Thirty years ago, the Orcas Island Education Foundation (OIEF) was created by a forward-thinking group of parents and citizens. Kathy Youngren, its founder and first Board President, remembers,
Like many great things on Orcas Island it started with a group of self serving individuals. We had school-age children. As with many parents, wanting the best for our children, we explored sending our our boys to a private school. Then we realized we could make the ‘best’ right here on Orcas. We could work to make our public schools better than any private school.”
In its first press release, the OIEF Board introduced itself to the community this way:
The Foundation was formed to respond to the increasingly widespread interest in promoting excellence in our Public School system. With the full support of the School Board and administration, we will provide a means for the public and private sectors to work together, sharing a bond of mutual responsibility for the education of our youth. Our independent status will enable us to move with a speed and flexibility to enhance the educational offerings of the Orcas Public Schools without additional expenditures of local tax monies.”
It is remarkable that these formative principles of the Education Foundation have not changed during the ensuing thirty years. Also described in that first press release were the initial offerings of OIEF: “… to provide funding for classroom projects, field trips, enrichment opportunities. In addition, we will provide additional classroom teachers for honors classes and sponsor scholarships for graduating seniors. We hope to affect the education of every student at the school!”
Today, OIEF is still continuing the tradition of affecting the education of every student in our public schools – and in much the same way. Over the past 30 years, OIEF has looked to our community in big and small ways. And donors to the school have generously donated whenever asked. In 2008, the OISD was facing a financial crisis. In that year, it was looking to make a massive reduction in the teaching staff. This reduction would have crippled the schools’ educational programming. Heeding a call to action, OIEF went out to the community and raised over $250,000 in less than four months. The out-pouring of support by donors was staggering.
The OISD is in a better financial state. Funding, on both federal and state levels has improved, but does not allow the schools to provide any programs beyond basic education. There are virtually no art classes in the elementary and middle school. There is no theater arts program. Music is supported by the Music Advocacy Group and by OIEF. And highly capable classes are at a minimum, but OIEF supports Advanced Placement courses. We also provide scholarships for graduating seniors.
Today, just as it has for thirty years, the Orcas Island Education Foundation is committed to excellence in education. We hope to continue that excellence well into the next thirty years, and beyond.