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North-south divide shows up in education foundation grant awards

Samuel Ruiz-Plaza, Keegan Kennedy and Mi-Jin Han are writing a book using the publishing center at Red Rock Elementary School, a project funded by the education foundation. Staff photo by Louise Ernewein

Awarding thousands of dollars to innovative school projects every year, the South Washington County Education Foundation encourages teachers to think, "I can..." rather than, "If only..."

Yet increasingly, Woodbury schools appear to be losing out to their counterparts in the south portion of District 833 when it comes to winning a slice of the cash.

Over the last five years, schools from Cottage Grove, Newport and St. Paul Park have been awarded 50 percent more in grants than those in Woodbury.

Since 2003, teachers in the southern portion of the district have won $119,028 for their creative classroom activities, contrasting to $79,168 being paid out for projects in the north.

That's despite having more than half the students in the district attending school in Woodbury (8,416 for the year 2007-8 compared to 7,774 in the south of the district).

Patti Bitney Starke, the executive director of the Education Foundation, which holds the two annual Taste of South Washington County extravaganzas as its signature fundraisers, says part of the problem is that some schools are better than others at applying for the money.

"It's just coincidence that they are stronger [in the south]," said Bitney Starke, although she acknowledged that the assistant principal of the top grant recipient, Cottage Grove Junior High (receiving $20,462 over the past five years), sits on the committee which reviews the grant applications and determines which projects succeed.

"They have a vice principal who is a board director and he champions grants; he champions education.

"He encourages the teachers to see it that way and challenges the teachers...

"We always know we are going to get six applications from Cottage Grove Junior High; if I didn't, I would call down there and see what's going on," said Bitney Starke. She later said there was an approximately equal number of applications from schools in the south of the district from those in the north.

"Some schools just culturally are really apt to do that. If we see a school that's not culturally that way, I will go in and do a grant writing workshop."

Dale Wolpers, the assistant principal of Cottage Grove Junior High, said his school was full of young, enthusiastic teachers who were eager to write grant applications for creative and innovative projects they envisioned.

"Having a board member on your staff as your assistant principal -- I do encourage them to apply, but as far as helping them with their applications, very rarely, because of the fact that they don't need that help," said Wolpers, adding he found it easy to set aside his position as assistant principal when considering grant proposals on the education foundation's review committee.

"If it were up to me, I would fund every project that applied. They are all good...

"One vote really won't make a difference; [the committee] has 12-13 people on it."

He pointed to a couple examples of successful applications as evidence of the need for the education foundation, including an Egyptian art project involving clay faces and a sarcophagus which saw students applying lessons they had learned also to their social studies class, and projects involving book bags at a number of schools.

"There have been so many very wonderful projects and things that help the kids learn because they are unique and so creative," added Wolpers.

"The education foundation does a tremendous job of supporting great things that teachers do."

The South Washington County Education Foundation has been awarding grants to teacher projects since 1996.

In that time, it has awarded $586,768 to classrooms around the district. Income comes mainly in the form of donations (individual and businesses) and three main fundraisers each year.

Two of these fundraisers are held under the banner Taste of South Washington County Extravaganza, when restaurants are invited to Park High School (in February) and Woodbury High School (in May) to offer samples of their fare to families in a fun evening for all.

This year's events raised $38,541.67 at Park High School in February and $46,980.23 at Woodbury High School in May.

The third annual fundraiser, held each fall, is a golf tournament. This year's event, held at the Mississippi Dunes Golf Links in Cottage Grove, raised $24,902 for the foundation.

In June, $11,350 in grants were awarded to projects. Another round of funding will take place in December. Each biannual funding cycle awards an average of about $16,000 to projects.

Bitney Starke said any money left after the grants were awarded would be carried over.

"It's a very positive thing for the district," said District 833 superintendent Tom Nelson, speaking about the foundation.

"It gives the teachers a place to go to get some additional financial support to do some things they might want to do.

"I know the members of the grant committee take their role very seriously."


Cottage Grove Junior High:


Pullman Elementary:


Grey Cloud Elementary:


Oltman Junior High:


Woodbury High School:


Liberty Ridge Elementary:


Pine Hill Elementary:


Royal Oaks Elementary:


Red Rock Elementary:


Middleton Elementary:


Woodbury Junior High:


Bailey Elementary:


Hillside Elementary:


Cottage Grove Elementary:


Newport Elementary:


Armstrong Elementary:


Lake Junior High:


Woodbury Elementary:


Park High School:




Foundation grant helps inspire young writers

Aspiring young writers can publish their own creations thanks to a South Washington County Schools Education Foundation grant.

The publishing center at Red Rock Elementary School has been in operation since 2003 and was made possible thanks to a donation from a member of the public specifically for the project.

"It's a neat process; it really puts an emphasis on how important writing is and really gives those wannabe writers a taste of knowing how it feels to publish a book," said Red Rock principal Andrew Caflisch.

Last week, three sixth grade students -- Keegan Kennedy, Mi-Jin Han and Samuel Ruiz-Plaza -- were working in the publishing center on their book, which is a story told from four different perspectives.

It tells the tale of a battle for earth between the Stickmen, the Blobs, the Unis and the Stargazers.

Using the computers to write their stories, the students will then print off their chapters, compile them into a book and bind the pages together, drawing their own illustrations on to the sheets.

"This is not actually a project we are doing; this is for fun," said Kennedy, who was writing his share of the book from the perspective of the Stickmen. "We each have different stories, then we read about each other's characters and it's fun to see what's going to happen."