Although we looked to 2020 for clear vision, the unexpected happened. This past year was a whirlwind of emotions, trauma, loss and unforeseen circumstances. The COVID pandemic, which impacted the end of the 2019-20 school year and virtually the entire 2020-21 school year, was a whirlwind of emotion, loss, and unforeseen circumstances for students, families, and educators alike. Despite the roller-coaster, both the District and the Foundation remained hard at work meeting the needs of the nearly 21,000 students in the District’s six cities.
While a major focus was the all-important job of feeding food-insecure students who depend on school meals even during closure. Despite closures, 8 million meals were served to students and their families. The Foundation pivoted quickly to adapt to other immediate needs. These included raising $300,000.00 in funds for school supplies for distance-learning at home; focusing on “saving the arts” (often the first area to get cut when funds are low); and retail gift-cards for families during the holidays.
The strong leadership and caring nature of our Board of Education members and our Superintendent Dr. Sandra Lyon sustained us all during this difficult time, as did the generosity of our supporters.
Congratulations to the District’s own Mike Swize, currently Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services, on being named Palm Springs Unified’s next Superintendent of Schools.
Effective July 1, 2021, Mike will take an exciting leap in his already remarkable career. Mike has been with PSUSD since 1991. With expertise in K-12 Education, Coaching, Classroom Management, Lesson Planning, and Educational Technologies, Swize has been a close partner to The Foundation, and will doubtless propel student learning to new heights.
He said, “Foundation Director Ellen Goodman and I are prioritizing the need for STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) funding, and will work vigorously to fundraise for that and other initiatives.” Dr. Sandra Lyon, the current Superintendent, will be retiring. We will miss her support and wisdom, and wish her the very best in retirement.
For many PSUSD teachers, funding their own classroom creativity can be a challenge. Which is why every year The Foundation invites PSUSD teachers and educators to apply for our Classroom Grants. Teachers selected receive these grants for the school year, which allows them to purchase equipment, materials, or devices that provide special learning experiences for their students. Applications focus on original projects that teachers themselves devise and propose.
The Classroom Grants program has helped countless District staff, like Mike Phelan. Mike has received a Classroom Mini Grant of $2500 for the past few years, which he has used to purchase equipment for participating Desert Hot Springs elementary and middle schools that are part of a program that teaches students about renewable energy and prepares them for the REAL Academy (Renewable Energy Academy of Learning) at Desert Hot Springs High School. Students train for the KidWind competition, where they build wind turbines or other tools out of renewable materials.
It’s a perfect example of learning expenses that are not funded by state or federal educational budgets, making them ideal for funding through Classroom Grants. Says Mike Phelan, “Purchasing materials funded by Classroom Grants is easy through The Foundation, and Foundation staff are effective and friendly.” The Foundation takes pride in easing some of the difficulties teachers face when looking for creative ways to keep their students engaged.
The Foundation Under the Lens
In a recent survey, we asked the 2,600 individuals on our mailing list and all our social media followers if they understand what The Foundation does and how it helps PSUSD. Unsurprisingly, some are not as familiar as they’d like.
The Foundation was founded in 2008 as a nonprofit initiative, then known as The Pinnacle Fund, which was run independently from the district and staffed by volunteers. Even then, the organization’s mission was to fill gaps in funding for educational programs not supported by state or federal funding (LCAP and Title I). Because of its success, The Foundation was incorporated into the district’s administrative framework in 2014, and a full-time Director, Ellen Goodman, and Administrative Assistant, Javier Sanchez, were hired, both of whom are still leading the team of 17 active volunteer Board of Directors members from throughout the community.
The Foundation has continued to mature, working on funding and implementation of multiple specialized programs raging from mentoring and coding to theatre arts and sports. The District’s needs are great, and The Foundation’s reach is wide, as we connect with potential donors locally, nationally, and internationally.
Often, we hear the question, "Exactly where does the money you raise go?" And it’s a great question! We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit, which means that all the money we receive is to be used for what it is intended to fund – in our case, educational programs. Most of our funding already has an allocation and is never touched if not to be used for these programs. Different funding organizations focus on donating to specific causes, so before requesting financial support from an organization, we already know why we are asking for help and how we would use it!
Engineering in general, including robotics and artificial intelligence, is an educational area currently underfunded by government -- and the Foundation will be seeking one-time and multi-year sustainable funding to endow this future for students for whom the discipline is an appropriate fit. It’s an opportunity for community investors to really help shape our students’ futures.
The push for STEAM Education (Science, Tech, Engineering, Arts, ad Mathematics) in the past few years has intensified, and, with the incessant changes and innovation in the tech world, our students must be prepared to take on jobs in these fields. The Foundation has been hard at work locating funding organizations, groups, and individuals for support of STEAM Education, with a special focus on 3-D printers, which have proven to be a life-changing experience for students.
“Having a 3-D printer on site exposes students so that when they are in a professional working environment they will have the necessary familiarity; these tools also provide students with ability to creatively express themselves,” says Painted Hills Middle School Principal Mark Acker. “These 3D printers allow students to pursue projects such as designing prosthetics, drones, art and design projects, ad more.”
Students at Cielo Vista Charter School have already been enjoying the use of 3D printers, and have been introduced to a new way of learning. Paul Gordon, a teacher at Cielo Vista, says, “Students that have a natural block around doing math problems realize that when we are 3D-printing, we are talking about multiplication, volume, base ten, metric system and many more nuances, and they feel more comfortable working on problems in a hands-on approach rather than reading a word problem on paper.” Gordon is hoping for the expansion of programs like these.
The Foundation Planning
Like many organizations whose regular work was partially sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Foundation for the Palm Springs Unified School District has spent much of the this winter and spring “going inward.” Our staff and Board of Directors have used the time wisely to engage in strategic planning, re-evaluating priorities & focus areas, examining processes, defining our relationship with the District at large, and analyzing areas for possible improvement in efficiency and productivity – in everything from fundraising to recruitment of new Board members.
Become a Foundation Board Member
Are you interested in becoming an agent of change for students of the Palm Springs Unified School District? You can become a part of a team of talented individuals looking to expand and connect with the community and potential funders to help implement and fund specialized educational programs! Think you could become a key player in developing PSUSD students' futures?
100% of our SMART students will be going to college this year. SMART students are receiving college acceptance letters and financial aid packets now. Moving forward, SMART will merge with our Bright Futures program, focused on college and career ambition and the relationship with the world outside of the students’ neighborhoods. This included a variety of field trips, guest speakers, and monthly discussion topics. We believe that by merging these two programs together -- ambition and cultural exposure with the rigor of college applications -- our students’ minds will open even further and more opportunities will be available to them. If you're interested in becoming a mentor contact or call (760) 416-8455.
The Foundation for the Palm Springs Unified School District, among many other functions, manages and administers individual scholarships at various levels, established by generous members of the community, and for the specific benefit of PSUSD students going on to higher education. Each year, The Foundation distributes between $50-100K this year. If you’d like to see the scholarships The Foundation will be awarding this year, you can click HERE for additional information.
The Palm Springs Unified School District and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians have collaborated for several years on the creation of an elementary and middle school Native American Studies curriculum, in a project conceived and proposed by the Foundation and funded by the Tribe. We are pleased to share that that project is a semi-finalist in the “Honoring Nations” competition sponsored by the American Indian Economic Development Project at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard University.
For the first time ever, the premiere auction house for celebrity estates and individual consignments of Hollywood and rock-and-roll memorabilia is partnering with The Foundation for the Palm Springs Unified School District to help raise funds to save the arts in our schools. CLICK here for additional details.