Teachers, administrators and even students now have a new financial resource to support innovative programs in Yarmouth’s public schools.

A group of residents has formed the Yarmouth Education Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization that will raise money to provide grants to fund programs outside the school budget.

The foundation received federal approval of its nonprofit tax status this summer and members began meeting with teachers this week, said Bill Hagedorn, the group’s spokesman. Members plan to start a founding donors drive in the next few weeks and award the first round of grants later this fall for projects in the spring semester.

“We want to be able to fund innovative programs that really enhance the educational experience,” Hagedorn said. “We’d like teachers and students to think big about what they’d like to do if they had the money to do it.”

The foundation was started by six parents. Its board members are Rhonda Senger, president; Hagedorn, vice president; Lynn Gawtry, secretary; Gary Bergeron, treasurer; and Kristina Keaney, Jeanne Rapone, Jeff Diggins, Meg O’Neill, Cheryl Rogers and Heather Shields.

They modeled the organization after similar foundations in a growing number of Maine school districts, including Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Portland, Lewiston, York, School Administrative District 35 (Eliot and South Berwick), Regional School Unit 21 (Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel), SAD 51 (Cumberland and North Yarmouth), SAD 50 (Cushing, St. George and Thomaston) and SAD 22 (Hampden, Winterport and Newburgh).

“We learned a lot from those groups about what to do and what not to do when starting an organization like this,” Hagedorn said.

The Yarmouth group has won the support of Superintendent Judy Paolucci, the School Committee and the Town Council, which contributed $3,000 for the foundation’s startup costs.

“This is a really positive move for Yarmouth schools,” said David Ray, School Committee chairman. “In times of dwindling public resources for our schools, it’s great to have an independent body working collaboratively with our teachers and administrators to fund those things that we don’t necessarily need but would really like to have.”

Grant applications will be available in the town’s schools next week and accepted through October for the first round of awards, Hagedorn said. Students may apply, as well as staff members. A committee of foundation members, teachers and community members will review grant applications. Grant amounts will vary according to each project’s needs.

“A lot will depend on how successful we are at fundraising,” Hagedorn said. “But we’re not setting a dollar limit. We’re looking for projects of all kinds that promote innovation and excellence, including long-term initiatives. We’re looking for projects that reach a large number of students or have a profound impact on a small number of students.”

The group will seek donations and grants from individuals, businesses, alumni and foundations, which is something the school district and its employees cannot do, Hagedorn said.

Foundation members also hope to cultivate an environment in which educators are recognized for unique, forward-thinking contributions to the town’s two elementary schools, its middle school and its high school.

“We have great schools, but there’s still a lot of pressure on teachers and administrators to improve,” Hagedorn said. “That requires innovation that’s sometimes difficult without additional funding. We want to collaborate with teachers and other staff members on how best to support them in doing that.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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