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Jaime Detzi is the Executive Director of the Chatham Education Foundation. Jaime has a passion for public education and seeks to support local students through her job at CEF and other volunteer roles within Chatham County. She serves on the YMCA Board of Advisors and works along side a friend to feed low-income students at both Pollard Middle School and Northwood High School. Jaime and her husband Chris have three children, Alyssa (16), Brooke (14) and James (10) and being a mom is Jaime’s favorite job to date!
Summer’s here, which means the school year has ended. Part of the Chatham Education Foundation’s mission is to focus on improving educational opportunities for students, and one of your programs — Books on Break, which provides five (and, in some cases, six) books to economically disadvantaged students — just happened at two local elementary schools. That’s clearly done to help bridge the learning/reading gap during that break from school for our youngest students. As you distributed those nearly 7,000 books the last couple of weeks, can you describe the reaction of the kids as they chose their books? What did you see and feel in that experience, and what do you hear from the children and their teachers?
Each year, for the past four years, we have donated books to students at two of Chatham County’s highest needs elementary schools. And each year, we hear the same question from students, “Do we get to keep these books FOREVER?” I wish you could see the expressions on their faces when we tell them YES! The look of awe and surprise is worth its weight in gold and their smiles stay with us forever. One student’s thank you card said, “Thank you for the books that you gave us to read at home forever!”
Teachers often speak to us separately about how impactful this program is, as many of their students have few books in their homes. Statistically this makes sense, since two-thirds of low-income families have few if any books in their homes.
A core belief of the Foundation is that community investment helps build stronger schools. So why is it important for Chatham’s residents and businesses — who already support the schools with tax dollars — to invest in our schools outside those tax dollars, and support personal growth opportunities for public school students?
CEF supplements resources in two categories: areas of need and areas of innovation. In the “need” category, we offer literacy support through tutoring, kindergarten readiness camps, our Books on Break program and professional development. In our innovation category, we offer support through Creative Teaching Grants and we are currently working to raise funds for a county STEM facility located behind our early college in Siler City.
So my first question as a CEF investor, and a taxpayer is: Why is there need?
I would say that the number one reason is insufficient state funding. School districts are funded by the state at a minimum level — just enough to get by. It is widely agreed that state funding is inadequate to support the kinds of programs, services, staffing ratios, instructional and infrastructure needs that would place North Carolina in the top-tier of states, relative to a world class education. Now, I need to clarify here, because here in Chatham we are lucky — our commissioners pick up a lot of the funds that have been removed by the state, and for that we are eternally grateful. But nonetheless, we, as a community, can always do more to support our schools.
So for this reason, CEF garners investments from foundations, companies and individuals, to supplement resources in areas the district identifies as the most pressing needs.
The array of programming done by the Chatham Education Foundation is quite extensive, particularly considering how many communities in North Carolina don’t have local foundations to support them. What is it the programs accomplish that makes them so beneficial, and how do you measure and quantify those benefits?
As I mentioned, CEF supplements resources in two categories: innovation and need. Our programs meet one of these two requirements, and here in Chatham, there is a need for both.
Many of our programs focus on literacy, which falls into our needs category. For example, one of the programs CEF’s offers that makes a big impact is our SOAR Tutoring Program. We have more than 60 trained volunteer tutors working in three of our schools tutoring, with two literacy intervention programs. While most of our tutors were not teachers, all of them are making a difference in their students literacy achievements. The benefits include enhanced literacy skills, along with an additional caring adult to encourage their love of learning.
All of our programs seek to increase student growth, provide innovative opportunities that would not otherwise be available in the current budget or to increase teacher effectiveness. Using these attributes as our guide, we can assure CEF supports the Chatham County Schools with integrity, fidelity and most importantly as partners in student success.
Chatham County also benefits from the work of education-related programs like the Chatham Literacy Council and Chatham’s Communities In Schools programs. How does the Chatham Education Foundation complement the work of those and other non-profits to maximize impact on our schools?
Chatham County is a small community which allows the nonprofits to work together to reach shared goals. CEF co-leads a collaboration with the Chatham County Schools called “Chatham Reads.” Both the Chatham Literacy Council and CIS of Chatham County are partners in this endeavor, where we aspire to have 80 percent of our 3rd graders reading proficiently by 2022.
Chatham Literacy is able to work on adult literacy, and this augments students learning when a parent is increaseing their literacy skills alongside their child. CIS works with families on wrap-around sesrvices to assure students have the basic needs and support required to be a successful student. Together, we are stronger than any one separate entity and use our relationships to coordinate services and spread the word about the opportunities for students and residents in Chatham County.
Another core value of the Foundation is the belief that well-trained educators with access to continuing professional development lead students to stronger student achievement. What does the Foundation specifically do to help Chatham’s teachers and education professionals?
Years ago, N.C. removed all teacher professional development from the state budget, and it is an imperative piece of teacher effectiveness. In a study by Bill Sanders of the University of Tennessee, he states, “Learning gains realized by students during a year in the classroom of an effective teacher were sustained over later years and were compounded by additional years with effective teachers.” Therefore, each time we can fund professional development, we know we are helping a group of students grow year after year.
In the past, when funding was available, CEF has offered teachers financial scholarships for board certification coursework, subject specific professional development and lateral entry teaching courses. In the past few years we have also funded all K-8 reading specialists training in HillRAP, a research-based, individualized, structured approach to improving reading for students who are struggling. In the past year, we funded the training of all 2nd grade teachers in a fluency specific literacy intervention with the Helps Education Fund. As research suggests, an effective teacher impacts student growth directly, and together with our donors we can move that needle.
Let’s talk about funding…the Foundation relies on local support and grants to help it achieve its mission. In a county with more than 100 non-profits, can you speak to the fiscal strength of the Foundation, as well as the goals and opportunities you and the board have for the years ahead?
Chatham County is a bedroom community with as many as 60 percent of our residents leaving the county for work each day. Our largest employer is the Chatham County Schools, and Mountaire Farms should surpass them in the next year. This means we have few large businesses to support our nonprofits, unlike surrounding counties.
While this makes our role in fiscal sustainability a bit harder, it is feasible. The Chatham Education Foundation diversifies our revenue streams to assure we are not getting donations from one source alone. Our investors include individual donors, local private foundations, corporations and small businesses. With each of these investments, our goal is to maximize returns by making each dollar invested go further.
In the coming years, CEF would like to grow our role in partnering with Chatham County Schools to bring innovative opportunities to our students and teachers. By funding pilot programs and showing success, we can build public will for these innovative ideas that help our students achieve growth and then encourage Chatham County to financially support the proven programs.
For more information, go to the Foundation’s website: www.chathameducationfoundation.org