Lee County Schools
ExPECT back in action
Private sector organization’s fund-raising under way
DATE MAY BE INCORRECT
By Monique Harrison
As the newly named chairman of the board for ExPECT, the organization designed to raise private money for Lee County Schools, Bill Williams knows he has a struggle on his hands.
Williams is charged with reviving the non-profit organization, which has been all but defunct the past several years, as involvement and public interest has fizzled.
“There’s a difference in trying to resuscitate a program and trying to start one from scratch,” Williams said. “In some respects, it might be more difficult to try to revive this than to start it. But I feel like we have some quality leadership involved. If we keep focused on the mission of ExPECT, it will be easier to be successful.”
The program provided numerous mini-grants to teachers, along with larger school grants from 1989 through about 1992, district officials say.
The grants were used to provide schools with items used to enhance classroom teachers. A variety of items, including aquariums, book-binders, computer equipment and paperback books were purchased with the money raised from county businesses and individuals.
But since the 1992-93 school year, the organization’s board has been inactive.
“There were some businesses and individuals who continued to support ExPECT even though the board was inactive,” Williams said. “And we continued to receive money from the United Way. But other than that, nothing was really done to raise money.”
The United Way contributed $6,000 to ExPECT this year, officials said.
A need for unity
Williams and other organization leaders say ExPECT’s struggle is due in part to the fact that board members are located in communities across the county, representing schools in Guntown, Saltillo, Mooreville, Plantersville, Shannon and Verona.
“In Tupelo, everyone that works with the (Association for Excellence in Education) knows everyone else,” said Lee County Schools elementary curriculum coordinator Amelia Anglin. “Tupelo has a very close-knit group of leaders because they all live together and work together. In the county, where the schools are so spread out, the board members don’t know each other. It’s harder to pool resources. That’s not the fault of former leadership of the board. It’s just something we have to deal with.”
This summer, Williams and other ExPECT board members plan to begin intensive fund raising efforts, visiting Lee County businesses and requesting financial support. They also plan to speak to county civic groups.
“Some of these businesses have given before, and all they need is a little prodding,” he said. “We’re going to be doing that.”
Little response on current drive
A current fund raising effort has been less successful than ExPECT supporters had hoped.
Earlier this month, all Lee County Schools parents received letters asking for their financial support. Parents were asked to contribute $1 for each child they had enrolled in the school system.
“We thought this would be a good start,” Williams said. “We knew it wasn’t anything dramatic, but we thought it would generate some interest.”
But only a few parents at each school returned the forms.
“Response was low in my class and from what I’m hearing, that’s the case school-wide,” said Nancy Tennison, who teaches first-grade at Saltillo Elementary. “I think that’s because other things are going on right now. It was really hard for us to get behind this and promote it as much as we would like to. I’d recommend doing this again in the fall, before everything gets so hectic.”
Williams said he knew he could have problems raising the money at this point in the year, but said he wanted to use the drive to at least garner some publicity for the organization.
Several teachers – including a number who have received mini-grants from ExPECT in the past – said they were excited about the prospect of having ExPECT back in full swing.
Teachers supportive of efforts
Verona’s Charlotte Leake received a large aquarium for her sixth-grade science class several years ago.
“We were studying the types of fish and how they eat,” Leake said. “We discussed plants, habitations and things like that. The aquarium provided students with something they could actually look at, while they were learning about the fish in class. They could sit at their seats and see the aquarium.”
Leake said her students would have never had the aquarium, without funding provided by ExPECT.
“If I’d gone out and bought an aquarium, it would have been a very small one, and it wouldn’t have been as effective,” said Leake, who now teaches sixth-grade reading and English. “ExPECT really enhanced our classroom activities. I’m excited to hear they are planning to start raising more money.”
A no-frills budget
Lee County Schools business manager Dan Seal said the district simply doesn’t have enough money to provide teachers with supplemental materials designed to enhance classroom learning.
“It’s very difficult to find the money,” Seal said. “Especially right now, when we are seeing a decrease in our state funding and there’s the possibility of a decrease in federal funding. We are fortunate to have a growing tax base in this area, but in the area of educational enhancement, there’s a great need.”
“Unfunded mandates cause problems for us,” Superintendent Lynn Lindsey said, referring to state requirements that accredited districts hire music and art teachers, librarians and numerous other employees, without providing the funding to pay the added personnel. “When we get through paying for all those people, I don’t feel like there’s much money left over to do anything extra. That’s typical of a district our size. Maybe ExPECT can help in that area.”