TUSTIN : District Honors Education Group

During the past three years, Linda Jennings, executive director of the Tustin Public Schools Foundation, has helped raise more than $41,000 for schools in the Tustin Unified School District.

For that, members of the Tustin Unified School District Board of Education honored Jennings and other foundation officers at ceremonies at the district office last week.

At a time of deep budget cuts, private support is needed more than ever to keep the quality of public education high, Jennings said. But rather than simply blame the politicians, she said they decided to do something about it.

The all-volunteer group was cited for "mobilizing the community and its resources in furthering excellence in all district schools."

"Public education is threatened by budgetary problems," Jennings said. "It's up to us to make sure it survives."

Formed in 1989 by a dozen parents, the foundation has provided grants to teachers with new teaching ideas. It has donated money to buy equipment and materials, for field trips and other projects that expand traditional school programs.

Jennings said every school in the district has received grants covering such programs as art, technology, special education, English literature, math labs, science and oceanography.

Teachers may seek "small grants" of up to $500 for individual projects and "large grants" from $1,000 to $5,000 when the project involves more than one classroom, grade level or school, she said.

Jennings said to qualify for a grant, the teacher or teachers must show that the project is a new way of teaching the subject, such as when kindergarten and first-grade teachers from several elementary schools requested money to buy large-print books.

Two panels--one for the small grants and another for the large grants--review the grant applications and recommend to the foundation's 24-member board of directors which to approve, Jennings said.

When the foundation started, it received $1,000 in donations. This year, it hopes to raise more than $50,000, she said.

Nancy Cast, the foundation's first president, said the foundation will give money only to programs the district can't provide.

"We are very careful," Cast said. "We won't try to do those things the district should do."

Cast, an active parent volunteer in three Tustin schools, said it is also important for the foundation to bring public awareness to the problems of public schools.

"We can't sit idly by," she said. "We want to be part of the solution."

Jennings, the foundation president last year, said private donors give from $1 to amounts "significantly higher," and even come from families who have no children in the school system.

In some instances, corporations sponsor projects. One is the planned $150,000 project to provide state-of-the-art science laboratories for Tustin, Hillview and Foothill high schools.

She said the foundation also holds the annual five-kilometer and two-kilometer Dinosaur Dash in November, which attract as many as 2,000 sponsored runners.

"There is strong sense of community here," Jennings said.

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