Toyota fund to award school grants

By Chris Kieffer
Daily Journal

NEW ALBANY – Eight Northeast Mississippi school districts soon will receive grants from an endowment created by Toyota.

The $1 million in grants will be awarded in September and will be divided between the districts located in Lee, Pontotoc and Union counties. They were announced Monday during a news conference at the Magnolia Civic Center in New Albany.

“This will be the biggest endeavor we’ve made to put money in the hands of those who need it most, teachers and students,” said Doug Formby, Toyota Mississippi vice president and a member of the CREATE Foundation’s Toyota Educational Endowment Fund Advisory Committee.

Toyota committed in 2007 to donate $50 million over a 10-year period to enhance public education in the three counties that collaborated to attract the automaker. The committee was created to administer those funds.

The gift already has funded several projects, including training for teachers and administrators, a curriculum writing project, a peer tutoring program and academic summer camps for students. Plans continue to create a Wellspring Center for

Professional Futures that would teach students from the eight districts about a variety of highly-skilled professions.

Under this program, each district will submit a grant application by Aug. 15. Those will be reviewed by an external panel of educators, and the committee will make final recommendations.

“This is based on the belief the educators at the local school level have the best insight of what needs local schools have,” said CREATE Senior Consultant Charles Garrett.

Many of the superintendents present at Monday’s announcement said they plan to seek money to enhance technology. The Lee County School District would use it to add more computers for the laptop carts it purchased last year for all of its elementary and high schools, and Tupelo Schools would buy carts of Chromebooks for its third- to fifth-grade schools.

“So many demands are placed on the education system today,” said Lee County Superintendent Jimmy Weeks. “We get these demands and guidelines, but don’t get any help to do what we’re asked to do. Finally, we have someone say we want something from y’all, but we’re willing to help you do what you need to do.”

Pontotoc City Schools plan to use the money to purchase tablets for students, and New Albany would purchase laptops for third- to fifth-grade students. Nettleton plans to add SmartBoards to its high school and enhance its Homework Center that provides help to students after school.

“We want to make sure students have devices in school to impact what we are doing instructionally,” said Pontotoc City Schools Superintendent Karen Tutor.

CREATE President Mike Clayborne said the money would be distributed between the districts fairly and equitably, dependent upon the quality of the grant requests.

“We will consider student population, but all schools have certain needs regardless of size,” he said.

This year’s pilot program will be evaluated to determine if it will be repeated.

“We know there is a lot of need and each district has specific needs,” Formby said. “This won’t solve all of those. We know that. We want to see what hurdles we come across. We’ll see how this goes over the coming year.”

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com