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New PEP director brings experience to position in Aiken County

November 4, 2017 GMT

As an Aiken native and the mother of 3-year-old twin boys, Melissa Viola is invested personally in the success of Aiken County Public Schools.

As the new executive director of Public Education Partners, she is taking that commitment to the professional level.

“Education is so important,” said Viola, who started in the position Sept. 18. “My sons just started preschool. Not only did I grow up here, but I have children who are going to grow up here and go to public schools. It’s something that hits home – a direct investment. I want to make sure we have the best schools not only for my kids but for everyone’s kids.”

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Founded in 1995, Public Education Partners, or PEP, is dedicated to the advancement of equality and excellence in education for all students in Aiken County. The nonprofit organization is a liaison between the private sector and the public school system, providing opportunities for business, industry and community members to get involved in public education.

“PEP’s mission is to focus the resources of the community for higher quality public education in Aiken County,” Viola said. “PEP’s vision is to actively engage all students in the community and to positively impact our students and school system as a whole.”

Early literacy is one of PEP’s newest focuses, Viola said.

“There’s a gap between children whose parents speak to their children versus children whose parents don’t communicate with their children at a young age,” Viola said.

PEP sponsors the Garcia Orchestra Festival, which supports stringed instrument music in middle and high schools, and Baby’s First Teacher, which helps new parents understand the importance of reading to their baby from birth.

PEP also supports the Aiken County Public School District’s Early College program at Midland Valley High, which allows students to take college classes through Aiken Technical College and finish high school with an associate degree.

“PEP secured donations from businesses to help start that program, which is in its second year,” Viola said. “It will be really neat to see the first class graduate. Some of them will be the first college graduates in their families. PEP is dedicated to creating partnerships with the business community and community leaders and putting them in touch with the local education system.”

Viola said PEP also wants to showcase Aiken County Public Schools to families who are considering moving to the county.

“People look at schools when they are moving,” she said. “We want to ensure our schools across the board are attractive to new families.”

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A second generation Aikenite, Viola attended East Aiken Elementary and was in the fifth grade the year Chukker Creek Elementary opened. She attended Kennedy Middle and graduated from South Aiken High in 2002.

A 2006 graduate of USC Columbia, Viola earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration with a double major in marketing and management and a double minor in public relations and advertising.

She worked in S.C. Sen. Tom Young’s law office as a paralegal for 12 years and then as the information services coordinator at the Aiken Chamber of Commerce for two years.

Viola has been an Aiken Young Professional member since 2010, served as its chair in 2013 and has been a Steering Committee member from 2010 to 2017. She was named the 2014 Most Valuable Professional and a 2016 YP2Follow Award recipient by the Aiken Standard.

She is on the City of Aiken Recreation Commission and is a member of Millbrook Baptist Church.

Viola said she is excited about her position with PEP.

“I feel very honored and privileged to be part of it and look forward to working with our board to really make an impact on local education here in Aiken,” she said.