Saturday, December 27, 2014

FTIS: What's the Recipe for A Strong School District?



If you live in Northern Kentucky, then you have heard of Fort Thomas Independent Schools (FTIS). You know that it has a championed football team and excellent state test scores. You may have even heard that the state’s School Facilities Construction Committee (SFCC) selected one of its elementary schools to be the recipient of a multi-million dollar renovation.

What you may not know, however, is the recipe to the District’s success. What actually makes it so winning and why did the SFCC select it to receive funding?

According to the language outlined by the SFCC, significant local efforts were a requirement to its selection process, which are explained by local efforts to support facilities in a school system. In Fort Thomas, the following five parties have consistently contributed to significant local efforts: (1) district administration, (2) general community members, (3) Fort Thomas Education Foundation, (4) Parent Teacher Organizations and (5) Kentucky State Legislature. Their combined dedication to the educational system creates the District’s recipe for success.

Superintendent of Fort Thomas Independent Schools Gene Kirchner says, “Districts like ours are finally being rewarded for everything they do. It seems appropriate that this holiday season we take time to recognize the collaborative spirit that constitutes a successful school system. Our significant local efforts allowed us to meet certain criteria required to receive this great funding.”

According to Kirchner, twelve cents of every tax dollar is automatically allocated for facilities funding, thus making the district administration the first ingredient to the recipe for a successful school system. Additionally, the District sets money aside in a general fund for special projects.

The second ingredient to this recipe is a lot of love and support from the community. Lori Valentine, community member and business owner of Fort Thomas Coffee, says, “Our schools represent the very best of Fort Thomas. They are the heart of a town with a passion for great schools, and they reinforce a commitment to being a productive and contributing citizen.”

Not many public school districts in the state of Kentucky have education foundations like the Fort Thomas Education Foundation, another crucial ingredient to the recipe for a successful school. Over the years the FTEF has raised almost $10 million dollars for the District, with a majority of those funds allocated to facilities’ updates.

FTEF Board President Chuck Thompson says, "Our community should be proud that its generosity, as demonstrated by its giving to the Fort Thomas Education Foundation, is recognized by the Kentucky Department of Education and the State Legislature.  We have been identified as a community that is willing to privately contribute to the education of our children which resulted in the State Legislature designating millions of dollars for the renovation or replacement of Moyer Elementary School." 

As important to this recipe as sprinkles to sugar cookies are the Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO). Each school within the District has a PTO or PTSO consisting of parents, teachers and sometimes students, who are responsible for many programs and activities within the schools. Recently, the PTO at Moyer Elementary School worked with the Boosters to provide funding for the replacement of its gym floor.

PTO President of Johnson Elementary School Andrea Surrey states, “Parent involvement is the thing that sets the Fort Thomas Independent School District apart from others. Our biggest fundraiser of the year, The Hullabaloo, requires 200 volunteers. Year after year, we have parents, grandparents and students give their time to make this event, and other fundraisers, a huge success.  It is so nice to be a part of a community that is willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard to make our children’s educational experience exceptional.”

And finally, add a dash of government support to complete the recipe for a successful school. Kentucky State Senator Katie Stine is a Fort Thomas resident and a Highlands alumnus. Additionally, she is a committed community member and has worked diligently with the district administration and the FTEF. Over the years she has created and amended bills in order to better the school system. “A lot of what occurs in Frankfort is like building a house. You have to keep adding to the foundation year after year in order to make something happen,” says Stine.

In 2005, Stine was able to get Woodfill Elementary School classified as a Category 5 school that enabled it to receive renovation funding by the Kentucky Department of Education. The following year, Stine collaborated with the FTEF about the need for a Performing Arts Center at Highlands High School for which she was able to allocate $1.4 million dollars to its construction. Most recently, Senator Stine was able to add specific language to the Budget Bill that defined significant local efforts to benefit school districts like FTIS.

When asked what it would take to help Johnson Elementary School rise to the top of the SFCC list for renovation funding in the near future, Stine responded, “Fort Thomas has a tradition of excellence because the community has gotten engaged. The community needs to continue its support for the schools by attending fundraisers and making donations that help contribute to the needs in a facility.” Stine continued, “Encourage legislators to lobby for more funding to be allocated in the Budget to meet our SFCC needs.”

The FTEF is excited to announce the recent appointment of Adam Caswell to its Board. Caswell is vice president of public affairs at the NKY Chamber of Commerce. “It’s an honor to represent the interests of the business community in Frankfort and I’m looking forward to using that experience to help serve the will of the Fort Thomas Education Foundation,” says Caswell.

If there is one recipe worth saving this holiday season, it is Fort Thomas Independent Schools’ recipe for a successful school system. Happy holidays!

- via Fort Thomas Independent Schools

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