ORANGE PARK – Even as the Clay County School Board tries to find a way get more funding with a half-cent sales tax on a special election ballot, a local nonprofit works year-round to provide …
ORANGE PARK – Even as the Clay County School Board tries to find a way get more funding with a half-cent sales tax on a special election ballot, a local nonprofit works year-round to provide funding to teachers to enrich their students’ experience.
The Clay County Education Foundation went from the planning stage to an official nonprofit in 1988 to provide additional support to teachers and students with funding, supplies and programs. For more than 30 years, the foundation was made up completely of volunteers. This year, however, it hired its first-ever paid staff in the form of its new executive director, Makayla Buchanan.
“I’m honored and humbled to be a part of this,” Buchanan said. “Growing up with parents in the school system, everyone around us was an educator and I always heard about the importance of public education so to spearhead this nonprofit and bring tools, resources and opportunities for the county, I’m really happy. I enjoy this because I remember people doing that for us when I was in school.”
The Clay County Education Foundation is a coalition of businesses, community members and education leaders unified to support public education by raising public and private dollars to cover what tax dollars can’t support.
While the foundation is responsible for a lot of support within the school district – the foundation has handed checks to the district on numerous occasions – Buchanan said there are three large programs that make up most of its work.
The first program is known as Grants for Great Ideas, a program that teachers can apply for and receive up to $500 for science, technology, engineering, math, art, literature or career technical education.
“They can use that money for innovative projects not funded by the district that they can bring to students in their classroom,” Buchanan said. “It can be used for hands-on activities, robots and Legos for students to code with or even just books for the classroom library.”
Buchanan said that in 2018, the foundation gave out $54,000 in more than 100 grants. Of the district’s 42 schools, 41 received a grant, and Buchanan hopes to see every school receive a grant this year as every teacher is eligible to apply.
The second program is called Tools for Clay Schools and it’s a supply drive. Buchanan said the foundation has collection boxes placed throughout the community in places like the Garber Automall and Spring Park Coffee where anyone can drop off supplies for teachers and students to use.
“Teachers spend a lot of their own money on supplies,” Buchanan said. “On average, $500 a year and I know folks who spend more than that so we’re trying to ease that burden on them and ensure they have the necessary tools to do what they need to do.”
The third program is called Night of Stars, and according to Buchanan, it’s the foundation’s own version of teacher and school-related employee of the year.
“Historically, before I jumped on board in February, a lot of the money we received came from grants,” Buchanan said. “Since I’ve jumped on, we’ve upped our local fundraising efforts so we aren’t relying on grants as much. We knock door-to-door from small local businesses to large ones and we try and partner with these businesses to support local education.”
“Most of these local business owners went to Clay County schools and they understand the importance of it, so we’ve found great success with these kind of relationships,” Buchanan said.
Currently, 60% of the foundation’s funds come from grants and 40% comes from business owners.
“If we raise $70,000, which we think is possible, [the State of Florida] matches it and now we’ve doubled our impact with little to no effort,” Buchanan said. “The stipulation is we have to spend it in six areas: literacy, STEM, technical education, at-risk students, low income and teacher quality. Fortunately, everything we do already falls into those six categories.”
Buchanan said the Clay County Education Foundation is excited for the new school year, which, she said, is usually the slowest part of the year.
“We spend our summer working hard to raise money because we have to have all of our money in the bank account by August for Florida to match,” Buchanan said. “They check in August and match whatever is in there so we usually use summer as a good time for fundraising efforts.”
Buchanan said summer is more about brainstorming than anything else. It’s the season where the foundation holds its large annual meeting where the nonprofit brainstorms new opportunities and programs for students, teachers and local businesses.
The next event the foundation is the Tools for Clay Schools event on Aug. 9 at 2 p.m. at the Fleming Island High’s new AICE testing center, where teachers can shop for free supplies.