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Published: Monday, 1/20/2014 - Updated: 2 years ago

Sylvania Excellence Foundation begins hard drive for computers

David Berland says the foundation is looking at ways to raise its profile and its methods to raise funds to help with the Digital Learning Initiative. David Berland says the foundation is looking at ways to raise its profile and its methods to raise funds to help with the Digital Learning Initiative.
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The Sylvania Academic Excellence Foundation, a private organization that started with a financial bequest more than 20 years ago, is transforming itself into a fund-raising arm for the Sylvania School District’s Digital Learning Initiative.

“The Academic Excellence Foundation is one of the best-kept secrets in Sylvania. We don’t want it to be,” said David Berland, the foundation’s president and a Sylvania Schools parent.

For years, Mr. Berland said, board members have talked about generating more revenue. Such thinking intensified when Brad Rieger, Sylvania’s school superintendent, approached the foundation “about needing help for developing channels for private donation,” he said.

In the last year, the board and its bylaws were revised to support the transformation from a low-profile foundation that had provided grants for teachers and some school programs into a charity organization focused on supplying materials for an ever-changing digital landscape.

“One of our goals is to begin a capital campaign raising $2 million. We would like to have it in place by next year, with a three-to-five-year course,” Mr. Berland said.

The school board also is considering placing a 3.8-mill operating levy on the May ballot.

The foundation has engaged the services of Aly Sterling Philanthropy, a Toledo based fund-raising firm, to assist, Mr. Berland said. The foundation recently received a $500,000 bequest from Marjorie Fitkin, a teacher for more than 40 years who died last year.

Key to the digital initiative is to provide every Sylvania student with a Chromebook laptop computer. This year, the district will hand out about 1,600 such laptops, purchased with $600,000 from funds once earmarked to replace costlier desktop computers, officials said.

But that only provides for about one-fifth of the district’s 7,800 students.

“All the [state] testing is going online. We are getting kids now that are native digital,” said Nancy Crandell, the district’s communications director who also has been an Academic Excellence Foundation board member since 1996. Digital-based instruction places homework, books, and other assignments online, and allows teachers to instruct students using online software.

Begun in 1985 with a $10,000 bequest from Augustus Zimmerman, a school maintenance employee, the foundation has an endowment that produces $154,000 a year, Ms. Crandell said. It has administered more than $100,000 in grants to teachers, paid for fifth graders to attend the Challenger Learning Center in Oregon, and honored alumni in a hall of fame.

The 14-member board includes three district members: the superintendent, the communications director, and a school board member — currently Julie Hoffman.

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