December 5, 2013

Philanthropic couple provides seeds, Maine students grow

Grants from the Perloffs directly to teachers lead to hundreds of learning efforts that often become self-sufficient.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

NORTH BERWICK — Noble High School senior Mike Lavigne holds up the wooden neck of a guitar-in-progress, explaining how sanding the edges affects the vibration of the strings. Grabbing an unfinished guitar body, he rattles off the science behind the magnetic pickup and throws in a bit on sound wave theory.

click image to enlarge

Sandy and Dave Perloff

click image to enlarge

Noble High School senior Mike Lavigne shows Sandy and Dave Perloff some guitars in different stages of completion. The Perloffs provided grants to fund the class at the North Berwick school and hundreds of other Maine projects, and make it a point to revisit schools twice a year to check on the programs’ progress.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

For Dave and Sandy Perloff, who listen intently to his jazzy riff on how to build a guitar, Lavigne’s voice alone is the sound of success.

The Perloffs are here on one of their twice-yearly visits to the class, which they funded through their Perloff Family Foundation.

Over the last 13 years, the Perloffs have given almost $1 million to such projects through more than 520 small grants to teachers throughout Maine. Dave Perloff, an executive in the semiconductor industry, said he approaches their grant-making as if every project is a startup company.

“We really want to be in the school, meeting the teacher and seeing the students,” he said.

What sets them apart from many educational grant-makers is their unorthodox approach, said Pam Cleghorn, senior program officer for the Maine Community Foundation, which administers the Perloff Family Foundation grants.

The Perloffs don’t have a traditional application process. Instead, they decide which geographic region to fund, and the teachers there are invited to submit simple, one-page applications for as much as $3,000 for any project they like.

The process is short on red tape and long on accountability, which is why the couple visit each grant recipient twice a year. They commute coast to coast every two weeks anyway, between their home in Maine and their primary residence in Los Altos Hills, Calif. Dave Perloff, 71, estimates that they drive 15,000 to 20,000 miles a year visiting schools across Maine.

“That’s the fun part,” Sandy Perloff said. “We want to see the kids doing what they’re doing.”

Their hands-on approach means they don’t have to rely on long applications or a lot of paperwork. “We know what’s happening,” he said. “We really understand where it’s working or not.”

That works for the teachers too, said Alan Carp, a math and science teacher who oversees a greenhouse project at Kennebunk High School that was funded by the Perloff foundation. He said the application process was simple, the grant was approved quickly and he has had regular feedback from the couple.

“The Perloffs are by far the best and easiest to work with,” said Carp, whose fully automated, solar-powered greenhouse has webcams and weather stations. “They want to talk to the students and they’re really involved. They’ve been out twice since September, and they’re coming back in January and they want to see progress when they come.”

WIDE RANGE OF PROJECTS FUNDED

While many of the Perloff grants are geared toward science, technology, engineering and math, they have funded a range of projects. Their funds have gone to purchase everything from snowshoes to 3D printers for classroom projects. Over the years, they have funded:

An algae-to-biodiesel project.

A maple tree mapping project, with students later tapping the trees and producing maple syrup.

A greenhouse in Perry that provides food for the school, with enough left over to sell at a farm stand whose profits raise funds for the project.

3D printers at seven schools.

An archery project.

A portable puppet stage for an elementary school in Mars Hill.

Sandy Perloff admits to having some favorites, like the special-education class that got money to buy a cash register to learn math while the students operated a small rolling cart as a school store, selling pencils, erasers and similar items.

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