Brunswick school foundation gets $40K from former Bowdoin College president

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BRUNSWICK — Every year the school budget gets dissected, and every year School Board members and parents express dismay that certain projects, positions, or programs are cut.

Last year, a group of Brunswick parents got together to try to fill the funding gap.

The Brunswick Community Education Foundation, founded in 2014, was not born out of a specific “budgetary crisis,” Development Chairman Steve Perkinson said Wednesday, but as a way to “help teachers do the things they kind of dream of doing, but couldn’t ordinarily do through … the regular budget channels.”

In the past year, BCEF has awarded 20 grants totaling $35,000 to teachers in all four Brunswick public schools.

And this summer, the BCEF has received a new infusion of cash, with a $40,000 gift from outgoing Bowdoin College President Barry Mills and his wife Karen Mills.

Perkinson, an art teacher at Bowdoin, said he initiated conversations with the Millses.

“It was a very easy conversation to have,” he said. “I remember when I first came here Barry having spoken about one of the many, many things that drew him back to Bowdoin, and Brunswick, was his appreciation of the schools.”

“His sense was this was a good place for a family, for his three kids,” he said.

“The Brunswick public schools were a huge part of our lives for 14 years,” Mills said, speaking by phone Aug. 28.

All three of his sons attended the public schools while Mills was president at Bowdoin.

“They all had teachers that were really transformative,” he said. “The preparation they had in Brunswick public schools really set them up for life.”

Mills said it was his sons’ experiences that made him and his wife want to make the donation.

“We are in the position now to give back, and we heard about this new initiative,” he said. “Everyone knows the financial difficulties public schools face … (but) I have a lot of confidence in the people leading this initiative.”

BCEF does not accept gifts for specific projects or initiatives; money goes to providing grants for projects proposed by teachers.

The BCEF is structured so that teachers submit proposals to a reading committee, which then selects projects for awards.

Grant recipients last year included Luke Potter, a social studies teacher at Brunswick High School, who bought a 3-D printer so his students could create replicas of historical artifacts.

Mary Lancaster, a second-grade teacher at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School, used her grant to bring in Wind Over Wings, an organization that uses rescued birds of prey to teach about conservation.

“That was just fantastic,” Perkinson said.

Perkinson said BCEF Secretary Sarah Chingos went to the School Department’s kick-off meeting for teachers this year to announce the Mills gift.

The experience was, according to her, “incredibly moving.”

 “At a time when public education is facing a lot of challenges … to get that vote of confidence … was really something,” Perkinson said.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Hope Douglas, of the conservation group Wind Over Wings, stands with a rescued owl on June 3 at a presentation at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School in Brunswick. Second-grade teacher Mary Lancaster used a grant from the Brunswick Community Education Foundation to bring the group to the school.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.