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An investment in future of children

In case the message got blurred, Jack Critchfield did his best H. Ross Perot impression to ram the meaning through Tuesday as he unveiled a new program designed for corporations and residents to help Pinellas schools.

"We don't need any more reports to tell us we have a problem," said Critchfield, chairman of the Pinellas County Education Foundation, an organization formed six years ago to unite private sector support for education. "It is time to stop predicting rain and start building the ark It is time to focus attention on our children and the family.

"Schools need a profound change," the chairman and CEO of Florida Progress Corp. said during his address following the annual "Presidents as Principals" program, where business executives act as school principals.

Critchfield launched the "Take Stock in Children" campaign, a business approach to volunteering in which participants invest time, money or both into various programs and receive "quarterly investor reports" on the results.

"Instead of giving to a general fund, these are very specific investments," foundation president Don Pemberton said. "Our goal is to come back with quarterly reports and say, "Here is the difference you are making.' "

Pemberton and other foundation members pointed to the successful partnership between Instrument Transformers Inc. and Robinson Challenge school in Clearwater, a program for fourth- and fifth-graders who need extra motivation.

In two years, Instrument Transformers provided $20,000 in college scholarship money (promised to the children if they graduate high school) and motivational programs to increase student attendance and help them make the honor roll. Also, 80 Instrument employees serve as mentors and tutors at the school.

"Attendance is up, the honor roll has grown and parent involvement is at an all-time high," foundation board member David Dunbar said. That type of report is what Critchfield calls "receiving dividends" on investments.

"There is an emotional lift to say I invested in that child. You can see the progress," Critchfield said. The Presidents as Principals program is designed to allow business leaders to see children, and not just numbers. It worked, according to two accountants who participated.

"I love this. I saw a lot of kids," said Bill Crown, of Crown and Company in Clearwater. He was principal at his alma mater, Clearwater High, during Tuesday's principal program.

William Tapp, of KPMG Peat Marwick in St. Petersburg, walked the halls of Rawling Elementary. He serves on the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce education council and said Tuesday gave him "an appreciation of what they're doing out there."

"We really have no excuse for not having quality schools," Critchfield said. "This is not just another campaign. It is a call to action.

"It is time for building the ark."

Following the stock theme, the campaign literature listed the following Portfolio of Programs:

Doorways. Initiated last year, Doorways assists at-risk students, motivating them to stay in school through college scholarship incentives. It also provides tutors and mentors.

Quality School Improvement Academy. A brain trust will be formed to train the School Advisory Councils at each school.

Free enterprise think tank. A group that oversees all economic education, from curriculum to programs.

Enterprise Village. A mini-business environment, with sponsorship from actual companies, is for children to put theory into business management practice.

Economics Fair. Business and education representatives serve as judges in this event for young innovators and entrepreneurs.

SAVE. The title _ Scholarships for Adult Vocational Education _ describes this program that gives dropouts a productive alternative through vocational education.

Teacher grants. Teachers are given a chance to improve curriculum through grants from $250 to $2,500.

Student rewards. This recognition program is for students who have either excelled in various areas or have overcome obstacles to succeed.

Student scholarships. More than 30 college scholarships, with varying criteria, are available to graduating seniors.

Educator training. Teachers are given grants to continue their own education.

Science fair. With the community serving as mentors, assistants and judges, the fair is for children in all fields of science.

Academic teams. Following the athletic model, student teams participate in "brain games."

Teacher of the Year awards. A recognition for the best of the county's educators.

For information about "Take Stock in Children," call the foundation at 585-2250.