By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
After almost 12 years of working to provide funds directly to Los Alamos Public Schools, Joanna Gillespie is resigning as executive director of the Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation.
She will leave her position March 30 and the board of directors has started the process of looking for her replacement.
Gillespie said the board organized a committee to begin the search for a new director and said the search will be regional. As for herself, Gillespie said she plans to stay in Los Alamos and “I figure the right opportunity will find me.” Currently, she added, she is helping several nonprofits in the region with board development and strategic planning.
The foundation experienced a lot of milestones during Gillespie’s tenure. “We’ve been giving out money since 2008. In November, we had a celebration because we passed the $1 million mark,” Gillespie said.
Among the projects and programs that have benefited from the LAPS Foundation, Gillespie said the big ones include classroom makeovers at different schools. For instance, art and science classrooms at Los Alamos High School were renovated with funds from the foundation as well as the art and music classrooms at Los Alamos Middle School.
She added, “We spend quite of bit of our budget every year on professional development for the teachers.”
Gillespie pointed out that you can have a fancy school but it doesn’t mean much if there are not good teachers. She said, “Studying the craft of teaching helps motivate teachers.”
While bringing in money to the schools is a major portion of the work the foundation does, it provides other services to the district, too. “Donor cultivation is a big one but (we are) also managing projects and programs the board chooses to invest in,” Gillespie said.
A few of these projects and programs include the Rynd Outdoor Classroom at the middle school as well as three different grants available to teachers. The grants are: Great Idea grants for classroom materials and opportunities, professional development grants that provide stipends to teachers who train their peers in an area of expertise or give funding to educators who want to go a training and the Professional Book Group which provides books to teachers.
In total, Gillespie said the foundation budgets to spend $10,000 per school month “but we often exceed that.”
A large bulk of the LAPS Foundations’ budget comes from the Los Alamos National Security’s (LANS) employee giving campaign as well as LANS’ matching contributions.
Supporting education, Gillespie said, “Is a core value of our community. It truly affects every facet of life in our town. We’re fortunate to have many people who continue to give even after their children have left the schools.”
The desire to support the schools was the reason why Gillespie became involved with the foundation. “I saw a lot of fundraising efforts in our community…where some company-a wrapping paper or wreath company- would get half the donation. I just saw an opportunity for people to give directly to education rather than, in my mind, do all that work for half the money.”
She added, “It really seemed like a way to accelerate improvement. To me, it was an opportunity to have a board with the means to look at K-12 education in the community and address the needs judiciously.”
Gillespie said the wheels started to turn to form a foundation in 2005, when work got underway to get a 501c3 designation.
The other individuals who had a hand in the development of the LAPS Foundation were: Sharon Stover, Rick Reiss, Roger Waterman, Steve Wells, Morrie and Cheryl Pongratz, Mary McLeod, Former Superintendent Jim Anderson and the LAPS school board at the time.
Looking back at her time as director, Gillespie said, “One of things I probably am most proud of is that we always had a cooperative and well-functioning board of directors.” She added being able to help local teachers was another plus. “It’s incredibly satisfying to meet the needs of a teacher who wants to teach. They’re so grateful. It’s satisfying to know you are making someone’s life easier in the classroom.”