Chappaqua School Foundation: A Focus on Innovation

CSF members gathering in front of the new Sustainability Research Center at Horace Greeley High School. First row (lr): Julie Balber, Shauna Levy, Tara Brandoff, Jillian Bynum, Megan Gulotta, Michele Wolfberg, Dayna Beicke, Anuja Joshi, Lois O’Neill, Solveig McShea, Joanna Coogan, Sheri Hametz. Second row (lr): Jennifer Belew, Todd Herrell, Eugene Song PHOTO By Donna Mueller

Home to bucolic grounds, a small-town vibe and a nationally recognized school district, Chappaqua is renowned for its strong sense of community. Embedded within the fabric of that community is the Chappaqua School Foundation (CSF), a nonprofit organization with the mission of funding innovative, educational projects that fall outside the scope of Chappaqua Central School District’s (CCSD) budget. Over the past two years, CSF’s work has never been more relevant, as the organization evolves and pivots to support the district’s goal of prioritizing students’ needs.

Mission Control

Since its inception in 1993, CSF has raised over $ 4 million, funding over 350 educational grants and innovative projects. Its Board of Directors is comprised of 22 parent volunteers, representing each of Chappaqua’s six schools with diverse backgrounds and skill-sets.

Solveig McShea, President of CSF, took on the role in a time marked by change and uncertainty. Her mission was simple despite an environment that’s been anything but. She explains, “Our mission to fund innovation in our schools has held fast and helped us to navigate the shifting landscape. We also increased our focus on engaging our rapidly growing community through a host of new initiatives. We want to involve people in the excitement of what we are doing. Our work, after all, impacts each of our children. ”

Granting Innovations

CSF works alongside CCSD, teachers, parents, and students to identify significant strategic initiatives that are innovative and meaningful. CSF funds those initiatives with two types of grants; Instagrants, and Traditional Grants. Instagrants are smaller grants under $ 2,500 that undergo a condensed approval process; ideal for projects that teachers wish to implement during the same school year. Traditional Grants are awarded through a multi-step process for programs that tie into the curriculum and take longer to develop.

The grants process is a true partnership between CSF and CCSD. Todd Herrell, Vice President, Grants elaborates, “We have a strong, collaborative relationship with our District to identify grants that spur educational enhancements and innovations in each of our schools. In recent years, CSF has funded projects including Studio 7B, a fully functional professional grade digital television studio, clip-on microphones to enhance teachers’ ability to overcome audio challenges during the pandemic and, a particularly exciting endeavor, the Sustainability Research Center (SRC ) at Greeley that’s currently in construction. ”

Christine Ackerman, Ph.D., Superintendent of Schools, Chappaqua Central School District is also enthusiastic about the grant, saying, “Our sustainability research center will allow our students to explore and understand how to conserve natural resources in a cutting-edge facility. We are thrilled to provide this space for our students through our partnership with the CSF, PTA and the Robert and Ardis James Foundation. ”

This is not CSF’s first forward-thinking grant. In 2018, CSF partnered with the District on the 1: 1 Digital Learning Initiative, the largest single grant ever awarded at that time. This grant provided every 3rd and 4th grade student with their own school iPad. The full scope of this grant was truly demonstrated in 2020, as Herrell points out, when “these resources became instrumental in helping to facilitate the quick transition to remote learning at the onset of the pandemic.”

Putting the “Fun” In Fundraiser

Fundraising efforts are at the crux of CSF’s ability to support the District. Two years ago, however, fundraising events screeched to a halt, forcing CSF to rewrite its playbook. Lois O’Neill, Executive Vice President & Vice President, Fundraising met the challenge head-on with a slew of ingenuitive fundraisers. She says, “The pandemic both changed and expanded our fundraising platform, and frankly broke down some walls, allowing us to build creative new ways to interact with our community. We launched a line of Chappaqua apparel, debuted what are now annual events – the CSF Food Truck Night and our At Home Series – and began offering Holiday Rainbow Cookie Jars. We love that these fundraisers enable people to give at any level whether it’s through a Walter’s hotdog, a Chappaqua hat or giving at the Benefit Committee level. ”

After a two-year hiatus, CSF is excited for the highly anticipated return of its largest fundraiser, the annual Spring Benefit. O’Neill has big plans for the Benefit’s revival on Friday, April 29th. “We want CSF to be a catalyst for the return to fun; we want to deliver on that as a thank you to our community for their deep generosity, ”she explains, adding,“ This year, the Benefit will feature a “Tacos & Tequila” theme with music and dancing. Our silent auction features a curated selection of exciting gifts, travel, and food items, and is now an online, one-week event culminating on the evening of the Benefit. ”

New Beginnings

As McShea reflects upon the previous year, she says, “Though it’s been a challenging time, it’s also been deeply rewarding. I’m proud of all we’ve accomplished, from funding projects like diversity libraries in the elementary schools to programs exploring the impact of discrimination and human rights violations to repurposing a commons space at Greeley for social / emotional well-being. We are exploring how CSF can support the whole student with a robust classroom experience, so that they are prepared to lead and thrive in the outside world. ” McShea acknowledges that much work remains to be done and that priorities are constantly in-flux, but in uncertain times, the CCSD community can be assured that CSF will be a stable source of support.

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