Ozarks School Foundation Making a Difference

School-centered philanthropy has great potential across our rural landscape.

June 24, 2015 |

Members of the Houston Education Foundation gather in the soon-to-be completed media center for the Houston School District. From left: Becky Edison, Rita Ruckert, Reese Bucher, Joe Richardson, Dan Adey, Scott Dill, superintendent; and Kathy Hutcheson. Photo credit: Brad Gentry, Houston Herald.

School foundations are essential in strengthening the educational experience for rural school students. Although starting a school foundation is not a panacea for the myriad of challenges facing rural public education, it is of the utmost importance in these times of shrinking state budgets, rural capital flight, and small town brain drain. A thriving school foundation engages citizens and alumni in the school, facilitates important school partnerships, and can provide much needed resources to the school community.

Rural school foundations require vision, commitment, and planning. Even in the best of circumstances, developing a viable school foundation may take several years. Those looking to create or grow a successful rural school foundation can look to the Houston Educational Foundation in Houston, Missouri as an example of how to build a successful foundation.

The Houston Education Foundation exists to support the 1,000+ students enrolled in the Houston R-1 School District, located in south-central Missouri. Carol Silvey, Senior Associate for Advancement at the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and Board Member of the Rural Schools Collaborative, credits the success of Houston’s school foundation to the variety of ways the foundation has tackled problems inherent in rural education. Silvey cites, “the creation of a number of scholarships for their students, buying much needed equipment for a variety of academic and non-academic programs, and providing grants to individual faculty” as just a few examples of the successful projects implemented by the Houston Education Foundation.

Silvey’s faith in the organization was affirmed earlier this month, when the Houston Education Foundation presented the Houston R-1 District with a $27,000 grant to purchase 90 laptops for student use in the district’s new media center. Joe Richardson, President of the Houston Education Foundation, says the funds will also “help the school district jump start a plan to move from a hard-drive to cloud-based system in the middle and high school.” $27,000 is no small sum in rural Texas County, which is located in the heart of the economically-challenged Ozarks region. The foundation’s ability to raise this level of funds shows that school foundations can have a significant impact regardless of an area's economic wherewithal.

However, as Silvey noted, this kind of success does not happen by accident, and she acknowledges the diversity of the board and the commitment of individual board members to improving Houston students’ education as key factors of the foundation's success. Richardson says the foundation is pleased to be able to help: “The HEF board is happy to be able to provide these funds for the school district to use in helping move forward in providing Houston students with the tools they need to surge ahead in the high tech world we live in.”

Facilitating the work of rural school foundations is a primary focus of the new Rural Schools Collaborative. Please contact us if you would like information on how to start a rural school foundation or if you would be interested in working with us to strengthen an existing foundation.

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