Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Education Foundation: A Resource for Our Schools

By Cecily Shea, Mary Asel, Gabi Sandoz and Sharon Schoeller

Thanks to the generosity of individual donors and businesses, Falls Church Education Foundation was able to give $151,984 to the schools for the 2016-17 school year to provide funding primarily in three areas: super grants, advanced teacher training grants and programs (support of the ESOL after-school program, special education Thomas Jefferson-Mary Ellen Henderson-George Mason buddies program, backpack meals program, support for each PTA/PTSA and TJ-MEH-GM maker spaces). In addition, the Falls Church Education Foundation, or FCEF, provided over $140,000 in scholarships to GMHS students and staff, for a total award over $292,000.

The purpose of FCEF, a non-profit organization founded in 2003, is to raise funds for Falls Church City Public Schools to ensure our students are well-prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century. FCEF’s three areas of funding are: equity of access, student preparedness and staff readiness. Executive Director Debbie Hiscott works with the schools, parent groups and the community to ensure that FCEF knows about teacher/staff/student needs and coordinates ways to meet them.

FCEF has an active volunteer board of directors and a half-time executive director. In order to make this slim (down from a full-time director and half-time assistant in 2012) administrative structure work, a number of board members “roll up their sleeves” and spend 20-40 hours per month each doing strategic and administrative work.

The Foundation has two types of funds: unrestricted and restricted. FCEF raises unrestricted money, over which the Board of Directors has discretion, through general donations and its major fundraisers, the annual gala and Run for the Schools and, this year, the home and garden tour. This money funds super grants, advanced teacher training grants, FCEF’s programs and other requests.

Restricted funds, which comprise the largest part of FCEF’s assets, are donor-directed and are given out according to agreements between FCEF and the donors. FCEF scholarship funds fall into this category, as do select other funds, such as the Nicholas Benton Diversity Fund and the Nancy Sprague Leadership Fund. Our newest donation, $100,000 from Todd Hitt, focused on the arts and humanities, is also a restricted fund.

FCEF is a unique organization and has a number of advantages to those who donate to it. A professional auditing firm conducts an annual audit of our funds and procedures. FCEF can accept large donations that can be used over a long period of time. These donations are invested, professionally managed and can grow over time. FCEF receives donations from the entire Falls Church community and beyond to fund projects at all five schools. FCEF funds projects that include multiple schools and provide continuity of services. Falls Church City Public School staff know that FCEF is the place to come if they have an innovative idea or want specialized professional development.

FCEF has just sent out applications for the 2017 super grants and teacher training opportunities. In the fall, we will be able to share with you what we will be funding. Highlights of some of the super grants FCEF has awarded over the past three years are:

STEM Support: the EPA award-winning George Mason/Mary Ellen Henderson hydroponics program; George Mason auditorium lighting and sound equipment; creation of Maker Spaces at Thomas Jefferson and MEH; GM Maker Space and Robotics equipment; new sound system for TJ.
Arts and Humanities: GM Mindfulness research project; headphones for MEH language classes; large string instruments for the MEH strings program; cameras, lenses and printers for the GM art department and the yearbook; Big Books for JTP; cultural exchange art projects for TJ and GM art students.

Specialized Programs: sensory room for special ed students at MEH; a specialized reading program (LLI) for at-risk students in second grade and MEH to create continuity in teaching and learning; a specialized music program for special ed life skills students; multi-sensory equipment for JTP; “Teachtown” social skills curriculum for MD; standing desks and sitting balls for MEH special needs students.

Other: furniture for the MEH lobby for students to work in a non-classroom setting; outdoor amphitheater at MEH; standing desks at GM; funding for a system-wide emergency fund.

Advanced Teacher Training Grants provided advanced training/conference attendance for teachers in the following areas: ESOL; Gifted and Talented; Special Education (Orton-Gillingham); Advanced IB and MYP; IB counseling; career and college counseling; Colonial history (the Williamsburg Institute); using technology for math/science and for writing/thinking; teaching and discussing diversity; speech and hearing; literacy; teaching languages; mindfulness; an eight-day professional development program in guided reading for MD and TJ that covered using the reading technique with all students (ESOL, special ed, gifted and typical); training for 50 teachers in using Google educational applications.

For more information about FCEF, please go to the website at www.fcedf.org or contact Debbie Hiscott at [email protected]

 


Cecily Shea is president of the Falls Church Education Foundation and Mary Asel is the foundation’s vice president.