KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knox Education Foundation announced Thursday that senior staff member Vrondelia “Ronni” Chandler, the Project GRAD executive director will retire this summer. Chandler has served Project GRAD Knoxville since its startup days in 2001.

“For more than two decades, Ronni has made an incredible difference in the Knoxville community through Project GRAD,” Mike Taylor, Knox Education Foundation CEO, said in a news release. “She is an extraordinary leader whose passion and commitment has inspired many. Her legacy lives on in the thousands of students who have gone on to accomplish great things. We wish her all the best in this exciting, new chapter of her life. She will be sorely missed.”

Chandler was a member of the study group that identified the national GRAD program to be implemented in Knoxville, according to the Knox Education Foundation, joining GRAD Knoxville as a startup in 2001 after a 23-year career in higher education with Pellissippi State Community College.

Project GRAD Executive Director Ronni Chandler speaks on the success of participating graduates in an April 2018 interview with WATE 6 On Your Side. (FILE Photo: WATE)

The Knox Education Foundation said that since then, she has served as program director and held several roles including curriculum manager, chief operations officer, and associate executive director.

Chandler was named GRAD Executive Director and CEO in 2014. Chandler is a Knoxville native and graduate of Austin-East Magnet High School, Pellissippi State, Tusculum University, and Johnson University.

Chandler is set to retire on June 30.

The Knox Education Foundation says that under Chandler’s guidance, new innovative partnerships were created, including a laptop telethon, employer-paid high school internships, a summer institute at TCAT Knoxville focused on trade/technical programs, and an advanced manufacturing institute opportunity with IACMI Composites “America’s Cutting Edge.”

Project GRAD Knoxville, Inc and Great Schools Partnership Trust merged in 2020 to form the Knox Education Foundation.

“While continuing the work of Project GRAD, the focus of the new organization is to invest and advocate for innovative programs, partnerships and initiatives to enhance Knox County Schools,” Knox Education Foundation said in its news release.

“Ronni truly has a heart for our community, and through her leadership, has made a lasting impact on our students, helping empower them to create a better future,” Knox County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jon Rysewyk said. “On behalf of KCS, I thank Ronni for her many years of service and dedication to the students and families of Knox County.”

KEF says it convened a working group to identify the services and supports that KCS provides and establish how Project GRAD can be leveraged to meet the ever-changing needs of students.

“Project GRAD’s work will live on after Chandler’s retirement by providing support to help students from financially disadvantaged circumstances transition successfully to post-secondary educational and employment opportunities,” KEF stated. “KEF will provide Project GRAD student and family supports that are bolstered by grants, scholarships, or financial support to equip students with the critical tools needed for academic growth and advancement. Direct support will be provided to students depending on needs identified by KEF and KCS staff.”