Education foundation director shares vision with rotary
By Lori Ruhlman
With one example after another, Heather Carroll illustrated the rich, bold and unique ways that the Skaneateles Education Foundation has impacted Skaneateles Central Schools in the past eight years.
Caroll, executive director of SEF, spoke to members of the Skaneateles Rotary Club just hours after an SEF sponsored speaker gave one of the most moving and impactful presentations ever made in the high school auditorium. Marion Blumenthal Lazan spoke to students in grades 6-12 in a packed auditorium. She brought people to tears and the audience to its feet twice in a standing ovation. A holocaust survivor and author of Four Perfect Pebbles told the story that Ann Frank might have told if she had lived, she said.
SEF was able to bring living history to students in Skaneateles by hosting Lazan, Carroll said. Like other students throughout the high school, Carroll’s daughter went home to say how moved she was by the first-hand account shared by a “primary source” — Lazan.
SEF is a community supported organization created to supplement public funding to enhance the quality of education in the Skaneateles School District, Carroll said.
“We fund the dreams of teachers in programs and curriculum that will ignite the passion, creativity and problem solving of all our students. The Foundation supports pilot or one-time programs and projects. Over the past 8 years, the Foundation has positively impacted more than 2,000 students by providing over 100 grants totaling $365,000 in humanities, stem, wellness and arts,” she said.
Carroll went on to share some stories of some of her favorite grants. She described one called “Zones of Regulations,” which teaches students to regulate their own emotions and reactions with the use of colors that identify feelings.
“When kids are little, more important that cognitive learning is their ability to master self-control. We all have emotions and reactions and ways of coping. Kids need to be able to be ready to learn when teachers are ready to teach, so this program is a huge asset for classroom management because each individual child learns how to master his or her OWN self-regulation,” she said. After beginning first in the second grade as a trial, the program has been greatly successful and has now expanded to include students in grades K-3, she said.
This example, she said, shows how the Foundation can be the “research and development arm of the district,” sometimes with low cost but high impact.
“It’s experimental, it’s innovative, it’s out of the box. This is what our partnership with the district is all about. Maybe the district could pay for things like this, but it could be hard for them to justify if not a proven entity.”
She told about “Chemistry and Physics Vodcasts” which have allowed two innovation science teachers to “flip” the classroom in a way that increases and expands student success. Teachers create video lessons that can be viewed at home, allowing “homework” and active work to be done at school with guidance.
She said the Foundation “invests in human capital” by enriching its teachers. An example, she said, was sending two music teachers to the Omega Institute. Research shows that supporting teachers increases retention rates as well as teacher success, she said.
She mentioned remarkable large projects like the video lab or “Zoom Room” which has propelled students to create award winning videos and has helped middle school students preserve the stories of remarkable people in Central New York. An audio lab is enriching classes and individual students as well.
“We are passionate about the role of the education foundation to engage in meaningful partnerships that create powerful opportunities extending far beyond the checks we write to the district,” Carroll said. “SEF’s role is to be: Connector to community resources, Collaborator with strategic partners, Convener of courageous conversations, and Conduit by which community can invest in education,” she said.
SEF strives to support projects that inspire creativity, stimulate engaged learning, and create a climate of possibility.