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Spearfish Foundation for Public Education celebrates 20 years

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Since its start two decades ago, the Spearfish Foundation for Public Education has granted approximately $850,000 to teachers in the Spearfish School District as part of its mission to sustain great schools.

“Since the beginning in 2001, the SFPE has been working with an ever-growing network of community supporters to invest in the success of the children in Spearfish,” Mary Pochop, chairperson of the board of directors, said. “Our foundation is committed to sustaining great schools. Every year, SFPE and its supporters make investments of time, money, and energy – all aimed at strengthening our community's schools, its students, and its future. We continue to work closely with the Spearfish School District, even though we are a separate entity, and together, our partnership allows members of the community to invest in the success of any and all of the classrooms, programs, and activities of the Spearfish schools.”

The SFPE was chartered in 2001 by a group of concerned citizens as a response to budget constraints in the school district. Its grants to K-12 teachers support educational programs that provide enrichment learning, innovation in the classroom, or meet specific needs of students.

Each semester, teachers may apply for grants through the foundation, and if awarded, are provided funding so the programming can take place in their classrooms. The foundation also hosts events to support the teachers and staff, such as the annual Back to School Picnic.

Seventh-grade English and language arts teacher Kathy Wolff said it would be nearly impossible to summarize the scope of impact the foundation has had on Spearfish teachers and students.

“I would be hard pressed to find any student or teacher whose classroom has not received funding for special and unique projects from this amazing group,” she said. “Their dedication to extending the learning opportunities in Spearfish is noteworthy, and the support from the community is unprecedented in most towns. I don’t think we could ever express how much the Foundation is appreciated in our schools.”

Liz Manning has served on the foundation’s board since 2003, was president from 2007-18, and continues to serve as an ex-officio board member. She described that while the board is involved in seeking, organizing, funding, and often providing creative impetus for programs and projects, the classroom teachers are the basis of what the foundation does.

“They identify the need and then create a plan to meet the need, detail by detail,” she said. “One of the goals of the SFPE is to be an integral part of our school system, to be there when they need us, and to be a positive force there.”

Manning said the foundation seeks to identify and reward innovative programs in the classroom through FISH (Fostering Innovation in the School House) grants, which have supported programs in math, science, cultural diversity, problem solving, public service, arts, music, intergenerational communication, and more.

In addition, the SFPE sponsors several long-standing successful programs with an emphasis on academic excellence through Signature grants, which have supported elementary science camps, middle school science fairs, accelerated government classes, cultural and scientific field trips, and more.

Pochop joined the board in 2011 and described how everything – from the events the foundation hosts or sponsors, to the grants it funds – have nearly tripled in size in the last decade.

“Yet, our mission remains the same: Promote financial and community investment in academic programs within the Spearfish School District,” she said.

Pochop said the steady increase of teachers applying for FISH grants each semester, especially after going through COVID, shows the dedication and foresight of the teachers and administrators in providing a higher level of education for students, and yearly Signature grants continue to provide stability to top-notch programs. Without SFPE funding, many of these programs would not exist, such as ASAP (After School Assistance Program) and Spartan Splendors Enrichment Learning.

Pochop added that in 2020, the Foundation reached another milestone by setting up an investment account for a future endowment, which will provide funding for generations to come.

“In the last 20 years, the SFPE has gained in stature and support in our community and is recognized as a successful addition to the educational system,” Manning said. “We are proud of these accomplishments and dedicated to continued investment in excellence.”

Manning encouraged everyone to invest in sustaining great schools in Spearfish.

“Great schools are a foundation: A foundation for better jobs, for bigger dreams, and for brighter futures – for our children and our community,” she said. “Help us build on the foundation of great schools by investing in the success of Spearfish’s schools.”

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