Building A Foundation For Students
Thursday, January 8, 2009
More than two decades ago, a group of business leaders decided that Fairfax County needed a school that would prepare students for jobs in high-tech industries.
That vision, stocked with state-of-the-art labs and equipment, became embodied in the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Since the magnet school was established in 1985, it has topped national rankings and sent thousands of graduates to prestigious colleges and successful careers.
But the business leaders' involvement did not end there. A quarter-century later, the Fairfax Education Foundation has raised and contributed nearly $21 million in cash and high-tech equipment for more than 30 projects in the Fairfax public school system.
Grants have gone toward scholarships and mentoring programs for minority students entering college, assistive technologies for students with disabilities, laptops and computer training for low-income families, and competitions to promote math and science instruction.
"We believe that excellence in education is an economic imperative for societal success," said James M. "Marty" Irving, a real estate developer and chairman of the foundation's board of trustees. "Schools and education have to reinvent themselves, just like society."
Business leaders in Fairfax, one of the nation's hot spots for technological innovation, are in a good position to offer advice, he said.
"There are a million new ideas we see every day," he said.
But the 35-member board of trustees, with representatives from ExxonMobil, Intel and Microsoft, also takes its cues from teachers and technology specialists who work with the students.
The foundation typically funds initiatives in a few schools, then measures how they work.
"When they prove themselves, we can justify spending limited dollars to roll things out more widely," said Maribeth Luftglass, assistant superintendent of information technology for the 168,000-student system.
Recently, the foundation provided interactive white boards for schools with high numbers of English language learners.
One morning last month, seven students at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School in Falls Church took turns at a board, arranging letters into words for a lesson about prefixes and suffixes. They took root words, such as "comfort," and changed them by sliding beginnings and endings such as "un" and "able" into place.