2015-05-06 / News

School foundation rebrands, to push ‘soft skills’ training

By Michael Buettner

Schwartz Schwartz The name and the logo may be changing, and the energy level may be set to rise, but the mission of the Chesterfield Public Education Foundation remains the same.

The board of trustees of the foundation voted last week to adopt a new logo that features a shorter name for the 26-year-old organization, which will be known as simply the Chesterfield Education Foundation.

New executive director Ivan Schwartz said the change is part of a campaign to rebrand the foundation and help energize its work bringing county educators and the community together to help support the county school system.

“We want to be able to provide students and teachers with innovative, creative programs and initiatives that in many cases can’t be funded directly by the school system,” Schwartz said.

The board, he said, “told me, ‘You have our blessing to do what it takes to take the foundation to the next level.”

The foundation’s current programs include:

• The MCD Awards, which provide grants to teachers for initiatives that boost creativity and innovation in educational practices.

• The Bravo Awards, which recognize outstanding Chesterfield County Public Schools alumni.

• Arts Smarts, an initiative to expand opportunities for students in the visual and performing arts.

• MEGA Mentors, which provides mentoring and tutoring for economically disadvantaged and other at-risk students.

The foundation also hosts the county’s annual Teacher of the Year Gala and administers a number of grants and scholarships underwritten by other community groups. They include the Carver High School Class of 1951 Scholarship and several scholarships created in honor of former students and administrators.

It also operates, in partnership with the school system’s community relations department, a store called From Crayons to Computers, where county teachers can get free supplies for their classrooms. The foundation spent more than $400,000 to provide grants and programs in its 2013 fiscal year, the most recent period for which figures are available.

Some of the foundation’s existing programs were created in response to needs expressed by school officials while others have come from the community or from the foundation’s board and staff. “It’s not always a case of the schools coming to us,” Schwartz said.

In fact, the next new initiative on the foundation’s agenda reflects a desire to “be able to introduce quality programs that help teachers and students,” he said.

Previously the executive director of sports medicine at Sheltering Arms Rehabilitation Hospitals and former sports director at WTVR-TV, Schwartz said he’s been getting input from the county’s business community.

What the foundation is hearing is that students entering the workforce lack “soft skills” needed for a successful career, such as how to fill out a job application or a résumé, how to present themselves during a job interview and even how to dress for an interview.

“These are things that aren’t taught in schools, and they’re often missing from the home environment,” he said. “It’s about getting away from the computer screen, the cellphone, the video game and not texting or tweeting or Facebooking, but understanding how to look somebody in the eye and present yourself verbally and visually in a very positive way.”

While the details have yet to be worked out, the plan is to work with partners in the business community to provide training, probably after school hours and off school property.

“The schools don’t have the financial wherewithal, and perhaps the time, to implement a program like this,” Schwartz noted. “It’s being embraced by the community and our business partners. They are leaping at the opportunity to get involved.”

Schwartz has also set a goal of visiting all 62 county schools before the end of the school year and getting to know their administrators. He’s also working on developing a solid relationship with the school system’s central administration and said one of the foundation’s strengths has been its “close relationship” with Superintendent Marcus Newsome and his staff.

One outcome of his discussions with administrators: “Dr. Newsome and his team have agreed to provide a home for the Chesterfield Education Foundation,” Schwartz said. The Foundation has been located in an office park off Huguenot Road. “We will be moving into some available space at the Career and Technical Center at Hull,” the new technical center in the former Clover Hill High School on Hull Street Road.

The move – no timetable has been set yet – “is going to allow there to be a constant exchange of ideas, a strong synergy and daily interaction between our team and theirs.”

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