Celebrating Our Partnerships and $100 Million Invested in Education

Posted on: June 27, 2011

What began as a vision in the minds of members of the Southwest Student Services Corporation's board of directors 8 years ago has today blossomed into a philanthropic organization focused on changing lives through education in Arizona and Florida. 

Helios Education Foundation was created in 2004 and began investing in education in 2006. Now, the Foundation is celebrating the partnerships created, the thousands of lives enriched and the $100 million that has been invested in education.

"This truly is an exciting time for Helios Education Foundation and for the communities we serve," said the Foundation's President and CEO Paul Luna. "It's thrilling to know that a number of our strategic investments are helping move the needle toward creating a college-going culture. And for that, we're taking this time to reflect on and celebrate our partners," he added.

"So much has been accomplished in education because of our partners' efforts, but there is so much left to do in order to prepare our students for postsecondary education and for the workforce. We need our partners - the people and the organizations that remain committed, persistent and innovative about improving education - in order to change the landscape and elevate education as the key to changing lives and communities."

A History of Helios
Helios opened its doors in Phoenix, Arizona in 2006 and announced its first community investment in the amount of $10 million to the Arizona College Scholarship Foundation for scholarships for first-generation students. It was also 2006 when Helios announced its first investment in Florida: $10 million toward Florida's university and community college systems to support scholarships for first-generation students. The Foundation opened its doors in Tampa, Florida the following year.

Very early on in its development, Helios fine-tuned its focus, earmarking its financial resources for initiatives that contribute toward a college-going culture, one in which every individual in Arizona and Florida would have access to a postsecondary education. The Foundation developed a strategic community investment philosophy rooted in improving student achievement. The approach was simple: invest within a specific framework across the education continuum, from early childhood education through the transition years and on to postsecondary scholarships.

And, that approach is yielding success.

"It's been an interesting and impactful journey for Helios since inception," said the Foundation's Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Barbara Ryan. "Over the past five years, we've been implementing innovative initiatives that will reshape early childhood education in some areas, improve middle school students' knowledge and skills around math and science and open doors to a postsecondary education for people who traditionally haven't had those opportunities."

Changing lives through education is a mission that can't happen in a vacuum and it can't happen overnight, Ryan says.

"Helios plans to be an ongoing force for education," Ryan added. "...pushing for higher quality learning environments with more rigor and relevance for students, and helping parents become more engaged and embedded in the academic success of their children. Some of that is already reflected in the investments we've made."

The Impact Areas

Helios Education Foundation invests its leadership, expertise and resources across three key impact areas:

Investment Focus Amount Invested Since 2006
Early Childhood Education $10,874,912

With a focus on improving teacher quality, incorporating emergent literacy and language acquisition curriculum into postsecondary education programs and bridging the gap between the early childhood and K-3 education systems.

Transition Years (grades 5-12) $43,156,655

With a focus on college readiness for all students by creating a college-going culture and increasing curriculum rigor and relevance with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education; creating and sustaining a pipeline of highly effective STEM educators and school leaders; and strengthening family and community engagement to support student success.

Postsecondary Scholarships $32,795,516

With a focus on increasing access to postsecondary education for underserved and underrepresented populations; creating a pipeline of STEM students and educators; and cultivating early childhood education teachers and practitioners.

Innovative $12,413,466

With a focus on supporting new and innovative initiatives that seek to improve student achievement across the education continuum.

Raising Expectations

Expect More Arizona is one of Helios Education Foundation's innovative partnership's which is engaging and empowering students, families and communities in Arizona to improve education. The statewide, nonpartisan partnership seeks to make education Arizona's top priority by building public demand for a higher quality education system.

Helios is a founding partner of Expect More Arizona and the Foundation's President and CEO, Paul Luna, is Chair of Expect More Arizona's Oversight Board.

"Expect More Arizona is a movement working to create a groundswell of better informed and more actively engaged Arizonans who believe that every Arizona student deserves the best education possible,” said Expect More Arizona's Executive Director Nicole Magnuson. "In order for Arizona's education system to be a model of excellence across the nation, we must raise our expectations and commit to doing more for education and our students.”

Recognizing that not all Arizona students have access to high quality education, Expect More Arizona is advocating for a high quality education system for all Arizona students from birth through career that effectively prepares students to succeed.

The partnership's motivation stems from the statistics below, which reinforce that Arizona's students are falling behind their national and international peers in academic performance, high school graduation rates and postsecondary degree attainment.

  • 60% of kindergartners don't enter kindergarten ready to succeed
  • 75% of 3rd graders are below proficient in reading
  • 71% of 8th graders are below proficient in math
  • 30% of students don't graduate from high school
  • 50% of high school graduates don't qualify to enroll in Arizona's public universities
  • 17% of Arizona students go on to postsecondary education and earn a college degree on time

With these percentages in mind, Expect More Arizona is evolving its public awareness and engagement efforts to encourage parents and families to set high expectations in their homes and get actively involved in supporting the academic success to their students.

