Message from the Director

    Zach Shields & Peggy Madden

     In 1997, most school foundations across the country were just beginning to find their footing. These organizations varied widely in terms of size, scope, financial support and the breadth of their ambition. Some shot to simply offer a few modest classroom grants per year; others took aim on major programs that spelled opportunities for students all across their school districts.

    That year, community leaders adopting the long view established the Decatur Public Schools Foundation to promote both approaches. Since then, private individuals and corporate partners have provided nearly $14 million dollars to afford young people in our schools the same opportunities open to kids in private or parochial settings. Enrichment activities here should mirror those in affluent districts where funding for creative endeavors is never in question. Thanks to our growing group of partners, it does

    Expansion has continued steadily. In 2004, the Foundation provided $30,000 to support grant activities. By 2013 that number had climbed to around $250,000. In 2018-2019, our donors contributed $924,563 in direct provision of classroom grants and special projects.

    And every dollar in the door means a better chance for students to ENGAGE as active scholars.

    A national benchmark for school foundation investment has been estimated at $15 per student annually. The local level of support means that last year, Decatur donors invested approximately $103 per student for each of the 9,000 young people in the Decatur Public Schools.

    Large and small, far-reaching and focused, our Foundation partners have financed hundreds of teacher-designed and student-led projects to enrich the experience for kids in District 61.

    This vision set forth by our Founding Trustees has been realized thanks to incredibly generous community and corporate donors. These friends share an understanding that support for students is an investment, not charity.

    State and federal funding streams represent tricky waters to navigate – often with undercurrents impossible to predict ahead of time. Our organization exists to ensure that the community can connect to the classroom, that alumni feel connected to their hometown, that businesses and city leaders remain vested in the success of students who represent the largest segment of their future workforce.

    When I accepted my post with the Foundation in 2013, it was because my family has always demonstrated the importance of curiosity and lifelong learning. I’d been aware of the organization’s efforts, but only in a peripheral manner. From a distance it seemed like there were inventive activities afoot. It seemed like there was a positive vibe behind grant programs. It seemed, in short, like a lot of fun.

    Over the seven years since, it HAS been fun. It has also provided a window to observe the challenges faced by teachers in a society that undervalues their importance, and for students who face daily struggles before even arriving at school.

    We exist to combat these realities. We investigate what works and what engages and what inspires.

    I invite you to migrate from the periphery to the heart of what we do. Call. Write. Stop by and say Hi. However you prefer, get in touch to tell us what motivates you to support education. We’ll work together to ENGAGE YOU in our current momentum – and discover what happens next.


    Zach Shields

    Zach Shields 
    Executive Director
    Decatur Public Schools Foundation
    (217) 362-3042 - Office
    (217) 853-4722 - Cell


    The Decatur Public Schools Foundation is a privately-funded, tax-exempt organization. Its mission is to acquire and distribute resources to Decatur Public Schools to enhance, enrich and encourage learning opportunities for its students, staff and community. It is directed by a volunteer Board of Trustees and operates independently to generate financial and in-kind support for DPS District 61.