An Interview with Karen Kovach Webb: Fund for Teachers

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

Fund for Teachers has an important contribution to make toward an expanded notion of what constitutes teacher’s professional development.

Karen, what exactly is this FUND FOR TEACHERS and where does this money come from?

Fund for Teachers has an important contribution to make toward an expanded notion of what constitutes teacher’s professional development. Quality, depth and authentic work with purposeful processes, skills and craftsmanship that will directly impart student learning as proposed by an individual or a team of teachers is what we aspire to fund with each of our grants. We are a donor supported public not-for-profit set up to fund the continuing, self-designed professional development and scholarly exploration of teachers. Research shows that teacher effectiveness is one of the most important factors for student achievement.

Founded ten years ago by Raymond Plank in an effort to change the learning experiences of American students; Fund for Teachers received seminal funding, along with early introductions to energy sector peers, from Apache Corporation. We continue to grow and diversify our outreach in alignment with an ever expanding donor base of individuals and corporations and an increasing number of strategic partnerships forged with a geographically diverse group of local education foundations.

Tell us about the application procedures- how many sheets of paper have to be filled out and can this be done on line?

Applications and the scoring rubric are available online, October 1st, through the January 28th deadline. Applicants fill out two online forms, and the proposal, which is comprised of seven sections. Proposals cannot exceed 18,000 characters (around 4 typed pages). The Fund for Teachers application is incredibly user friendly, and we take pride in our simple, but effective proposal requirements. Many grants seem overwhelming, strictly because of the application process. In addition to FAQ’s and very specific instructional information; the applicants may also participate in frequent webinars or attend local information sessions in person. Fund for Teachers has removed the “hoops” that so often prohibit teachers from applying.

Is this only for teachers or can guidance counselors, and computer support people also apply?

Our grants are available to PreK-12th grade “teachers” who have three years teaching experience and spend at least 50% of their fulltime position in a classroom or classroom like setting. Librarians, counselors and technology specialists who engage in classroom instruction with students for half of their work week are eligible.

Do you encourage national investigation or international?

We encourage teachers to make that decision for themselves. Some of the best work can take place in a teachers own “back yard”—if that is where they determine their questions can be answered. What makes Fund for Teachers so special, is the belief in a teacher’s knowledge and choice of what learning experience will be the best for their personal and professional growth AND what will translate into the most beneficial experience for their students and communities.

Could you just give us a few sample projects to whet the interest of teachers out there?

Fund for Teachers Fellowships are as unique as the teachers who design them. Here are a few:

  • Travel to England to explore the world of Harry Potter to bring literature to life in the classroom.
  • Study and chronicle early Roman architecture in order to enhance and enliven the teaching of mathematics through visual imagery.
  • Paddle a sea kayak the entire length of the Lower Mississippi River to conduct scientific research and develop a river ecology unit.
  • Follow the path of Georgia O’Keeffe across TX and NM looking at art, petro glyphs and pictographs, and attending a workshop at Ghost Ranch and International Folk Art Market.

Let’s face it- we would all like a vacation in Iceland, I mean Hawaii- but what are you looking for in terms of these grants?

Successful Fund for Teachers’ Fellowship proposals show evidence for the possibilities of both personal and professional growth for the teacher scholar, as well as project the potential impacts on their students’ learning. The rigor of the application is complimented by the rigor of the scoring rubric. The step by step on-line process allows the teacher to review both sets of criteria prior to making application.

How many people read and review these grants?

Applications are reviewed by committee assembled in each program locale of diverse group of community members. Each application is independently read and scored by a cluster of at least three individuals. Final scoring is determined by “cluster” group discussion. Last year, there were nearly 200 readers nationally. The same scoring rubric and selection process is used across the country. Funding is a collaborative decision based solely on the merit of the proposal as evaluated by the local cluster and the funds available. Committee members include past grant winners, donors, school or district leaders, and community volunteers.

Do you have a web site where teachers can get more information?

Teachers and all other interested parties are invited to visit www.fundforteachers.org.. Information may also be obtained by calling 800 681-2667 or by email to info@fundforteachers.org.

And what do you have for college professors to expand their horizons?

Fund for Teachers’ grants are designed specifically for PreK-12th grade teachers.

Young Entrepreneurs Learn Their Craft at English

The high school’s Entrepreneurship Class hosted a community-wide Holiday Bazaar.

Wagner Ríos
Jamaicaplain.patch.com

On Thursday, 22 English High Entrepreneurship Class students tested their newly-acquired business acumen by offering a variety of items for sale at the high school.

There was a festive atmosphere with dozens of youths — either Entrepreneurship Class participants or organizers and helpers — exhibiting a variety of items in colorful displays, and encouraging the public to make their holiday purchases. Class participants where distinguishable by their business attire.

Program organizers Meredith Innis and Wendy Lai lived and studied micro entrepreneurship (business initiatives funded with very small amounts of capital) in the Dominican Republic as 2010 Fund for Teachers Fellows.

