A Strong Foundation

Adjacent to Frisco is the fast-growing community of Little Elm. The forty-square-mile lakeside community boasts a small town feeling with first-class education, which is important to many Frisco residents, as school district lines cross within the communities. Little Elm ISD serves the communities of Frisco, Hackberry, Lakewood Village, The Colony and Oak Point, in addition to the town of Little Elm.

Dr. Lowell Strike is the LEISD current superintendent. Dr. Strike, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Buena Vista University in Iowa, a master’s degree in educational administration and a Ph.D. in educational administration from Texas A&M University is noted for having a passion for helping others grow as leaders to impact every child. One particular way Dr. Strike is growing leaders is through the LEISD Education Foundation. In conjunction with the Foundation, the district hopes to “proactively build mutually-beneficial relationships with community partners that will stimulate opportunities for enrichment.”

The process of creating the LEISD Education Foundation began as part of Dr. Strike’s strategic plan to improve the district, and he has been “absolutely instrumental” in the creation and implementation of this new Foundation, states Pat Robbins, the director for communication services and community for the school district. Ms. Robbins, who has a background in nonprofits, has also been a key player in the development of the organization and continues to serve as a liaison between the school district and the Foundation. She shares, “The Foundation’s role is to support the (district’s) programming. It fills the hole that state funding cannot. Dr. Strike felt strongly that our district needed one, not only for the support, but he wanted people to see that we have the same kind of support and priorities as other districts.”

A school district’s education foundation can play a pivotal role in both the district and the community. Funds raised through the foundation can be applied to both educators and students, thus increasing opportunities for excellence in education. High-quality public education is essential for the success of a city, and the partnership between schools and community businesses and organizations is interwoven. Surrounding areas have utilized education foundations for decades and the impact on quality public education is proven. The Lewisville ISD Education Foundation has provided more than $1.4 million to educators and more than $2 million to students through scholarships and awards of excellence since its conception in 1990. The Frisco ISD Education Foundation has awarded more than $4.2 million worth of scholarship funds and more than $550,000 in educator grants since its creation in 1999. Since 2000, approximately $9 million has been donated to the Plano ISD Education Foundation to further the goals of that school district.

The LEISD Education Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization working in partnership with LEISD and the Little Elm community to support and augment the scholastic opportunities of students. Because the Foundation’s purpose is to assist the students of LEISD, the organization’s mission embraces the district’s statement of purpose. Ms. Robbins states, “When the board members were developing the mission for the Foundation, they looked at the mission of the school district to use as a model.” The mission of the district is to “engage, equip and empower each student to realize their full potential,” and the Foundation’s mission echoes this sentiment, “to partner with the community to provide resources that enrich teaching, inspire learning and maximize innovative opportunities, so that every student in LEISD can realize their full potential.”

“There is a reflection of the district mission in the Foundation mission. The sole purpose is to support the district — to help support students,” states Ms. Robbins.

Last spring, development of the Foundation officially began, starting with the formation of a steering committee. This group voted the founding board members into office. Going forward, there will be a nominating committee and board members will be elected and serve set term limits. Board members are interested community residents who share a passion for supporting education. These members, joined by Dr. Strike, oversee the Foundation. Board members have expertise in various backgrounds, but all associates share a commitment to serving the students of Little Elm. Because board members represent diverse areas of the Little Elm community, they are helping to strategically build the Foundation’s impact. Ms. Robbins states, “Fundraising organizations need to have relationships. It is all about relationships. By building the organization as we have, we have expanded our relationships. As board members go out into the community as ambassadors, they are sharing our story.”

As the Foundation sought to develop its purpose, board members reached out to key community stakeholders, some who served on the town’s former education foundation, which is no longer viable. Ms. Robbins states, “We have gone to previous members to help us understand and give guidance. They are very valuable members to Little Elm. We are grateful for that expertise and support.” Some of the members of the town’s previous education foundation are now serving on committees of the newly-created Foundation. Also, the money left in the previous foundation’s balance will be applied to the new Foundation to be used to further educational opportunities in Little Elm.

