There's a plan under way to establish a foundation for the Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School District. The first meeting dedicated to that purpose, held back in January, quickly revealed differences in people's thinking about foundations in general and this proposed C-LV experiment in particular. Initial questions were interesting: What sort of foundation is being suggested? Is such an idea workable here? And if so, just what shape should it take, and in what direction should it move?
Prototypes of other school districts' foundation-building efforts were distributed and studied. Every sample turned out to be, essentially, a means of securing long-term funding for the district. Without exception, the plans emphasized acquisition of money from the community or, hopefully, from outside sources like grants or endowments. It was explained that such funds could be used for projects and activities that might not otherwise be provided for within the normal budgeting process.
Several residents in attendance suggested that in the Cattaraugus/Little Valley communities, a different emphasis might prove more workable. It was pointed out that although school personnel are very proud of the new building and its accoutrements, many residents feel uncomfortable (even unwelcome) in the building which they're supporting with ever-rising taxes. Some feel they already finance 'extras' which contribute little or nothing to their children's education.
By the committee's third meeting, held March 15, in the high school library, its numbers had dwindled noticeably. Either there was little interest in the proposed foundation--or little hope for its success--or people were just too busy. Despite this apparent lack of enthusiasm and an abundance of wildly divergent opinions, the group persevered.
A break-through came, when the committee realized that resolving such differences could become, in itself, a legitimate function of the foundation-to-be. Although fund-raising efforts would doubtless be necessary, they could be relegated to secondary importance, behind the more pressing need of forging closer bonds between the school and the people from the broader community. Building on their differences, committee members hammered out the following mission statement for the as yet un-named foundation:
"To encourage and provide social, cultural, civic and educational support for the community as a whole."
Even these few words were achieved only after a number of false starts, and presumably, they still remain open to change. The terminology chosen by the group reflected their determination to foster unity over division.
For instance, the term "community as a whole" was meant to refer to both the school population and that of the two villages and three hamlets making up the school district. The phrase was selected for its inclusiveness, encompassing not only students and school staff, but also parents and other residents, as well as businesses throughout the district.
The word, 'support' was another deliberate choice, since it could mean not just financial, but psychological and moral support, as well. It could also imply a two-way street--where not only do residents support the school, but also the school supports the residents.
As the foundation's objective took on this broader focus, the committee's enthusiasm grew accordingly. Ideas for fostering closer relationships between district residents and the school began to fly. One suggestion that quickly caught fire, was that of staging a community theater production. This was immediately viewed as an enterprise capable of pulling together students and residents from all over the district in an exciting and challenging project. It could draw on untapped talents and encompass all age groups.
Other proposals followed--such as forming a community band, something that used to be part of every small townor opening up the school's weight room to the public--or putting on a musical review or talent showor holding a golf tournament/pig roast. Every idea promoted activities that could help everyone view the school as "theirs," and would integrate various age and interest groups, both in and out of school.
In view of the small turnout at the third meeting, the committee decided it was important to reach out again to the public, in an effort to draw in people who could view the foundation in a positive light. To those who had managed to arrive at a consensus on the "Mission Statement," the plan suddenly showed the potential of becoming a healing force within a district that had never quite come to see itself as one.
The very first of five possible tenets drawn up for the foundation emphasizes this quest for harmony:
Create and/or enhance communication and collaboration between residents, organizations, municipalities and the school and school alumni.
Provide opportunities for volunteer service and/or activities to answer needs and desires of the community.
Create and/or enhance educational, experiential, social, civic and cultural opportunities by providing leadership and funding.
Actively pursue funding to fulfill the organization's mission.
Provide an avenue for receipt and management of bequests, gifts and donations for enhancing the quality of life in the community.
At a meeting held March 29, interest appeared to be on the upswing, as a number of new faces showed themselves. They read the mission statement and tenets, offering some valid additions.
As that meeting drew to a close, School Superintendent Jon Peterson said he wanted to make clear that neither he nor any other administrator or board member would be holding office or sitting on the foundation's board of directors. Once established, the organization's future will be in the hands of its members.
The group's first order of business at its next meeting, 7:00 p.m. April 20th, will be to elect officers and a board of directors. After that, by-laws will have to be drawn up and forms filed to start the process of setting up the foundation as a not-for-profit organization. Also, a name must be agreed on. The meeting closed with guarded optimism that the foundation and its mission may yet become a reality and an asset, not only to the school, but to the surrounding community.
Anyone wishing to join this inter-community effort is urged to attend.