health crisis. When COVID-19 hit, Valkonen pivoted the traditional Spring Fling fundraiser — which includes a grand gala, golf tournament, and tennis social — to an online giving campaign. “We shared pictures on social media to raise awareness around elementary schools and the need for funding for them. People were very understanding and everyone who bought a ticket to Spring Fling made it a cash donation.”

Valkonen and Frank anticipate challenge and opportunity ahead. According to Frank, PEF’s work is more important now than ever with the possibility that schools won’t return to normal operations for at least a year, and the state’s education budget is sure to be strained. Last year, PEF raised over $3 million for Piedmont schools, amounting to approximately 7% of the district’s budget.

PEF’s mission is to provide sustained financial support to Piedmont schools through fundraising and community engagement.

“The challenge and opportunity is in helping the school district to communicate why decisions are made and reinforcing the idea that it is a great school district with excellent leadership. It is a huge opportunity to grow and move towards excellence if we transition fully to distance learning. We will share the success with parents and keep explaining why the district needs funds,” said Frank.

Valkonen echoed Frank’s message “The biggest challenge will be getting the message out effectively, particularly to people new to the community. Even the annual check writing giving campaign does rely on gatherings and events to spread the word on why giving to the schools is so important. All of that will have to switch to online.”

PEF is looking for applicants who are dedicated to the mission and vision of PEF and the school district, and who have strong project management and event-planning skills. PEF hopes to have the position filled by the end of summer.

“We haven’t had any turnover in three years, so this is a great opportunity for us to get new ideas into the mix. We are looking forward to meeting excellent candidates,” says Frank.

More information on the position can be found HERE.

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