Frankly, rural education philanthropy in the Ozarks is astounding!

Missouri's Houston Education Foundation is a shining example of how philanthropy can impact a school.

February 25, 2016 |

Scott Dill, Houston Superintendent, visits with Brandon Sigman's fourth-grade students at Houston Elementary School about Chromebooks, made possible through a Houston Education Foundation donation. Looking on are foundation members Rita Ruckert (left) and Dr. Joe Richardson III (right). (Photo by Brad Gentry)

In 2009 the Community Foundation of the Ozarks (CFO) established the Rural Schools Partnership, an effort to strengthen public education through collaboration, place-based grantmaking, and school-centered philanthropy. To say the least, this effort has led to phenomenal results.

In less than seven years the Rural Schools Partnership has awarded more than $250,000 in place based grants, launched the acclaimed Ozarks Teacher Corps, and developed asset development relationships with more than 100 school districts.

With guidance from CFO staff leaders Julie Leeth and Carol Silvey, more than 70 school foundations have been established or assisted, and CFO now manages nearly 700 rural education funds with assets approaching $30 million. That's right--seven years, 700 funds, and $30 million!

One shining example of this work is the Houston Education Foundation, a perfect blend of community commitment and visionary school leadership. We hope you will take a couple of minutes to read this article, which first appeared the Houston Herald. Thanks to everyone involved in this important work.


A contribution by Houston Education Foundation is advancing technology at Houston Elementary School.

The foundation — through the support of its donors — contributed funds to deploy Chromebooks in the upper elementary school. Thirty units now in use there bring the total available to students at the district to 188, said Superintendent Scott Dill.

Dill and some members of foundation observed students in a fourth-grade classroom last week using the laptop computers. Students gave an enthusiastic response about the availability of the devices since the start of the new semester last month.

“It is our intent that students should become familiar with these devices to facilitate an easy transition, for the students, as they make their way to middle school,” Dill said. Earlier, the foundation gave $27,000 to place the same computers in the high school and middle school.

Dill said while the machines are a tremendous asset to the district, they don’t replace tried and true practices already working in classrooms. “They are just one more tool provided to our students to ensure they have access to a full range of learning materials,” he said.

Another benefit is for state standardized assessments that are now offered online. Dill said the devices integrate quickly into the district’s existing network, and allow it to facilitate larger simultaneous testing groups. The district’s technology network has undergone upgrades that benefited the implementation of the technology.

Foundation assisted

The donation is among the latest made by the Houston Education Foundation, a group formed to step in and assist the district when it has special projects that need funding.

Dr. Joe Richardson, the president of the local group, said the mission is to promote education excellence and opportunity beyond the district’s normal scope by generating financial resources from private funds to provide support for educational programs.

Most recently, HEF provided funds for new computers in the district’s new media center, and it has in the past purchased desks, music equipment and art display cases.

Alumni invited to contribute

Among those contributing during the last drive was Bob Burch, a 1967 graduate of Houston High School whose family has contributed to the advancement of the community over the years. His late father, Don, was a downtown Houston businessman and at one time was the town’s fire chief.

Burch left HHS to attend Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, where he focused on business and particularly in computer technology. After graduation, he began a 40-year career working in many aspects of computer-related technology. Some of the work included helping school districts to develop plans for students to have access to their own computer device.

“Technology is imperative for the learning experience with the advent of the Internet and social media. Many schools begin this use of technology in pre-school with computers used for keyboarding and interactive skills for the young students,” said Burch, who contributed $5,000. “Being a HHS alum, I have followed the use of technology in the Houston district. While I feel the high school students are afforded a reasonable amount of technology use, I feel that the learning experience with use of technology is not starting early enough.”

Initially, Burch reached out to Richardson to fund a scholarship, but after considering it decided to focus on giving back to the district through a donation earmarked for younger students to receive Chromebooks, which incorporated his passion for technology.

Richardson said he is still working on a scholarship idea with Burch.

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