Important ally for schools

Published 8:12 am Monday, August 25, 2008

The frequency of those invitations requires me to be selective. Balancing family, professional and community obligations can be tricky, and, to hear my wife say it, I’m prone to overextend.

Where possible, I try to match my community involvement with personal passions. It’s what drew me to the Franklin City Educational Foundation, on whose board I’ve served for the past couple of years.

My loyalty to public education dates to my childhood. I’m a product of public schools and credit my experience in them as the foundation of any professional success I’ve enjoyed.

During a quarter-century of community journalism, I’ve seen first-hand the correlation between public education and economic development. As its public schools go, so goes a community. I’ve seen few exceptions to that rule.

An equally important correlation is between community involvement in public schools and the effectiveness of those schools. Sadly, many communities in my native Deep South have abandoned their public schools. Except for low-income families who don’t have a choice, parents opt for private schools, figure out creative ways to send their children across district lines to better public schools, or simply move elsewhere. PTA chapters have dried up, and the citizenry views public schools as a money pit for their tax dollars and unworthy of support.

How refreshing it was when I moved to Franklin two years ago to learn of a foundation that exists solely to support the city’s public schools. I welcomed the opportunity to become involved.

In this era of fiscal belt-tightening at the state and local levels, the foundation’s mission of raising private-sector dollars for the schools becomes even more critical to their success.

We don’t have deep pockets, but we look for opportunities to contribute in small ways that make a big difference in the lives of students.

A good example is the Franklin High School science lab. On a site visit a year or so ago, fellow board member Benny Burgess remarked that some of the infrastructure looked awfully familiar. It’s the same stuff he used as an FHS student in the early 1970s.

In an ideal world, the lab would be gutted and rebuilt with modern facilities and equipment. A project of that scope is out of the foundation’s current reach, but we were able to buy nearly $18,000 in new equipment and supplies that have made the lab much more relevant for today’s students.

The foundation is in the third year of funding a mentoring program that matches experienced educators with first-time teachers. A sour experience in a teacher’s first year often results in an early career change. A good mentor can help a rookie navigate those trying times.

We partner with benefactors to award two annual scholarships for graduating seniors: the Patricia Hutchinson Scholarship and the Allen Hopkins Scholarship, in memory of the beloved educator, administrator, school board member and foundation board member.

Those are just a few examples of the foundation’s support. They scratch the surface of our potential. We welcome contributions of money, time, talent and other resources that will help us expand our footprint.