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North Hall parents band to help schools
Foundation raises funds to pay for education expenses
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North Hall Middle School Principal Brad Brown goes through a box of graphing calculators that the school purchased using money from the North Hall Community Education Foundation. The school purchased a set of the devices valued at $100 each. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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North Hall teacher Sharon Hartis explain why she wanted to initiate the North Hall Community Education Foundation.
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Contact: North Hall Community Education Foundation, 770-532-0067; www.nhcef.org.

Rather than watching from the sidelines as state education funding dwindled, a group of North Hall residents banded together to take their children’s education into their own hands.

North Hall teachers and parents established the North Hall Community Education Foundation, a sort of academic booster club, in July four years ago. Since its inception, the nonprofit foundation has contributed $65,000 to five North Hall schools by collecting community donations through fall phone-a-thons.

Principals at Mount Vernon, Riverbend and Wauka Mountain elementaries and those at North Hall middle and high schools each received about $13,000 over the past three years to be spent on school supplies to augment state and local funds.

Jean Ellis is one of the founders of the community organization and has had one child graduate from North Hall High. She said the private foundation was needed to provide the “extras” needed to enhance public education and provide the tools teachers need to give students a quality education.

“With the state funding the way it has been, especially in the past year, the need is greater for the foundation now that it was when we started it,” Ellis said. “... Even though I won’t have a child who will directly benefit, it will benefit everyone in this community because we are shaping the leaders of tomorrow. I just think it’s so important for every parent to become involved in their children’s schools.”

School leaders used the funds to purchase math and reading computer programs for elementary school students, high-tech graphing calculators for middle school students and pricey classroom items such as a $1,000 world map for high school students, former foundation president Thad McCormack said.

And funds from the foundation also spurred North Hall High and North Hall Middle’s Renaissance program. The program rewards students who have perfect attendance and good grades with discount cards that can be used at local restaurants, car washes and businesses that volunteered to support North Hall schools.

Sharon Hartis, a North Hall High English teacher, was one of the teachers who pitched the idea for the foundation to the community. She said with no parent-teacher organization at the high school to turn to for financial assistance, she felt she could do a lot more in the classroom if she had a little extra financial help.

“There’s just nowhere for a high school teacher to go to get extra funding for a classroom activity,” Hartis said.

And because teachers aren’t receiving their annual $100 “Sonny Money” gift certificate from Gov. Sonny Perdue this year, the foundation has taken on a new significance.

She said from cough drops to computer programs, teachers are purchasing small classroom items that school systems can’t afford to provide in these difficult economic times.

McCormack said while the foundation benefits students, it’s exciting for foundation volunteers to see just how “thrilled” teachers and administrators are to receive the big check.

North Hall Middle School Principal Brad Brown said the $13,000 the North Hall Community Education Foundation provided his school has proved to be a meaningful contribution.

“That’s certainly a substantial amount of money to make a difference in the lives of kids,” he said. “It helps bridge the gap of the shortfall from the economy nowadays. We couldn’t operate without them. They’ve been a blessing to our school and our community. I’m very thankful for the support from the foundation.”

Hartis said in a year when the state has cut national board certified teacher salaries by about $5,000 each, and the Hall County Board of Education imposed a 2.4 percent pay cut to other teachers, the community’s generous support through the foundation makes her feel appreciated.

“It gives you a sense of community. It really adds to the positive atmosphere of the community to know you have the support of the people out there, outside the walls of the school,” she said. “It’s very rewarding for a teacher to know there’s somebody out there who supports them, because systems really are financially strapped.”

McCormack said the foundation is open to helping other communities get their own educational foundations off the ground.
“We want everybody to benefit,” he said. “There’s a learning curve, so we’ll be glad to show them how we started and the mistakes we made and what not to do and what to do.”

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