Editor's Note: With the first ever St. Louis Park High School All-Year Reunion approaching on Saturday, we're helping kick things off with a week's worth of stories. Today, we feature the St. Louis Park Public Schools Foundation, which is putting on the event. Later this week, look for interviews with former Park teachers, as well as a history of the high school.
Six years ago, was in danger of not having its annual play.
But then the St. Louis Park Public Schools Foundation stepped in and saved the day.
With a $10,000 grant—the foundation's first ever—the school was able to pay for and put on a play.
Since then, the foundation has raised close to $500,000 for local schools, helping to pay for a variety of activities, events and supplies.
“It’s money that goes directly to teachers to help them do their work,” said Jake Spano, a city councilman and foundation board member.
The foundation initially formed in 2001. As current board president Peter Levy recalls, it was a very modest start.
“I took out my wallet and threw out $20," Levy said. "I said, 'That’s our first donation.'”
Before the foundation could expand on those $20, board members worked on establishing a mission statement. Levy said they decided to be clear that they were supplementing the school district's efforts—not replacing them.
“We’re the cherry on top," he said.
The foundation also narrowed its focus to four areas: reading and comprehension, arts, math and sciences, and high school transitions.
The results have been a number of fairly small grants that have had big—but targeted—impacts. For instance, one grant helped a teacher get a group of about 20 students who were struggling with reading up to grade level. The grant simply paid for needed books.
In another case, a grant went to a special education teacher. She wanted her students—many of whom had never been to a live show—to see performances of material they were reading. The grant paid for books, a bus and tickets.
But for all the successes, Levy said he think the foundation can do more. With a growing endowment—it's currently at about $150,000—the foundation should be able to fund more requests in coming years.
Plus, word is spreading about the foundation's role.
“We’re starting to see more and more teachers apply," Levy said.
Still, he said, many teachers and community members don't know the foundation exists. And that's where Saturday's All-Year Reunion comes in.
While the reunion will raise money for the foundation through ticket sales, Levy said the key goal in holding the event is raising awareness. The more people who know about the foundation, the better, Levy said.
The reunion also figures to be a plain old good time. There will be tours of both the current , as well as the , which housed high school students prior to 1956.
A talent show featuring former students—including Grammy Award-winning guitar player Sharon Isbin—is also scheduled, as is a grand unveiling of the at the high school stadium.
“I think it’s going to be a really fun day," Levy said.
Levy also said he hopes to be able to host similar events down the road, though it might be five or 10 years before another all-year reunion is organized.
Spano said he hopes community members become more aware of the foundation—and think about helping local schools and students.
"If teachers are willing to give more of their personal time and money, we should give more of our personal time and money," he said. "It’s the very smallest thing we can do.”
For more on the 2012 All-Year Reunion, see the foundation's Facebook page.