Foundation series

Chappaqua School Foundation: a focus on innovation

CSF members gather outside the new Horace Greeley High School Sustainability Research Center. Front row (lr): Julie Balber, Shauna Levy, Tara Brandoff, Jillian Bynum, Megan Gulotta, Michele Wolfberg, Dayna Beicke, Anuja Joshi, Lois O’Neill, Solveig McShea, Joanna Coogan, Sheri Hametz. Second row (lr): Jennifer Belew, Todd Herrell, Eugene Song PHOTO By Donna Mueller

Home to bucolic grounds, a small-town vibe, and a nationally recognized school district, Chappaqua is renowned for its strong sense of community. Embedded in the fabric of this community is the Chappaqua School Foundation (CSF), a non-profit organization whose mission is to fund innovative educational projects outside of the Chappaqua Central School District (CCSD) budget. Over the past two years, the work of the CSF has never been more relevant, as the organization evolves and pivots to support the district’s goal of prioritizing student needs.

mission control

Since its inception in 1993, CSF has raised over $4 million, funding more than 350 educational grants and innovative projects. Its Board of Directors is made up of 22 parent volunteers, representing each of Chappaqua’s six schools with varying backgrounds and skills.

Solveig McShea, President of CSF, took on this role at a time of change and uncertainty. His mission was simple despite an environment that was anything but. She explains, “Our mission to fund innovation in our schools has held true and helped us navigate a changing landscape. We also increased our focus on engaging our rapidly growing community through a host of new initiatives. We want to involve people in the excitement of what we do. Our work, after all, has an impact on each of our children.

Subsidize innovations

The CSF works alongside the CCDS, teachers, parents and students to identify important strategic initiatives that are innovative and meaningful. CSF funds these initiatives with two types of grants; Instagrams and traditional grants. Snapshots are smaller grants under $2,500 that go through a condensed approval process; ideal for projects that teachers want to implement during the same school year. Traditional grants are awarded through a multi-step process for programs that are related to the curriculum and take longer to develop.

The grants process is a true partnership between FSC and CCSD. Todd Herrell, Vice President, Grants, said, “We have a strong collaborative relationship with our district to identify grants that drive instructional improvements and innovations in each of our schools. Over the past few years, CSF has funded projects such as Studio 7B, a fully functional, professional-grade digital television studio, clip-on microphones to improve teachers’ ability to overcome audio challenges during the pandemic, and, one particular company exciting, the Sustainability Research Center (SRC) at Greeley which is currently under construction.

Christine Ackerman, Ph.D., Superintendent of Schools, Chappaqua Central School District is also excited about the grant, saying, “Our sustainability research center will allow our students to explore and understand how to conserve natural resources in a state-of-the-art facility. We are delighted to provide this space for our students through our partnership with the CSF, the PTA and the Robert and Ardis James Foundation.

This is not FSC’s first groundbreaking grant. In 2018, CSF partnered with the district on the 1:1 Digital Learning Initiative, the largest single grant ever awarded at the time. This grant provided each student in grades 3 and 4 with their own school iPad. The full reach of this grant was truly demonstrated in 2020, as Herrell points out, when “these resources became critical to facilitating the rapid transition to remote learning at the onset of the pandemic.”

Putting the “fun” into fundraising

Fundraising efforts are central to the CSF’s ability to support the district. Two years ago, however, fundraising events came to a screeching halt, forcing CSF to rewrite its playbook. Lois O’Neill, Executive Vice President and Vice President, Fundraising, rose to the challenge head on with a multitude of resourceful fundraisers. She says: “The pandemic has both changed and expanded our fundraising platform, and frankly has broken down some walls, allowing us to create creative new ways to engage with our community. We launched a Chappaqua clothing line, launched what are now annual events – the CSF Food Truck party and our At Home series – and started giving away Holiday Rainbow cookie jars. We love that these fundraisers allow people to give at all levels, whether it’s through a Walter hot dog, a Chappaqua hat, or donations at the charity committee level.

After a two-year hiatus, CSF is thrilled with the highly anticipated return of its biggest fundraiser, the annual Spring Benefit. O’Neill has big plans for the revival of Benefit on Friday, April 29. “We want CSF to be a catalyst for the return to pleasure; we want to thank our community for their deep generosity,” she explains, adding, “This year Benefit will feature a ‘Tacos & Tequila’ theme with music and dancing. Our Silent Auction features a curated selection of exciting gifts, travel and food items, and is now a week-long online event that culminates on the evening of Benefit Night.

new beginnings

As McShea reflects on the past year, she says, “Although it has been a difficult time, it has also been deeply rewarding. I’m proud of everything we’ve accomplished, from funding projects like diversity libraries in elementary schools, to programs exploring the impact of discrimination and human rights abuses, to repurposing a common space in Greeley for social/emotional well-being. We explore how CSF can support the whole student with a strong classroom experience, so they are ready to lead and thrive in the outside world. McShea recognizes that much work remains to be done and that priorities are constantly changing, but in uncertain times, the CCSD community can rest assured that FSC will be a steady source of support.