Message from the Director
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. In 2004, the Foundation provided $30,000 to support grant activities. By 2013 that number had climbed to around $250,000. In 2019, our donors contributed $924,563 in direct provision of classroom grants and special projects.
Since incorporation the Foundation’s individual and corporate partners have provided more than $14 million to afford young people in our schools the same enrichment opportunities open to kids in private and parochial settings or more affluent districts. 2020 has reminded us in no uncertain terms that little in life is a sure thing. From a global pandemic to contentious public policy debates to heartbreaking social justice struggles, we’ve been witnessing a whole lot that rightly alarms young people.
Amid this chaos, what our kids can be certain of – unequivocally – is that their community cares for them. Decatur wants what’s best for District 61 students, now and into the future.
Every new partner means a better chance for students to ENGAGE as active scholars. Enhanced educational opportunities mean that they adopt an active voice in public discourse; that they have their say in how history unfolds; that they can count on a safe place to discover how this happens.
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 the Decatur Public Schools.
The 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. A national benchmark for school foundation programs has been estimated at $15 per student annually. Our local level of support means that last year, Decatur donors invested approximately $103 per student for each of the nearly 9,000 young people in District 61.
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 boarding the bus.
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.
Best,Zach ShieldsExecutive DirectorDecatur 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.