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Who we are and what we do

Laura Zimmerman

Laura Zimmerman

By Laura Zimmerman EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SONOMA VALLEY EDUCATION FOUNDATION

There are signs at all levels that our community is paying attention to our schools. Community funding, donated through the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation (SVEF), is having a transformative impact across a continuum of innovative programs.

More children are attending preschool so they enter kindergarten well prepared to learn; local volunteers help first graders improve their reading skills and confidence by tutoring; funding helps bring Exploratorium Science kits into every K-5 classroom so students learn by doing; and local support helps challenge high-achieving high school students with CAD design engineering classes that pave the way to top colleges. All of this is included in the work and purpose of the SVEF as we seek to enrich the student experience in the public schools of Sonoma Valley.

We partner with our school district with the shared goal of inspiring, educating and preparing all students to graduate from high school with viable options for college and career success. Whether you have young students in the schools or not, keep in mind that 85 percent of all students attend public schools.

Our state spends, on average, $8,482 per student per year, 28 percent below the national average of $11,824. Currently, California ranks 49th among all states in education funding. In California, we spend $47,102 a year for each inmate in our prison system, and a whopping $179,400 a year for a teen who falls into a juvenile incarceration program.

Strong community support and investment through SVEF enabled the district to launch the STEM-based Exploratorium Science Program in our elementary schools, as well as the Engineering Design and Technology Pathway at the high school. Community investment through SVEF is assisting in the expansion of public preschools, now at three school sites. We also help the school district fund School Gardens, Valley Vibes Orchestras, Visual Thinking Strategies, The Summer Reading Academy, Freshman Teams, Teachers Support Network, Schools of Hope and the AVANCE Parent Education Program.

Over the next few months, we plan to share more detailed news with the public about why these programs matter and how they are changing the future for our students. Our collaboration with our school district is a key element toward providing the best possible education experience as we work closely to identify, fund, and monitor the outcomes of these programs.

When a community supports a strong public education system, there are tangible benefits, both social and economic. Young families want to move to cities and towns where education is a priority and the schools are effective. Local businesses thrive with access to a well-educated dynamic work force. Education helps break the cycle of poverty, often benefitting all family members. There is a powerful and shared sense of accomplishment when our youth can thrive, set and attain strong personal goals, then head off well prepared for college and careers. Quite often the kids we see in our classrooms today return to Sonoma later in life to become our neighbors and friends.

We urge you to partner with us to improve our schools. You can start by marking the date of the 2014 Red & White Ball on your calendar: Saturday Sept. 6. The Red & White Ball is the largest annual event in support of our public schools.

Please visit our website, at svgreatschools.org, and click on “Donate” to help support our local schools. The SVEF is a 501(c)(3) organization, and all donations are tax deductible.

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Laura Zimmerman is executive director of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation.