The Mounds View Schools Education Foundation has appointed Steve Yoch as board president.
Yoch has served on the board in various roles for more than four years, including treasurer and vice president.
“He brings incredible energy and expertise to the organization and has a deep passion for our schools, having been a student and parent in the district,” said Jon Weinhagen, former board president and current school board member. “I look forward to being a part of the foundation’s continued success under his leadership.”
From the 621 Foundation to now
For the past 30 years, the foundation has worked to support the district and its students. When it began in the mid 1980s, the Mounds View School District was struggling and was short millions of dollars in state and local aid. A group of concerned parents, educators and community leaders came together to establish the foundation, designed to serve as a “conduit for gifts and non-traditional sources of revenue for the district.”
It began as the District 621 Foundation. With a 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, the foundation had an initial mission of providing micro grants to individual classrooms.
Now celebrating its 30-year mark, the foundation has grown and evolved. In 2010, the foundation was renamed the Mounds View Schools Education Foundation.
Formally, the foundation funded itself through charitable gaming. After the realization that this model was not sustainable, the foundation took on a new perspective and strategy. It now takes a philanthropic approach to fundraising, engaging community members of the district that connect to the foundation mission.
“There are very few people who aren’t touched by public education,” said Heather Meyer, the foundation’s executive director. “There are many people who went through our school district who now have families of their own who have returned to the community. Their experience was so positive that they want their children to have the same opportunities.”
“It’s about the strength and the quality of the experience as a whole, and that’s where we come in,” Meyer added.
Under the new model, board members and leaders must be fully committed to the foundation’s mission.
“Without the right people, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing. A number of years back, [the foundation’s board members] didn’t need to be leaders like they do now,” Meyer said. “Now our board has taken on a completely different function in terms of being able to connect with our community and needing to be present, there’s a whole different expectation on who our leadership is now. As a whole, we have highly engaged board members who really have the best interests of the organization at heart and they are doing the best that they can to fully support our vision.”
Equal opportunities for all
Although the foundation is independent from the school district, the leaders work together to target how to best use the funding.
One of the main goals of the foundation is to ensure that every student within the school district is benefited by the funds that are raised. The foundation also aims to use the funding to provide equal opportunities for all students, regardless of financial circumstances.
One of its first initiatives under the new approach was to fund the ACT for all students in the district.
Members of the foundation realized that it could be prohibitive for students to get to testing centers or were unable to pay for the test. Under these circumstances, students who were on the cusp of trying to figure of post-secondary plans were limited.
“This really limited their vision,” Meyer said. “Let’s say their parents weren’t really educated on what it meant to take the ACT and why it was important. This initiative was able to level the playing field.”
The foundation funded the ACT for all juniors in the district and also provided in-house testing. The initiative proved to be so successful that the State of Minnesota took it over and now provides funds to enable all students to take the ACT.
Other initiatives include funding kindergarten literacy programs, STEM science fair, provide musical instruments and provide funding for students to go to the district’s environmental center, among many other programs.
A new initiative that the foundation assists with is Intentional Social Interaction (ISI, pronounced “Izzy”), a program designed to encourage everyone in the district to get involved and talk about important topics. The foundation provides funding for dinner at the student-led event, where parents, staff, community members and students have conversations about educations and other topics. The “Izzy” event has a goal of breaking down barriers and making everyone feel comfortable to participate.
“It’s been a really successful way to get parents more engaged and involved in the schools,” Yoch shared.
The foundation also administers scholarships for students in the district. Community members interested in donating to the district can give through the foundation. Most notably, the Bailiff family donated a record-breaking $750,000 to fund the Equity Promise Scholarship last year. Another notable scholarship includes the Hoverman Family Scholarship, named after longtime district superintendent Dan Hoverman.
The year ahead
With a new model and strong leadership, the foundation is working to continue its mission to benefit all district students. Yoch said he is looking forward to the year ahead and believes it is a very exciting time for both the district and the foundation.
“In many ways, I like to call us a 30-year startup,” Yoch said. “We have changed our funding model, we’ve changed who is on the board, we’ve created new programs. So we’ve created a legacy of being around for a long time, but we’re more energized than we ever have been.”
“It’s not with the goal of sustaining and keeping the ship above water, but instead it’s plowing through the waves and really making a difference in every child’s school experience,” he said.
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