Historically, state money has been the primary source of school funding in Kansas. Many years ago, a small group of parents and community members cared enough about the education of their children and other students in the Andover school district to want more for them.
"Twenty years ago we felt like state money was just not enough to give our kids the kind of education we wanted them to have," Melinda Fritze said. "That's how it was all conceived. We wanted to give our students opportunities above and beyond what the state could provide."
Currently a member of the UDS 385 Board of Education, Fritze was a member of a steering committee that began researching this topic long ago. It took them several years to develop the infrastructure for an endowment that would, hopefully, provide financial support to preserve, maintain and improve public school education in Andover.
Seeing this as a long-term need, the Andover Advantage Foundation was established to extend into the future. Fifteen years later, the Foundation is still going strong. And it is just as needed as ever.
"When we set this up, we didn't realize state funding would continue to fall off every year," Fritze said. "As K-12 funding from the state continues to decline, I think our parents continue to see a need in the district for outside funds."
All of the money raised by the Foundation comes from private donors, most of which is received through the AAF annual fall campaign that began Oct. 3. This campaign, along with a less intense one in the spring, are the Foundation's primary sources of money.
Funds donated are used exclusively for educational experiences that include teacher grants, programs that directly benefit students, and equipment to supplement programs that challenge students at all levels. AAF grants do not replace state and local funds for school operating expenses.
Nancy Lusk, a member of the Andover community, and former school superintendent Patrick Terry conceived the original idea for the Foundation. In addition to Lusk, Terry and Fritze, the initial steering committee consisted of a mix of community members and business leaders. It included Kurt and Sue Watson, Dale Graham, Lane Kvasnicka and Sheri Geisler.
The landscape is much different now then it was in 1996 when the Foundation came into being. Back then, the district only had 2,500 kids with one high school, one brand new middle school and an elementary school. Now, according to Fritze, the district has 5,600 students, 10 buildings and eCademy.
"The importance of the Andover Advantage Foundation is seen now more than ever," USD 385 Superintendent Mark Evans said. "This organization was created by parents, is led by parents, and touches every school in the district with additional classroom support, as well as special projects."
Page 2 of 2 - The AAF awards Academic Advantage Grants that encourage Andover teachers to expand existing curriculum and develop new and innovative approaches to teaching. To receive a grant for the current school year, teachers submit a request to AAF by Oct. 1.
Grants have been awarded in nearly every area of academics, including math, science, foreign languages, social studies, physical education, music and special education. A grant committee looks at all requests to determine which ones should be funded.
"We look at how many students are impacted by the grant, and if those dollars meet state standards we're trying to achieve," Fritze said. "We work with the district to make sure it's an approved curriculum, and if the district thinks it's a good idea and will improve student learning."
According to Kelly Niernberger, AAF administrator, the Foundation received 110 requests for grants last school year and approved 70 of them for a total of $70,388.29. Since its inception, AAF has awarded more than 700 grants, totaling more than $674,000.
"AAF has purchased all types of equipment," Niernberger said. "Past special projects include funding for PowerSchool, Podcasting, Listening Centers in every elementary classroom, ACTIVexpressions at upper schools, and ACTIVwands at elementary buildings."
The Foundation's current officers are Kevin Dreiling of Restaurant Management Company Inc., president; Jennifer Steinkamp of KU Medical Center-Wichita, vice president; Lynette Juresic of Kirkpatrick, Sprecker & Co. LLP, treasurer; Lindsay Hall of Wichita East High School, secretary; and Julie Huber of Equity Bank, member at large.
Other board members are Marcy DeKoning, Rick Griffin, Kathryn Lundrigan, Michelle Wickham, Chris Schultz, Julie Schillings and Jamie Williams.
The entire board has been busy planning the 2012-2013 Giving Campaign.
"It's all about the next 90 days," Dreiling said in September. "The first 30 days will be spent promoting AAF. Then we will raise the money and lastly we will give it away."
For more information about the AAF or to make a donation, either visit its website at www.andoveradvantage.org or send an email to email@example.com.
"The support of AAF is critical and helps to provide learning opportunities that are oftentimes beyond the classroom budget," Evans said. "We appreciate all the work they do to support the students and teachers in Andover Public Schools."