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Partners in Education

In 2016, David partnered with Collierville Schools and the Collierville Chamber of Commerce to create Partners in Education, a not-for-profit that’s sole purpose was to raise money for the new, state-of-the-art high school. With his fundraising acumen and passion for public education, David assisted the school with creating partnerships with local businesses to develop groundbreaking student programs in the area of workforce development. Because of his leadership with Partners in Education, David was honored by having the Pickler Auditorium named after him.


In 2016, when ground was being broken on the new Collierville High School, the largest high school in the state of Tennessee accommodating 2,500 kids, David helped form Partners in Education (PIE) which served as the fundraising arm for the high school. This partnership, which established a national model for public education becoming a true partner in community development with local government and business leaders, was a transformative step for public education. Working with John Aitken, Collierville’s superintendent at the time, together they visualized creating a new kind of school that could offer students an education unlike the typical high school.

David immediately got to work and helped form partnerships with the Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) and the Tennessee Business Roundtable (TBR), and created amazing educational opportunities.


Undertaking a capital-raising campaign for what would be the largest and most innovative high school in the Southeastern United States, David raised more than $1.5 million for enhancements to the new high school. They ultimately secured the bulk of the funding ($125 million) from the state and school district.

After the school was built, David donated the services of The Pickler Law Firm and Pickler Accounting Advisors to legally establish the Partners in Education foundation and eventually loaned APEF Assistant Executive Director, Cassie Foote, to serve as executive director for the new program.

Because of David’s work with PIE, the vision of creating “the high school of the future” was realized, delivering world-class workforce development programs. PIE partnered with local businesses to facilitate real-world experience for students: Landers provided a three-car bay for auto mechanics, Baptist Hospital collaborated on the school’s nursing program, the University of Memphis provided a state-of-the-art culinary classroom, and FedEx is now training students in aviation mechanics, and has installed a flight simulator. These partnerships have created an inspirational setting for our students to thrive in.

Over the past three years, PIE has been breaking ground on connecting businesses leaders with public education. The organization has hosted successful conversations between teachers and industry leaders, fostering a collaboration for future needs including technical skills and soft skills.


West Tennessee Workforce Collaborative

In what is the first of its kind, the West Tennessee Workforce Collaborative has brought together leaders from municipal districts in Shelby County to address workforce development concerns in our communities. This initiative gives students a roadmap for life beyond the classroom – whether that means college or a career.

A main focus of APEF has been our workforce development program. While college remains a worthy goal for many students, David and his team believe public education must embrace the challenge of a rapidly evolving global marketplace. In fact, it’s reported that 60% of the 25 most in-demand jobs of tomorrow won’t require a bachelor’s degree.  Instead, a growing number of jobs will require advanced certification, creating a demand for training for those types of jobs.

We viewed our relationship with the new Collierville High School as an opportunity to beta test this new approach, offering students technical, vocational or professional development skills they would need to compete in this quickly evolving marketplace.

David brought local business owners together with curriculum leaders and teachers to discuss workforce development needs. Students would learn emerging technology and vocational skills, schools would gain additional training and funding from the businesses, and the business owners would gain access to the next generation of workers, and play a role in preparing them for the workforce.

Soon, more than 250 area businesses pledged their support to the program which gives our students access to training for jobs as airplane mechanics, pilots, drone aviation specialists, welders, commercial kitchen builders, nurses and hospice care workers with clinical medical assisting (CMA) certification, and cosmetologists. Since the program started, hundreds of students at Collierville High School have participated in internships, externships and have been employed by partner firms.


One of the true success stories of the program is in the field of Agriculture Technology. In today’s world, agriculture goes well beyond tractors, planting and harvesting crops. It requires knowledge of science and technology to improve land productivity. “Smart” combines can detect differences in yield from one field to the next. Soil maps reveal soil structure and chemical properties. Today’s farmers also rely on high-tech to track weather patterns, soil erosion and biodiversity. Through our partnership with several agricultural companies, we built a teaching farm on campus so kids could learn firsthand about some of these new technologies. It has given them a different perspective on farming and an introduction to the skills needed for success in that field.

The workforce development program has proven so successful that schools throughout the state have begun replicating our efforts. It’s even been touted nationally and a number of states have adopted similar programs. Furthermore, the newly developed West Tennessee Workforce Collaborative has created a communication pipeline between businesses and education that will ensure schools in our state offer courses relevant to the ever-evolving marketplace.

With the collective efforts of local businesses, government and public education, David and his team are trying to change the world.

Partners in Education
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