The Fund for Teachers provides resources for educators to investigate their own areas of inquiry and then share their research and discoveries with their students. Both English High Entrepreneurship Class founders are now applying their learning to help students explore business opportunities.

Shortly after 10:00 am customers begun trickling in.

Lai explained that “A group of 22 students received a $50 loan each from the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, and after a careful market analysis purchased season items such as warm cloths, sports memorabilia, jewelry, gadgets popular with high school students like phone chargers, etc. The goal is to make a profit from the sale of the merchandise, part of which will be invested in micro entrepreneurship programs in developing countries.”

“I enrolled in the program” said student Armando Cruz, “to explore career choices: to decide whether I want to go into business by myself or into management; to look into different possibilities.”

The program provides a combination of classroom instruction and real world experience. The class studied business principles during the fall, and then traveled to New York City’s Garment District to purchase the items that were for sale at the bazaar.

The Entrepreneurship Class runs a store at English High where students and faculty may purchase refreshments and other convenient items. The outlet provides students with hands-on experience in the basics of running a business.

The public had an opportunity to see future business leaders of Jamaica Plain and other areas of Boston in action, displaying their recently learned business skills and polished professionalism.

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Photos: Food for Thought Luncheon 2010

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Face to Face With Karen Kovach Webb, Executive Director, Fund for Teachers

Christine Hall
Houston Business Journal

Karen Kovach Webb teamed with Apache Corp. founder Raymond Plank to bring his personal initiative of recognition and reward for school teachers to the public in 2001. The resulting foundation, Fund for Teachers, aims to enrich teachers’ lives by offering them the opportunity to self-design summer sabbatical experiences, returning to the classroom re-energized in ways that impact students on a daily basis. To date, Fund for Teachers has granted over $14 million to over 4,000 teachers working in 47 states. In addition to positions in the corporate arena and as a small business owner, Webb has worked in nonprofit management, strategic planning and development for over 25 years. She has served on various community school boards and concerned citizens and advocacy groups that seek to ensure adequate resources and opportunities for basic services and education. She was interviewed by Christine Hall.

How did the Fund for Teachers program get started?

During the early 1980s, Raymond Plank, having been the fortunate beneficiary of many good teachers in his life, chose to honor the influential role those teachers played in his success by establishing a modest fund at his Minneapolis high school. Fast-forward to 2001: It was serendipitous; I was ready for a new professional challenge when Raymond approached me with the idea of scaling up his pilot program. From idea to pilot program to today: Fund for Teachers has grown from inspiration to a Houston-based, national public nonprofit program that helps teachers from across the country pursue their own self-designed learning opportunities.

How do you think Houston is advancing beyond other cities or markets in terms of education?

It is hard to ignore the national debate about education reform and its impact on the economy, today and tomorrow. Houston, like cities across the country, is facing the challenge to determine and sustain effective school improvement that will equip students with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in the globally driven marketplace. A pause for reflection should be part of the deliberations as we all determine the best path forward.

What is the organization doing to supply the area with a quality base of employable people?

One in four Americans is in a school building every day. Research proves that teachers make schools successful. Fund for Teachers attributes its growth to the concerted effort to define our partnering relationships with corporate supporters and local education foundations with a commitment to shared purposes. To reach teachers across the country we affiliate with various locally based education reform groups. Fund for Teachers is somewhat unique in mission and program. We give money directly to teachers for the work that they know will most directly impact their efforts. We have been successful in bringing education reform groups from New York City, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and other places together in collaboration around our mission and granting program to foster teacher growth and learning and thereby student growth and learning. The definition and scope of “community” grows exponentially through the constructive exchanges around our “table” – teachers and students benefit immediately.

And how is the private sector, i.e. companies and corporations, reciprocating?

We use the same approach with our donors. The Houston corporate community, led by Apache, cradled FFT: Its continuing support has served as the model and inspiration for national funders. Employers have a stake in hiring future graduates who are high achievers. The purpose of business cannot separate from the purposes of education. As companies struggle to articulate and act on value propositions, Fund for Teachers provides them with a way to support teachers and education directly, with immediate impact. Our teachers’ stories are proof that doing the “right thing” is good for business. Corporations feed the pipeline to the future. Let me give you an example: Understanding that a mastery of math concepts is integral to competing on the global business front; Steve Farris, chairman and CEO of Apache, started the Fund for Teachers Pi Society. He challenged other CEOs to join him in pledging funding earmarked specifically for math-related fellowships hoping to inspire the current generation of math students through their teachers.

What’s next for the organization?

As I look to the next decade, I know that Fund for Teachers must remain focused on achieving our goals and vigilant measuring our progress. We are nowhere near the fulfillment of our aspirations for a full-scale national coverage program making self-designed learning opportunities available to all professional teachers charged with guiding our future. Our continued successful partnerships will allow us to recruit the donors and local education partners aligned around that purpose. I am confident that the Fund for Teachers’ community table will expand and grow in positive, inspiring ways. Without doubt, more students will benefit from teachers who have explored their own curiosity and deepened their own scholarship. This is my passion.

Photos: Food for Thought Luncheon 2009

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Evening In The Orchard Gala Photos

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