BROOKSVILLE — Since its inception in 1988, the Hernando County Education Foundation has been supporting schools and encouraging community involvement in public education. The assistance it provides ranges from scholarships for students to celebrations of outstanding teachers and school-related employees.
Kathleen Reitz has been director since 2003. She followed Desiree Bartley, who assumed the position from the first director Carolyn Mountain.
When she was placed in charge of the newly organized foundation, Mountain was an administrative secretary in the school system who helped with the Teacher of the Year recognition. "As the foundation grew, her responsibilities became greater," Reitz said.
When it was determined that coordinating the foundation was a full-time job, then-superintendent John Sanders released Mountain from her administrative secretary duties and she took the helm of the foundation. She retired in 2002.
There are several partnerships between the foundation and the community, including:
• The Southwest Florida Water Management District's support of the district's Springs Coast Environmental Education Center, where students can take field trips to experience the environment.
• The Peter and Carol Ayer Art Endowment Fund, established upon the death of Hernando County musician Peter Ayer. The funds support music in the schools, including after-school music lessons.
• Bright House supports HEART Literacy, which provides scholarships to qualified students. HEART stands for Hernando's Education for Adult Readers in Training.
• Citigroup helps finance team mentoring to assist the school district's human resources department mentor teachers just beginning their careers.
• The Doris Bedell Memorial Fund benefits the arts. "Those dollars are set aside in her honor, most probably (supporting) something in the art field." Bedell was also interested in early education.
• The Paul and Robin Pape Fund is another example of a community partnership. Robin Pape of Accu Hear works for the district with deaf and hearing impaired students. She returns her pay to the fund.
• The Education Foundation partners with Ronald McDonald House Charities of Tampa Bay. It offers scholarships to sophomores based on financial need. The scholarship pays for the community college years or the equivalent of that amount at a university. The students must maintain certain grade point averages and remain drug and alcohol free.
The foundation also helps administer two scholarships provided by School Board members, past and present. One is from former board member John Druzbick in honor of his deceased daughter Chelsea, who attended Central High School. The other is offered by present chairwoman Sandy Nicholson for a student planning to study in some areas of the arts.
Suncoast for Kids is paid for by the Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union. Students benefit through scholarships and volunteer hours offered by the credit union.
In 2003, Reitz said, the credit union made a curriculum for financial literacy available to secondary teachers and yearly they donate $2,500 earmarked for classroom minigrants. This year minigrants were selected that had to do with community relations and/or finance.
The foundation provides other minigrants financed by the St. Petersburg Times through the employee-giving program. "We have given over $225,000 over the years directly back into Hernando County school classrooms through the minigrant program," Reitz said.
The Hernando County Education Foundation has a special needs account that helps to fund any kind of need that may benefit students who just can't afford things that are important for their educations. These may include, for example, physicals for sports, band camp, physical education uniforms and ACT or SAT fees.
Progress Energy provides $10,000 a year for math and science education. It is used for individual teachers or teams of teachers for specific projects. A couple of examples for this year include solar car kits at Eastside Elementary School and a learning garden at J.D. Lloyd School.
Through the License for Learning license plates, individuals can purchase plates for their vehicles for an additional $22. "Twenty of the 22 comes directly to the foundation and is earmarked directly to the foundation and it is earmarked only for minigrants," Reitz said.
The foundation also coordinates student, teacher and school-related employee recognitions. These events include the Teacher of the Year and School-Related Employee of the Year celebrations, the Student Art Recognition Event and the Turnaround Student Program, which is sponsored by local bowling alleys.