MILWAUKEE – Nearly two decades ago, a local nonprofit organization was formed with the intention of providing low-income students an equal footing when it came to attending private and parochial schools.

Since having a pivotal role in forming Partners Advancing Values in Education, or PAVE, Dan McKinley, president and chief executive officer, has seen increased participation from community leaders and an infusion of funds into local schools.

In April, McKinley was the recipient of the National Catholic Educational Association’s Michael J. Guerra Leadership Award. The award is bestowed annually at the NCEA convention to leaders who have a distinctive and lasting impact on American education and especially Catholic education.

“We’ve always done all that we can because
education is the absolutely most important thing to a healthy society. We’re helping schools become better and, at the same time, helping parents make good decisions for their children.”
– John Stollenwerk,
Chairman of the Board

McKinley’s background in providing opportunities for the underserved began with the Milwaukee Archdiocese. In 1987, he helped found the local archdiocesan School Development Consortium that eventually morphed into PAVE.

In the early days with the SDC, McKinley worked with Milwaukee-area Catholic schools by helping leaders develop marketing and fundraising strategies.

The experience at the SDC carried over to PAVE, an organization that has reportedly invested more than $27 million in scholarships to 17,000 students since its founding in 1992. Within the past decade, the organization also has infused more than $16 million into local schools – including some within the archdiocese – and McKinley predicts those efforts will continue.

PAVE funding has been made possible through donations from more than 1,000 individuals, 170 businesses and 65 foundations.

“I feel very blessed,” McKinley said this summer, after wrapping up the organization’s fiscal year. “PAVE is an example of an organization that has good governance. There is a lot of strong leadership.”

That leadership comes from a 17-member board of directors that includes Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. Other members have disparate backgrounds, ranging from the financial sector to higher education institutions. McKinley said the rich pool of knowledge has helped make PAVE successful.

“Working with all these people has been an excellent experience from day one,” McKinley said. “It’s been a great blessing with this job.”

Since its founding by McKinley and a group of business leaders, the core premise of PAVE has remained, though refinements have been made. Today, the organization funnels the bulk of its funds toward building enhancements and student tuition grants. According to PAVE’s Web site, 46 and 33 percent, respectively, are allocated to the initiatives.

McKinley said the organization plans to phase out its individual scholarship program by 2013, opting to focus on helping area choice schools expand. This year, PAVE is working with 11 schools at capacity by providing the necessary funds to physically expand.

“I think the focus is starting to shift,” McKinley said. “The question we’ve been asking is what we can do to help these schools offer the best programs possible with proper facilities.”

PAVE officials are making the funding shift in an effort to meet the needs of an even greater student population in an era where new choice and charter schools open annually.

Some of this year’s 11 beneficiaries are Catholic-based, including St. Joan Anita High School and the three schools within the Messmer system: Messmer High School, Messmer Preparatory School and the St. Rose/St. Leo Catholic Urban Academy.

“We’re certainly hoping to have an opportunity to work with more Catholic parish schools in the future,” McKinley said.

PAVE has specific criteria for the choice and charter schools for which it provides funding. Organization heads look at a school’s governance and leadership, existing financial operations, strategic partnerships with parents and community members and how infrastructure ties into supporting academic excellence.

McKinley said all donor dollars go directly toward school enhancements and student scholarships. Eighty-two percent of the organization’s budget comes from contributions; the balance is derived from interest income that is used to cover PAVE’s administrative costs.

“We’ve always done all that we can because education is the absolutely most important thing to a healthy society,” said John Stollenwerk, who has served on the PAVE board from its inception. “We’re helping schools become better and, at the same time, helping parents make good decisions for their children.”

Stollenwerk, owner and chief executive officer of the locally run Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corp., characterized his role on the PAVE board as “very rewarding.” He previously served as chairman of the organization.

“It’s definitely benefited the city of Milwaukee,” Stollenwerk said. “It’s just too bad it’s not statewide.”

Although PAVE is tweaking its focus, McKinley said the overall mission statement remains the same and that bodes well for the various non-public schools – including Catholic ones – in the Milwaukee area.

“What we do here is uplifting because it’s successful,” McKinley said. “Year after year, it’s always exciting to see what kind of impact (PAVE) has.”

In addition to his work with PAVE, McKinley serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations and foundations, including The Fleck Foundation, REACH, and the First Stage Children’s Theater Advisory Board.