Foundation seeks person to help ‘practical visionaries’


I thought about people like Wayne Pikal, Ramona de Rosales, Doug and Dee Thomas, Eric and Ella Mahmoud and Keith Lester this week. Foundation support helped these “practical visionaries” carry out their very good) ideas. This issue comes up, in part, because the Minnesota-based Bush Foundation seeks a new education director to help identify and support innovation in Minnesota and North and South Dakota.

Here are what some foundations have done in education and then information about Bush.

The Blandin Foundation empowered educators to set up new, research-based programs. Recently I mentioned a three-hour per day program in Little Falls High School taught by Pikal, a biology teacher, and English and social studies teachers. Students read and wrote about the Mississippi River and tested river quality of the water. Blandin Foundation helped start this.
With help from various foundations, Brooklyn Center Superintendent Lester brought together district and social service agencies in the district’s Middle-High School Building. This helps provide better service for students and families.

The Ford Foundation helped create Head Start, an early childhood program that works both with low-income families and their children. Not all early childhood programs are equally effective. But some have helped produce progress with youngsters that have lasted decades after youngsters participated.

Minnesota Initiative Funds helped establish “school-based entrepreneurship” programs in greater Minnesota. One is a Rothsay hardware store run by high school students. This attracted attention from the Wall Street Journal and National Enquirer.

The Annenberg and Gates foundations helped the Thomas start the nationally-known Minnesota New Country (charter) School (MNCS) in Henderson. A majority of the school’s board of directors are teachers working in the school: an example of true teacher empowerment. MNCS uses a project approach and has refined a “Hope Survey” to measure whether students are learning goal setting and persistence.

Cargill and other foundations helped the Mahmouds establish Harvest Prep. They’ve received national attention for success in closing achievement gaps between white and African American students.

Frey, Travelers and St. Paul foundations helped the Center for School Change (Nathan is the center’s director) bring together district and charter schools to increase the number of high school students taking challenging, college-level classes.

Target supported meetings convened by educators like Bondo Nyembwe, Ramona de Rosales, Kerry Felt and Catherine Rich to help parents understand how to select books for their young children, and gave them a book to read with their youngsters.

3M supports Project Lead the Way to help promote stronger Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills.

Bush provides yearlong fellowships to help people implement ideas. (Note: some foundations named above helped support our work at the Center for School Change.)

That brings us back to Bush Foundation. Using funds earned from 3M, Archibald and Edyth Bush created the foundation. The foundation’s 2011 Annual Report says it donated $29.6 million, of which 41 percent, about $12 million, was in education. Its overall education goal the next decade is to “increase by 50 percent the number of students in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, from pre-kindergarten through college, who are on track to earn a degree after high school, and eliminate disparities among diverse student groups.”

Wise foundations look not only for good ideas, but also for people who can carry them out. Interested in Bush? Apply by Monday. Find details at

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change.  Reactions are welcome at [email protected]