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Posted July 14, 2011

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July 2011: Foundation is building better APS

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

I’ve always believed people in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County are among the most giving and community-minded folks in the nation. You can see it in the United Way of Central New Mexico’s nationally recognized annual campaign; you feel it in the way we come together to help those who face a sudden crisis, as recently witnessed during the heart-wrenching Los Alamos fires.

Within Albuquerque Public Schools, we have an organization that taps into that deep well of philanthropy. It’s called the APS Education Foundation. Hopefully, you’ve seen its work in our schools of late.

The Foundation was created in 1995 as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit. Its mission is to support APS students, teachers and parents to make certain our kids have the best education our community can give them. Given the challenges public education faces these days, particularly in funding, that means the Foundation works as a fundraising arm – always soliciting help from people and business leaders who believe public education is our best hope for the future.

Entities like the APS Education Foundation often concentrate their work on key projects. In our case, the Foundation has instituted something it calls the Horizon Campaign – a push to raise $1 million in private support for APS. Since late 2009, we have raised about $700,000 in cash, pledges, and in-kind donations. I like to kid our Foundation’s director, Phill Casaus, that his fast-receding hairline was caused by his previous career, which was, ironically enough, newspaper journalism. He shoots back that his folic challenges are the result of getting the Horizon Campaign off the ground.

Either way, he and I know there’s plenty of work to do – and plenty to celebrate. The campaign has begun funding a program called Horizon Awards, in which APS teachers submit competitive grant requests to fund innovative projects in their classrooms. The first year was filled with success, ranging from biodiesel engine-building at Sandia High to the purchase of audiobooks at East San Jose Elementary, to additional literacy curriculum at Bel-Air Elementary to new “graphing calculators” at Atrisco Heritage Academy High, where wary, uncertain pre-calculus students are being ushered into the 21st century – and liking it.

That was just the start for the Foundation. On Sept. 9, the Foundation’s 25-member board of directors will host the second-annual A is for Art! fundraiser/auction at the beautiful Albuquerque Museum. It’s one of the most enjoyable events in Albuquerque, and your kids play a huge part. A variety of choirs and high school musical groups perform during a silent and live auction of visual art. The best part is, the artists – painters, sculptors, photographers – also receive a percentage of the sale from their work, with the rest going back to the Foundation and the district’s Fine Arts Department. The Foundation’s mantra for the event is this: No work will go unsold.

There’s truth in that. A year ago, we told people they are buying a 21st-century masterpiece, and the truth is, they may have. The work is just that good. I’m really excited to know that this year we’ll have nearly 200 pieces up for auction.

To make this happen, you must have help. Fortunately, we have businesses throughout this community (Technology Integration Group, Comcast, the Journal’s Newspapers in Education, PNM, AnchorBuilt Construction and Avaya were among our key sponsors last year) who step up to the plate. Just as crucial is the Foundation’s 25-member Board of Directors, led this year by Cristy Carbon-Gaul, a local lawyer who has two kids in APS.

They give tons of time and effort, and also help solicit businesses and individuals from throughout the area to help sponsor this effort, and the Horizon Campaign as a whole.

APS Board of Education President Paula Maes and I both sit on the Foundation board as ex-officio members because we believe in the mission. We need our community’s help, now more than ever. The best news is, your help pays off.

I’ve seen it in our classrooms. I’ve seen it at things like A is for Art!

It’d be nice to see you on Sept. 9.

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