Friday, August 18 , 2017, 7:56 am | Fair 59º

 
 
 
 

Goleta Education Foundation Steps In to Even Out School Resources, Opportunities

Revitalization fuels success as organization matches philanthropic openings with student and classroom needs

Lisa and Noel Rivas are proud El Camino School parents, with one son, Ethan, an alum and another, Kyle, a current student. Lisa Rivas is board president of the Goleta Education Foundation, which works to support the mission of the Goleta Union School District and its nine elementary schools. Click to view larger
Lisa and Noel Rivas are proud El Camino School parents, with one son, Ethan, an alum and another, Kyle, a current student. Lisa Rivas is board president of the Goleta Education Foundation, which works to support the mission of the Goleta Union School District and its nine elementary schools. (Jessica Haro / Noozhawk photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: First in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation.]

Lemons, monarch butterflies and beaches are just a few things that are emblematic of the Goleta Valley. Anyone who grew up in the area or has raised kids there knows that great elementary schools belong at the top of that list.

The Goleta Union School District is encompasses nine elementary schools and serves 3,700 students in Goleta and the surrounding unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County.

Like many public school districts, the Goleta Union School District is supported by a foundation that helps fill in funding gaps. Founded in 1989, the original mission of the Goleta Education Foundation was to provide supplemental funding to district schools for art, music and physical education.

“It’s been a long-standing, wonderful organization supporting the school district for over 30 years,” said Superintendent Bill Banning, who is retiring June 30 after five years with the district and more than 35 in public education.

“But what’s happened in the last several years is it’s become a more focused, professional organization that has broadened the view of what they can accomplish.”

Lisa Murphy Rivas, board president of the Goleta Education Foundation, is the mother of two boys: one an alumnus of El Camino School, 5020 San Simeon Drive, and the other a current student there. She was first drawn to the foundation when she noticed it was missing funding opportunities.

“I was working at a company that had a corporate philanthropy component to it, and I would see requests come through from other education foundations that were significant and were being funded, yet the GEF was not submitting that level of request for support,” she told Noozhawk.

“In some cases they were being denied because their mission was so narrow.”

Not one to sit idle, Rivas became the driving force behind the reorganization that made the GEF the successful education foundation it is today.

The Rivas family — Lisa and Noel and sons Ethan and Kyle — at El Camino School. As board president of the Goleta Education Foundation, Lisa Rivas has seen the organization grow substantially over the last few years. “The resources are there, the teachers are there, the principals are there,” she says. “There are no bad schools in Goleta.” Click to view larger
The Rivas family — Lisa and Noel and sons Ethan and Kyle — at El Camino School. As board president of the Goleta Education Foundation, Lisa Rivas has seen the organization grow substantially over the last few years. “The resources are there, the teachers are there, the principals are there,” she says. “There are no bad schools in Goleta.” (Jessica Haro / Noozhawk photo)

To aid in the GEF’s revitalization, the Hutton Parker Foundation awarded the organization a foundation development grant.

“We went through a strategic plan process, which was fantastic,” said Luz Reyes-Martín, a foundation advisory board member and the president of the Goleta Union School District’​s Board of Trustees.

“We put good effort toward thinking, ‘What are some long-term goals? What are some things we can do as a foundation? How can we make an impact?’ So it’s been a lot of that planning process over the last few years.”

The GUSD superintendent and Reyes-Martín sit on the foundation’s nonvoting advisory board, along with the principals of each GUSD school.

“What I think is really special about the organization is the fact that they are interested in supporting every child, every school, but at the same time they’re aware of the inequities between schools in a district like ours,” Banning said.

“We go from a school where the percentage of students who are English-language learners, are living in poverty or are foster youth goes from as high as 75 percent at El Camino School to as low as 12 percent at Mountain View School.”

The difference in socioeconomic status between the nine schools manifests itself in their individual fundraising efforts — the amount of money a school can raise through a jog-a-thon is proportional to the socioeconomic status of the community it serves. The Goleta Education Foundation seeks to remedy that disparity.

Foundation board member Andrew Firestone, who has children at Mountain View School, is excited to see the organization realize its new mission.

“One of the first projects we were able to fund was the Teacher Presentation Centers, which are a way for teachers to be able to bring interactive lessons and programs into their classrooms,” he said.

“At Mountain View, we were lucky enough to have those in every classroom, but some schools were having to share them.”

The GEF provided the initial funding to bring these Teacher Presentation Centers — which consist of a flat screen, Apple TV, overhead camera and iPad — to every classroom in the district.

“It was a great way for the education foundation to get started, because it was something very tangible. We saw the fruits of our labor, and the community saw what it meant to get involved with the education foundation and what results it could provide.”

It’s by engaging the broader Goleta community, including business owners and private foundations, that the GEF has been able to secure funding previously unavailable to the district. The GEF facilitates this process by matching donors to projects within the district that fit their philanthropic goals.

For example, Deckers Brands provides ongoing support for literacy programs, and Montecito Bank & Trust supports programs directed to Title 1 schools, which have a high percentage of students from low-income families.

Other significant partners include Venoco, the Hutton Parker Foundation, Union Bank, Kristin Jackson Graphic Design, Goleta Chamber of Commerce and the James S. Bower Foundation.

Thanks in part to the resources funded through the Goleta Education Foundation, students at every GUSD school have access to a great education.

“Mountain View has a STEM lab, and El Camino has a STEM lab,” Rivas said. “The resources are there, the teachers are there, the principals are there. They’ve got leadership, they’ve got programs that will reach out to the English-language learners, they’ve got really great, great educational tools.

“There are no bad schools in Goleta.”

Noozhawk contributing writer Jessica Haro can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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