The Rockbridge County Public Schools Foundation (RCPSF) was founded in 2005, and is an independent, community managed, not-for-profit that works closely with the Rockbridge County school division to enhance education in our schools. The origins of the Foundation grew out of a concern both inside and outside of the school administration that the school budget was not able to provide the breadth of educational opportunities that were needed for Rockbridge County students. The concern was never about the quality of education in the county schools, but rather about the capacity of the budget to provide funds to inspire and realize the potential of a diverse student body. Obviously, local taxes and state funding were already stretched to fund core requirements, so an outside entity specifically targeting with raising money to fund efforts that might not be able to be funded in the traditional route, was the basis for organizing the RCPSF.
A group of local community and business leaders – including David Grist, Scott Sayre, Rodney Hubbard and Dick Halseth, and others - worked with county school administrators Jake Burks, Superintendent, and Carol Wheeler, Director of Finance, to create a foundation to raise funds to meet those needs. Currently state funds account for about 50% of the operating budget, and are allocated by a complex funding formula that measures the wealth of a school division. Of the 133 school divisions in Virginia, Rockbridge County is consistently ranked in the top 30 wealthiest. That means Rockbridge gets fewer state dollars per student than our neighboring districts of Lexington, Augusta, Botetourt, Roanoke County, etc. That reality makes the fundraising efforts of the Foundation even more critical. The goal was not to raise funds for salaries or core supplies, nor was the idea to raise money for scholarships since other community groups are actively engaged it that mission. The goal was to get money directly into classrooms to reach all students at all levels – elementary, middle and high school – and to provide funds to teachers for innovative, enriching educational opportunities.
A secondary goal in creating the Foundation was to strength the connection of the broader community to the school system. Since the RCPSF is a community run foundation, dozens of members of the Rockbridge community have volunteered on the board over the years, dozens of local organizations and businesses have made generous contributions, and literally hundreds of individuals have donated. The Foundation is a vehicle for local residents, businesses, and organizations to invest in our community by investing in the education of our children.
So what has been accomplished since the inception of the RCPSF in 2005? The Foundation has raised over $500,000 and awarded over 100 grants to classrooms and programs in all our schools. Administration expenses are minimal – around 12% primarily for postage and printing. Some of these grants have been large such as the $30,000 raised for the new CAD program – computer aided design – in the renovated Maury River Middle School, $15,000 raised for updating science labs at Rockbridge County High School, or the many technology grants that have provided support for getting tablets and computers into our classrooms. Some of these grants have been small - $300 for creating a frog habitat at Central or $400 grant matched by the VA Commission for the Arts to bring an international music program to Maury River.
Whether a grant has sparked a new interest for a student, identified a potential career path, encouraged a struggling reader, or provided technology to students who do not have access at home, the Foundation has helped to provide the extra ingredients to get students excited about learning.