"Research shows that parents have a significant and positive impact on the academic success and postsecondary education goals of students,” Magnuson said. "The more engaged parents become in their child's education, at all stages of the education continuum, the more likely those parents will be to advocate on behalf of their children, their children's school and on behalf of education reform overall.”

What makes Expect More Arizona unique, however, is that even if you don't have children, there is a place for everyone in this important movement. Learn more at

Sources for the statistics mentioned above include:

  • Arizona School Readiness Key Performance Indicators, Governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families, 2006
  • National Center for Education Statistics
  • Green, J. & Winters, M. (2005). Public high school graduation and college-readiness rates: 1991-2002. New York: Manhattan Institute.
  • The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems Information Center for State Higher Education Policy and Analysis, 2003-2004
Helios Partner Total Investment
Expect More Arizona $1.5 million


Master Class
With the College Board's assessment of the U.S. now ranking 12th in the world in postsecondary education attainment among adults ages 25- to 64-years-old, Helios is supporting initiatives aimed at preparing students to successfully compete globally and on helping them acquire the knowledge and skills that will make them a productive part of the workforce. Advancing student skills around STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) have shown to be an effective part of a comprehensive approach to improving student achievement.

But according to the Education Commission of the States (ECS), teacher quality is also critical to student achievement. In a 2008 policy brief, the ECS found that while numerous state efforts seek to recruit, train and retain more teachers, fewer initiatives focus on developing teachers, particularly high school teachers, once they enter the classroom.

In their brief, the ECS examined seven high-leverage components to strengthening teacher professional development at the high school level, including:

  • Deepening conceptual knowledge
  • Integrating college and workforce readiness into teacher expectations and instruction
  • Developing communities of practice and mentorship supports
  • Using data, school- and classroom-level assessment practices and differentiated instruction
  • Keeping a focus on instruction
  • Addressing organizational professional development and
  • Using technology to leverage learning

As part of its effort to create more opportunities for teacher professional development, Helios is working with the University of Florida's (UF) Lastinger Center for Learning and the Pinellas County School District to develop master middle school and high school teachers in math and science.

Through the Pinellas County STEM Master Teachers initiative, UF is collaborating with the school district to provide job-embedded graduate education programs for teachers. As part of this initiative, teachers are working side-by-side with UF researchers on biological and physical sciences and related technologies, gaining new content knowledge and skills, leaning about the processes of discovery science and exploring multiple academic and workforce career paths for students.

One of the highlights of this program is that teachers earn a graduate degree from UF while further enhancing their abilities in the classroom.

"This program has grown faster than we had anticipated,” said Don Pemberton, Director of UF's Lastinger Center for Learning. "We're able to respond to the real needs for math and science teachers in some of the most vulnerable schools in Pinellas County. And, this really is a unique partnership that we've been able to leverage our resources and we've gone from three schools when we launched to 11 with the support of the Pinellas County School Board over two years. "

Pemberton says that some of the key objectives of the program are to provide high quality professional development for all math and science teachers at the demonstration schools, and to give those teachers summer experiences in UF labs with research scientists, engineers and mathematicians. The hope is that the program will ultimately improve the content knowledge and pedagogy of the entire math and science faculties in the demonstration schools.

"Right now we feel that math and science education is a national priority, and it's extremely encouraging to know that Helios Education Foundation and Pinellas County schools are on the cutting edge of helping develop a new prototype for training math and science teachers,” Pemberton said. "This kind of investment and support is so critically needed at a time when traditional resources are drying up. Because of this partnership, we are collaborating across all levels and meeting the needs of students in vulnerable schools.”

Helios Partner Total Investment
University of Florida Foundation Over $1.6 million
For the Pinellas County STEM Master Teachers Program  


The Future
As Helios Education Foundation looks toward investing its next $100 million in education, the Foundation is taking a closer look at the measurability, sustainability and long-term impacts of its initiatives. As a Foundation designed to exist in perpetuity, Helios wants to ensure that the residual effects of its investments continue to ripple across Arizona and Florida for years to come. Being able to evaluate that kind of impact is a critical part of Helios' investment approach.

"It's been incredible to watch Helios Education Foundation evolve and become an integral part of helping improve education,” said the Foundation's Founding Chairman Vince Roig. "What's going to be even more incredible, are the years to come. I speak on behalf of the board and staff when I say that none of the work, none of the vision, none of the change in education we are seeking would be possible without our partners. This really is about celebrating our partnerships and looking toward educating the future leaders of this country.”

For more information about the history and development of Helios Education Foundation, go to General information about the Foundation's focus and community investment initiatives is available online at

Category: Foundation Feature

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