Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation hits funding milestone

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Total grant awards by the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation have now exceeded $1 million.

The non-profit organization, founded in 2001 to support the town’s schools, teachers and students, eclipsed the $1 million mark during its fall 2013 award cycle, when it awarded more than $49,500 across the town’s schools.

“We’re blessed with amazing educators in Cape Elizabeth, so their ideas are always exciting and innovative and really unique and different,” said Jennifer Scarpitti-Nelson, co-president of the foundation with former Town Councilor Frank Governali. “Sometimes we wish we had an unlimited budget.”

The fall’s largest award went to the middle school, to fund reconfiguring the library as a library and learning commons, set to open in fall 2014, which will facilitate collaborative projects and multimedia presentations. The commons will be anchored by two library and instructional technology specialists, Amanda Kozaka and Jonathan Werner.

“It’s going to be a really changed and dynamic space,” Scarpitti-Nelson said.

The foundation engages in a near-constant dialogue with donors, and hosts several fundraisers, including an annual golf tournament and a biennial tour of home kitchens.

The foundation typically awards around $60,000 a year over two grant cycles, although that figure has more than doubled in some years, for example, to seed projects like an elementary school math lab, created in 2008, or the high school achievement center – a combination writing center, tutoring and test-preparation space that opened in 2005.

Teachers and administrators craft grant applications for each award cycle. In addition to submitting a written proposal, grant seekers make a 15-minute presentation to the foundation’s grant committee, which includes representatives from each of the town’s three schools and three community advisers – non-board members who weigh in on the grant process.

“Having those voices is very important,” Scarpitti-Nelson said. “People who are invested in our schools, but provide a different perspective from those of us who are buried in every detail of the education foundation.”

Ultimately, the committee recommends to the board which grants to fund, and whether to fund them in part or in full.

In recent years, as the recession has tightened school budgets, the foundation has become a valuable source of professional development opportunities and other teacher resources that might once have come from the schools themselves.

“We encourage teachers to think outside the box, to request things they’d like to see in their classroom that may not be possible through the normal budget process,” Scarpitti-Nelson said.

Governali said the foundation tries to help educators realize their visions.

“We’re limited only by the teachers’ imaginations,” he said.

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.