Schools focus of foundation gathering

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Finding and jointly funding strategies to help the state’s elementary and secondary schools prepare students to compete more effectively in the global marketplace will be the focus of a meeting of North Carolina foundations that make grants to support education.

The meeting, to be held June 27 in Greensboro, could lead to a foundation-funded study to identify education strategies foundations then could fund jointly.

“It’s an opportunity for funders to take an area of common issue, education, and look for ways to work together,” says Joy Vermillion Heinsohn, director of policy initiatives at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a lead funder of the conference.

Strategies the study could recommend, she says, would be useful not only for foundations that support education but also for others, such as policymakers and educators, who have in interest in strengthening schools.

Bobbi Hapgood, executive director of the North Carolina Network of Grantmakers, which is organizing the conference, says it will build on a foundation-funded report by the Public School Forum of North Carolina that recommended changes needed to make the state competitive with leading schools throughout the world.

Hapgood says she expects the event, to be held at the O.Henry Hotel from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., will attract at least 50 people representing 20 foundations.

“Any foundation that is interested in education is welcome to attend,” she says. “We’re trying to attract those that want to explore the possibility of working with other funders in the state.”

The Network of Grantmakers has 78 foundation members, includes a working group of over 30 individuals representing roughly 20 foundations that make education grants.

That group for several years has been looking for ways that education funders can identify and help close gaps in private funding for strategies to boost schools’ competitiveness.

At its annual meeting in February, the network’s education working group reviewed a study on the competitiveness of North Carolina’s schools that was prepared by the Public School Forum of North Carolina and funded by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund in Research Triangle Park and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem.

The June 27 conference will feature a talk by Lisa Gray, education initiative project director for the Ohio Grantmakers Forum, about a similar study by that statewide group on education strategies that foundations in Ohio could fund.

Lead funders of the conference are the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, The Duke Endowment in Charlotte and the NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation in Research Triangle Park.

Other foundations and companies sponsoring the conference are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Cannon Foundation in Concord, the Prentice Foundation in Westport, Conn., and Progress Energy and Wachovia.

A key goal for the conference is to “look for ways to cooperate and collaborate to improve education in North Carolina,” Vermillion Heinsohn says. “There’s always an opportunity for foundations to collaborate more. We encourage that among our grantees, and I think that is something we need to encourage among one another.”

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