By Tippi Rasp
Local education foundations are working to recognize the commitments school districts make to education and reward teachers and students for making a difference.
In Garfield County, Kremlin-Hillsdale, Pioneer-Pleasant Vale, Chisholm, Enid and Autry Technology Center all boast education foundations. And although each school makes their own contributions to the district, their purpose is the same.
Amber Graham Fitzgerald, Enid Public Schools school and community relations director, said EPSF provides opportunities for teachers and students that the district might not otherwise be able to offer.
“By funding materials, programs and projects that encourage creative and innovative teaching, the foundation helps us find that special spark for every child,” Fitzgerald said. “When the students are excited about a lesson, the teacher can then really make an impact. It increases the likelihood that they will remember and apply what they have learned.”
Enid Public School Foundation hosts several fund raisers through the year for its grants to teachers program. The foundation continues to present more than $30,000 each year to Enid Public Schools teachers.
While Oklahoma’s local education foundations vary in size, structure and programming, all are 501 (c)(3) non profit groups led by boards of directors comprised of community volunteers. Local education foundations are funded almost entirely by private contributions, relying on community supporters to raise and distribute funds.
Oklahoma has one of the nation’s largest networks of local education foundations, with 192 currently on record with the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence. Based on a 2005 survey of Oklahoma local education foundations, 108 responding foundations have, since inception, awarded more than $26.6 million to community schools. The money includes grants, scholarships and funds for other activities not available through regular school budgets.
Most public school foundations use the grants-to-teachers program as the primary means by which funds are distributed. Teachers write proposals for the grants, which provide curriculum, equipment and other materials districts typically don’t fund.
The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence provides resources and services to local education foundations. The OFE, founded 20 years ago by U.S. Sen. David Boren, offers free training and resources to new and established local foundations through its outreach program.
“Community support is vital to ensuring teacher and student success, and local education foundations play an important role in partnering with communities to provide additional resources for public schools,” said Emily Stratton, executive director of the OFE.
The outreach program offers an annual fall forum, which provides training and networking for foundation volunteers, administrators and educators.
When Kremlin-Hillsdale Academic Enrichment Foundation was ready to award teacher grants for the first time, they called on the regional representative Susan Bowers to join them.
“They had never awarded grants before and wanted some guidance on the process,” Bowers said.
More than $22,000 in grants have been presented to Kremlin-Hillsdale Public Schools teachers for supplemental instructional materials since the foundation began presenting grants during the 2002-03 school year.
A local bank got on board last year and promised to match up to $25,000 over five years. The Bank of Kremlin is matching up to $5,000 each year to benefit students. Tracy Bittle, KHAEF board member, said the foundation’s endowment has grown to more than $26,000.
Mike Riddle, KHAEF president, said the community is helping support the district, its teachers and students.
“It’s been fantastic,” Riddle said, adding grants have more than doubled since the program’s inception.
The Chisholm Foundation works with the district to identify needs and then tries to help meet the needs. It also began giving grants to teachers last year.
“The foundation appreciates all the great things the teachers at Chisholm do and thanks them all for their efforts,” Joe Snodgrass, foundation board member, has said.
The Chisholm Foundation also helped buy a $100,000 activity bus to replace the 30-year-old bus the school had been using. The bus is to be used by the entire district. The foundation has helped fulfill a number of other needs.
“The foundation will continue to work with the school district, identifying and helping with projects to give the students at Chisholm a great educational experience,” Snodgrass said.