In the United States of America, all children have the right to free public education. I have a firm belief in this right. It is what separates us from many other nations whose educational systems only serve a portion of the population. We educate ALL: rich and poor, abled and challenged, citizen and immigrant. However, while public education may be "free", a world class education is very expensive. It is certainly far from "free".
Beechwood School is located in a very comfortable suburban neighborhood. Families are often college educated, own their own homes, enroll their children in after school activities, and take yearly vacations. In this politically conservative community, we value education and want our public school to be high achieving and promote diverse skills and talents. We want a well rounded experience that includes art and music, physical education, a thorough understanding of history and government, character education, and social emotional well-being. These are moral imperatives and expensive undertakings.
Five years ago, in the middle of hugely challenging economic times, this community decided they wanted things in their neighborhood school that were beyond the level of funding provided by the State and Federal governments. And, a non-profit Foundation was born. That last sentence makes this birth seem organic, but really it was countless hours of volunteer work and community building: mobilizing efforts, applying for 501(c)(3) status, buying insurance to cover any liabilities, garnering local business support, and organizing fundraising events.
The Foundation Board is comprised of approximately twenty members. We have a dentist, a Disney CTO, five who have earned doctorates in their respective fields, a lawyer, 4 teachers, and moms who could truly run the world should they choose to. This is an amazing group of individuals who make decisions regarding how to spend the money raised. This year, their goal is $230,000. After their first of three fundraisers, they have collected $113,000. These funds go towards teacher salaries to reduce class size, updated technology in classrooms, 1:1 iPads in grades 3-8, experiential learning (aka field trips), expanded library resources, the STEM lab, Art and music teachers, etc. These are all things that significantly improve the educational experience for our students. Without these funds and the efforts of this organization, our school would be a very different place. The Foundation provides approximately half of the funds available at the site level.
So how does one manage a public school in a charter school atmosphere? First and foremost, developing positive relationships is important. I meet monthly with the PTSA President and Foundation President. We discuss upcoming events and proactively look for ways to involve other parents.
Part of developing good relationships is to actively participate in activities. I work alongside these parents at school events. This means putting on my sneakers to set up the 5K course, unloading and organizing truckloads of fireworks for our Fourth of July Stand, making gift baskets for our auction, and so on, and so on, and so on... I enjoy these interactions greatly and see myself as a vital member of the team.
In Foundation meetings when we are developing our spending priorities, it is my job to present the rationale behind my recommendations for budget items. Giving the Board the "why" behind recommendations helps us all look at the bigger picture of our school. I've learned much from Simon Sinek's TedTalk on this important leadership principle.
As I move forward in this public school environment with a private foundation, my next area of growth is to demonstrate gratitude and appreciation both publicly and privately for all of the volunteers that make our campus an amazing place to work, learn, and grow!