PUSD Education Foundation Awards $70,000 in Grant Support for PUSD Initiatives

PUSD Education Foundation Awards $70,000 in Grant Support for PUSD Initiatives

By Nanci Hutson
Originally Published: Jan 25, 2024
The Daily Courier

$35K high school library upgrade part of PUSD Education Foundation gift

Additional $35K will aid math teacher recruitment, retention

the Prescott High School faculty, staff and students at a pep rally held Jan. 12, 2024. From left: PUSD Governing Board Vice President and Foundation Board member Jane Robertson; PUSD Superintendent Clark Tenney; PUSD Education Foundation board members Ginger Nolte and Stacy Haggart; Prescott High School Student Council representatives Anna Brown and Nash Dimaano-Simmons and PUSD Education Foundation Board member Carol Yetman. (PUSD Education Foundation/Courtesy)

At a Prescott High School pep rally on Jan. 12, the Prescott Unified School District Education Foundation gifted the students with a big check: $35,000 to refurbish and upgrade the school library into a student union-style space better suited for study, tutoring and technology-aided research.

Foundation leaders view this donation as a chance for students to work with school leaders to reimagine the aged library space off the main corridor so it will be more of a draw for all students, faculty and staff. The money will enable the purchase of upgraded furnishings and technology stations suited to a contemporary learning atmosphere, foundation, district and students leaders said.

In the digital age, school libraries no longer resemble stacks and stacks of hardcover books with a few tables and chairs in the mix. A modernized PHS library will still have some bookshelves for paper-based materials, but the bulk of space will be repurposed for the realities of students today who obtain much of their school materials, even popular fiction, on Kindles, laptops and cellphones.

“This reflects a commitment to creating an optimal social and learning environment for students,” said foundation Executive Director Paul Kirchgraber. “School infrastructure plays a vital role in shaping the overall educational experience. The foundation’s dedication to supporting such projects underlines a holistic approach to education, recognizing that a well-equipped and aesthetically pleasing library environment is integral to student success.

Prescott High Principal Adam Neely, a Badger alumnus, assured faculty, staff and students at the rally when the check was presented that the high school community “loves its library.” This gift simply enables it to be remodeled so more students, faculty and staff can take advantage of what it is able to offer, Kirchgraber said.

Quoting Neely, Kirchgraber said the vision is to “bring new life to it.”

PUSD Superintendent Clark Tenney, also a Badger alumnus, concurs.

“For a long time we’ve had a nice, central location in the library, but it’s filled with wooden furniture from the 1960s,” said Tenney who graduated from PHS in 1987 and, in his almost-three-decade education career spent many years there as a teacher, coach and administrator. “We have fewer paper books all the time as we go digital, and so there is now more space to be used for students and teachers for teaching and studying areas.”

New furniture, upgraded technology and reconfiguration of space with conference rooms and other study nooks are part of a renovation effort expected to begin during spring break and continue over the summer so that the refurbished library is open for the 2024-25 school year, Tenney said.

At last week’s Governing Board meeting, board vice president and foundation member Jane Robertson was thrilled to announce the foundation’s decision to shift funding allocation focus from “classroom-innovation grants” to “school-enhancement” grants.

Since 2016, the foundation has awarded $161,000 in teacher innovation grants, part of more than $1 million gifted to the district as a whole.

PHS’ donation is the first of what foundation leaders intend to be annual large grants to the district’s six other schools in the coming years, each to be selected based on the academic and enrichment impact to be made on the school’s entire study body, Robinson and Kirchgraber said.

“We just love the PUSD Education Foundation,” Tenney declared. “They are a major part of what makes us successful.”

Given that Arizona’s education funding is among the lowest in the nation, and PUSD is one of the lowest-funded districts in the state, as it does not now have bond and override dollars to supplement taxpayer dollars, Tenney said this community’s volunteers, service organizations and the foundation play a key role in “filling the massive gaps the state Legislature leaves in funding and support.”

This year, too, the foundation is infusing the district with another $35,000 gift: this one is to be used, primarily, to help the district recruit and retain high-caliber math teachers by offering salary “supplements” to those who engage in “significant” annual professional development. Part of the district’s struggle in recent years to address lower-than-state- average proficiency scores has been attached to the difficulty in keeping highly qualified teachers given the demands of the job, the local economy and the expensive cost of housing in the area.

“By earmarking funds to support teacher recruitment, the PUSD Education Foundation acknowledges the critical role that educators play in shaping the future,” Kirchgraber said. “Financial supplements are powerful tools to entice skilled professionals to join the teaching faculty. These efforts not only enhance the quality of education but also address shortages in key subject areas, contributing to a more robust and well-rounded academic environment.

A small portion of that same grant will also be allocated to purchasing T-shirts for faculty and staff bearing the foundation’s logo so they can be “walking ambassadors” for the district, Kirchgraber said.

These grants all reflect “a commitment to excellence in education, and recognize the interconnectedness of teacher support, infrastructure improvement and community pride in creating an optimal learning environment for students,” Kirchgraber said.

“We want to be part of the solution,” he concluded.

By Nanci Hutson – The Daily Courier
Reach Nanci Hutson by email at nhutson@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333 ext. 2041