To assist with the Foundation’s development process, board members reached out to the Texas Pioneer Foundation (TPF), a private, independent organization established to support academic excellence by funding innovative educational programs that improve the quality and results of education for students in Texas. TPF provided a development and sustainability grant to the LEISD Education Foundation that helped the board work with Foundation Innovation, a full-service consulting firm dedicated to guiding education foundations and school districts to success. This consulting firm directed the board as they created policy and programming. Ms. Robbins says, “We wanted to make sure, as we began the Foundation, that we were building infrastructure for the best possible success.”

The group was also connected with the Texas Education Foundation Network (TEFN). TEFN was created as a program of TPF to support local education foundations in Texas by providing networking opportunities, sharing of best practices and providing training and resources needed for success. The Foundation members also collaborate with other North Texas education organizations. These connections have provided excellent resources and information for the Foundation.

As the board reached out to consultants and other districts for advice, they learned that communication between the Foundation and the district was essential. The board and district worked together to create a Memorandum of Understanding, a critical document outlining the roles of district personnel and the Foundation. Ms. Robbins shares, “I really think that is going to give us the guidance we wanted to be successful for our students.” The Memorandum was formed in part by Dr. Strike, Ms. Robbins, the Foundation’s Finance and Governance committee and the Foundation president, Ed Griffin.

Mr. Griffin joined the organization formally last fall, bringing a wealth of experience and expertise to the association. Mr. Griffin has enjoyed a distinguished career as a leader with decades of experience in private and public arenas. His service has included involvement, engagement and strategic leadership in the local, regional, state, national and international sectors. Currently, Mr. Griffin manages his own consulting firm, Ed Griffin Consulting Group, and he has authored a book on leadership entitled Leadership: Guaranteeing Sustainable Wins.

Mr. Griffin’s work leading various nonprofits and organizations has prepared him to guide the Foundation. “Having that leadership background is important,” he shares. “You have to bring in a variety of personalities to represent a broad base constituency. Students in Little Elm have a variety of needs. This gives them a structure that gives them opportunity.”

Mr. Griffin is quick to credit others with the success of the Foundation. “I am extraordinarily impressed with Dr. Strike. He is just outstanding. He has, within himself, tremendous leadership qualities and has helped me assimilate a good team.” When Mr. Griffin joined the Foundation, he told Dr. Strike, “If we are going to have a foundation, we are going to think big and outside of the box.” And that is just what the Foundation is doing.

Mr. Griffin states that the Foundation is “partnering with LEISD and working very closely with Dr. Strike. We are making sure that there is a blend of consistency. We are cheerleaders for the ISD, making sure the community is fully-aware and engaged” in supporting public education in Little Elm. The Foundation’s commitment, states Mr. Griffin, “is to help convey to the businesses and private sector investors that a contribution to the school system would be one of the best investments with the greatest returns they could ever make. It builds the fabric of the community by investing in the future. If you invest in the quality of education, you invest in the progress of the city. By enhancing the school system, it helps all. We hope the businesses in Little Elm and other surrounding areas will want to step up to make a difference in the future of Little Elm ISD.”

As the Foundation makes its presence known in the community, there are many next steps on the horizon. This spring, the Foundation plans to announce the schedule for grant proposals, as well as various fundraising events. The Foundation’s website will be launched, and community outreach activities will continue, as well as events to educate the town about the school district’s mission. Ms. Robbins states, “It is going to be an exciting year, especially as the community awards its first grants and scholarships.”

The benefits the Foundation will bring to the district and community are vast and varied. Funding priorities for the Foundation include innovative teaching grants, recognition of student achievement and teaching excellence, student support grants, district and campus program support and student scholarships. Ms. Robbins shares, “For teachers who have demonstrated outstanding excellence to motivate children to perform at their highest level, we can supplement what is needed for them to become even better teachers.” Having an education foundation is also important for recruiting aspiring educators. Mr. Griffin points out that having such a foundation shows potential teachers that the community supports education. A foundation makes a statement to its residents and businesses, as well. It tells citizens that education is valued in the community and that students have resources available to them to achieve their goals. Mr. Griffin states, “As community members support the Foundation, they have confidence that they are investing in education. They will also be recognized and appreciated.” And, of course, the students of LEISD will benefit. “It is all about our students,” states Ms. Robbins. It is their future that will be impacted by the ongoing work of the Foundation.

Mr. Griffin sums it up by saying, “The Foundation is going to be a great asset for Little Elm as a whole and the education district specifically. This partnership will help skyrocket the level of attention that education needs in Little Elm.”