The fundraising foundation for Fairfax County schools held its first event to introduce itself to the business community on Wednesday, part of a growing push by the school system to create more partnerships with the private sector.
The Foundation for FCPS was created in late 2010 as a partnership between the county’s school system and Chamber of Commerce.
After three years laying groundwork, the foundation brought Executive Director Mike Infurnari on board in January and with Superintendent Karen Garza is ramping up efforts to bring donations to the school system.
The school system is dealing with increased enrollment and demographic shifts toward a more diverse population that are squeezing an already tight budget. And relief in the form of government funding is not on the horizon. This year, the school district received $46 million less than Garza requested from the county’s Board of Supervisors.
“Our ability as a community to overcome our challenges will require new and creative alliances,” Garza told gathered business leaders. “We want you to stand with us.”
Both Infurnari and Foundation Chairman Jerry Gordon referred to Wednesday’s event, which brought close to 150 school officials and business leaders together at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner, as the true kick-off point for the organization.
Gordon is not only chairman of the foundation’s board of directors but also president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. He sees the school system as an economic driver for the county and his words to businesses mirrored that belief.
A strong school system attracts businesses to the county, Gordon said. It also brings top employees to the county, he continued, both in the form of graduates from county schools and in the form of families who migrate from other areas for the high-quality education.
Garza took a different tack in trying to get corporate leaders to see the value of the school system for the local economy.
“I often say, the closer you get, the better we look,” Garza said. “When you come volunteer in our classrooms, you can’t help but be impressed.”
The school system has a well-established and growing cadre of smaller-scale connections between businesses and local schools.
Time Warner Cable, which has an office in Herndon, partnered with nearby Hutchison Elementary starting in the 2010-11 school year. The relationship started as Time Warner Cable employees serving as math mentors for students, and it has blossomed since then.
Each school year, the company has hosted a golf tournament to raise money for the school, where 69 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Over four years the total has reached more than $150,000, according to Hutchison Principal Judy Baldwin.
The school has used the funding from Time Warner Cable to start and maintain a STEM lab to enhance student instruction in the eponymous STEM subjects, science, technology, engineering and math. The money also goes toward a school-wide recycling program, classroom technology updates and science-related field trips.
“It’s a true collaboration, and when you see the effect on our children, you realize how valuable it is,” Baldwin said.
Partnerships such as this one are also an area the school system has targeted for growth, said Jay Garant, the FCPS administrator of business and community partnerships.
At the start of the school year, the school system introduced a new partnership starter online tool to more easily match businesses and schools looking for partners. This year, 30 new partnerships formed between schools and businesses, the most since Garant started in 2007.
Hundreds of partnerships now exist with businesses ranging from small companies to international corporations.
The Foundation for FCPS and Infurnari are collaborating with Garant to build on the success of these relationships for fundraising.
“Jay and I are two sides of a coin,” Infurnari said. “He takes the donations - of equipment, of time, of funding - that we can put in place right now, while I’m looking to build us down the line.”