In a town known for its top-notch school district, excellence in education is the expectation amongst Chappaqua residents. Any variations in school rankings are analyzed, dissected and actively discussed. The Chappaqua Central School District (CCSD) is characterized by its challenging curriculum, a committed faculty and an impressive array of innovative programming at every level.
It’s the common perception that Chappaqua’s high property taxes are responsible for such programming. In fact, over 75% of the school district’s budget is allocated to fixed costs, with little leftover to support programs that do not fit into the category of core academics. Therefore, funding is supplemented privately by organizations such as the Chappaqua School Foundation (CSF). CSF fills the void, enhancing the students’ education by fostering innovation and funding meaningful initiatives beyond the scope of the school budget.
Making the Grade
Marjorie Troob, President of CSF, was unfamiliar with the foundation’s significant role in the district until she attended the CSF Spring Benefit eight years ago. “During the president’s speech, my ears perked up,” Troob recalls. “She was discussing a district-wide initiative to raise $75k for SMART boards for incoming 3rd graders, the grade my son was entering. It immediately impressed upon me how enriching this addition would be to the classroom. I thought that by reaching out to my network within the community, together, we could make this happen quickly.” Her efforts were fruitful and Troob, realizing the influence of CSF, joined the board two years later and became a fixture in the organization.
Since its inception in 1993, CSF has raised over $3.8 million, funding over 300 educational grants and innovative projects. The Board of Directors is comprised of approximately 30 parent volunteers. “Our Board members represent each of Chappaqua’s schools and come with diverse backgrounds and skill-sets, providing us with broad insight into the heartbeat of the community. They are highly collaborative, committed and dynamic, not to mention that we have some of the nicest people you will ever meet.”
Fundraising efforts are conducted throughout the year with events including Mom’s Night Out, the Harlem Wizards basketball game, a Beginning of School event for preschoolers and their largest fundraiser, the Annual Spring Benefit. “It truly never gets boring,” Troob adds. CSF also hosts the Janet L. Wells Faculty Innovator of the Year Award and CSF Grant Recipient Ceremony that recognizes faculty who have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to delivering educational innovation to their students.
The foundation works alongside CCSD, teachers, parents and students to identify significant strategic initiatives for the schools that are innovative and meaningful. “The school budget is so tight and set six months in advance. CSF funds projects that wouldn’t otherwise be covered,” explains Troob. CSF ensures that teachers can realize their educational aspirations by applying for two types of grants known as Instagrants and traditional grants. Instagrants are smaller grants that are under $2,500 and experience a quicker approval process. These are ideal for teachers who require grants for projects they wish to implement during the school year. Traditional grants are awarded through a more vetted process for programs that tie into the curriculum and take longer to develop.
When discussing just some of the recent grants, Troob enthusiastically lists a wide range of projects including an indoor hydroponic garden, LEGO robots, 3D printers, coding blocks, digital telescopes, kindergarten book-packs and robotics equipment saying, “Many are innovative, while some are more functional, yet all make a meaningful impact on the students who are the recipients. The ideas truly get better every year.”
The Horace Greeley High School iLab is an example of a grant that left a monumental impression on the entire district. CSF was instrumental in developing this space approximately six years ago. Reminiscent of a sleek, startup office, the lab was designed using the latest technology and features furniture that encourages collaboration and project-based learning. This installation ultimately transformed the district’s curriculum.
Troob explains, “This project went beyond simply upgrading furniture. The concept of taking a fresh look at how we can integrate innovations into a learning space was cutting-edge. Since then, CSF has partnered with the district to create innovative learning spaces and classrooms in all six schools. This is not the case in many neighboring districts.”
Giving Students a Voice
CSF encourages students to weigh in through the Student Advisory Council (SAC), a student-run, CSF Board-supported, advisory group at Horace Greeley High School. Formed in 2015, the council began with only eight members and has evolved into a major branch of the foundation, boasting 65 members. Nona Ullman, Vice President of Innovation, describes just how valuable the students’ contributions are saying, “They play the role of management consultants, interviewing teachers and analyzing data on how our grants are improving education.
This year, they piloted a new concept, ‘Grant Sharktanks,’ where students brainstormed ideas with the goal of increasing student-written grants. As a result, three new student-written grants have been funded including Yogibos, a rainy-day activity cart and an outdoor classroom at Bell.” She adds, “Through the SAC, we are providing students with an authentic learning experience that empowers them to make a major contribution to their school community.”
As Troob begins wrapping up her term as president, she reflects upon the previous year, saying, “Its been a time of new beginnings as we welcomed new administrators including a new superintendent and identified a magnificent new venue for the Spring Benefit at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club featuring a host of new auction items. As we look to the future, it continues to be an exciting time as we begin collaborating with the district to launch a targeted grant that seeks to provide a digital one-to-one learning environment in our schools.”
Throughout changing budgets, administrators and even weather, it is certain that CSF is committed to harnessing the power of the Chappaqua community to maintain the highest standard of excellence for all of its students
By Grace Bennett
In the midst of another packed gala for the Chappaqua School Foundation–with a silent auction and a delicious dinner underway–I managed to steal away CSF president David Gefsky to a quiet spot to talk for a few minutes. He spoke proudly, in particular, of the educational showcase in progress too at the gala, where about a dozen kids from the district “displayed projects that were made possible by some of the investments over the last year, inspired by teachers, and driven for the benefit of the students.”
The CSF fosters innovation, Gefsky explained, “working in close partnership and collaboration with teachers and administrators enabling them to recognize their creative capacities.” The CSF then raises the money to make that innovation possible.
“We make possible necessary investments that fall outside the normal school budget,” said Gefsky. A Grant Advisory Committee, comprised of teachers, administrators and technology leaders, “help define educational goals and evaluate and assess investment opportunities.”
In the meantime, CSF actively engages with the community for ideas–planning numerous events in which parents are involved. “We constantly speak with parents as groups and on an individual basis; their feedback is instrumental to us in terms of how we set priorities and how we ultimately invest capital.”
Gefsky, together with his wife Jennifer Gefsky, are parents of three children in the district themselves, in grades 7, 5 and kindergarten. He said that heading into the fall, the programming schedule is primarily designed to raise awareness of CSF goals. These include a Mom’s night event, a Dad’s event, CSF participation at Community Day, and a pre-K event for families new to the district. Notable too is The Harlem Wizards game, the second largest fundraiser for CSF, after the gala.
While the dollars raised was not available just yet, this year’s gala, held again at the Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, set a record for ticket sales: over 630 tickets sold. Last year, CSF raised $368,000 at the gala, and a total of $433,000 over the year, and Gefsky said his hope was to surpass those numbers too.
For more information, visit www.chappaquaschoolfoundation.org