LAPS Foundation Director Explains Mission

Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation’s Joanna Gillespie discusses the program at March 18 Kiwanis Club meeting. Photo by Don Casperson
Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos

Joanna Gillespie, executive director of the Los Alamos Public Schools (LAPS) Foundation, spoke at Kiwanis March 18, thanking the organization “for the support you have shown the Foundation.”

She noted especially the money and hands-on assistance that Kiwanis provided for the 2009 science classroom and laboratory makeover at Los Alamos High School (LAHS) and for the 2013 makeover of the art classroom at Los Alamos Middle School (LAMS).

“Your work has been invaluable,” Gillespie said, and she mentioned that she might want Kiwanis help again soon for a proposed makeover in E Wing.

Right now the LAPS Foundation’s “signature event” is “Great Conversations,” she said. When a Great Conversations event is held, an expert in a chosen field is seated at each of several tables (12 at the most recent event), and those participating join the table featuring the subject that interests them most. Members of Key Club (the Kiwanis club’s high school affiliate organization) volunteer at each event, and, Gillespie said, “They’re exceptional.”

Turning to a description of what the Foundation hopes to accomplish, Gillespie said, “One of our over-arching goals is teacher retention.” She pointed out that public funding doesn’t always cover all items that are truly necessary in the classroom. For example, she said, public money may buy computer hardware, but not software.

She said that soon, the Foundation will be selecting its next set of “Great Ideas” grant-winners. The Foundation also provides “professional development grants,” she said, and it gives “book grants” to support teacher reading groups (usually involving books on instructional techniques).

Kiwanis member Ed Rynd and his wife Betty left a large bequest that came to the Foundation and was used to provide for the outdoor classroom groups held recently, Gillespie said.

“We’ve been entrusted with a lot of money and the Foundation hopes to do a good job with every dime,” she said.

She said she and the others supporting the Foundation have made some mistakes, but they’re still learning. She passed out pamphlets that showed that in its first six years in operation, the Foundation has, in fact, provided a total of $412,261 to help the Los Alamos Public Schools.

Here’s a summary of what that support provided:

  • In school year 2008, the Foundation provided a professional development grant to “aid the Los Alamos Public Schools in training all early elementary teachers in the use of Comprehension Toolkits.”
  • In 2009, the Foundation spearheaded the science classroom and laboratory makeover, and it aided 16 students by providing college scholarships.
  •  In 2010, the Foundation led a health classroom makeover at LAMS, and it helped 13 teachers advance their professional licensure.
  • In school year 2011, the Foundation provided “Kindles Instead of Books” for 50 AP Literature students at LAHS, and it expanded the “Teach Like a Champion” professional development initiative.
  • In school year 2012, the Foundation supported “Great Ideas Grants” that impacted 2,420 students in one school year, and the it provided “professional development for National Common Core Standards, K-3.”
  • In school year 2013, the Foundation spearheaded Rynd Outdoor Classrooms at Chamisa and Mountain Elementary Schools, an art classroom makeover at LAMS, and “Leadership Development for Principals.”

Kiwanian Cheryl Pongratz, who also is a former teacher and principal and the current secretary to the Foundation’s board of directors, commented that someone once said, “If you don’t feed the teachers, they eat the kids.”

The Foundation is about feeding the teachers ─ with help, grants and appreciation, she said.

“If you contribute to the Foundation,” Pongratz said, “you’re really contributing to the education in this town,” and the town, “needs to know that this community supports teachers.”

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