LPEF celebrates 30 years of grants to spur innovation in La Crosse classrooms

The La Crosse Public Education Foundation is celebrating an important milestone: 30 years since it first began awarding grants to teachers in La Crosse public schools.

Retired Superintendent of Schools Richard Swantz, left, with current Superintendent Randy Nelson at the Nov. 1 dinner celebrating LPEF’s 30th anniversary. Swantz was instrumental in creating LPEF in 1988.

In that time, the Foundation has provided about 650 grants to teachers, students and community members working in our schools. The grants have touched every school and every program in the District, and totaled more than $725,000 —  including nearly $200,000 in just the past three years alone.

“Congratulations to the Public Education Foundation on 30 great years of supporting learning in our community, supporting public education, supporting our students, families and our staff,” said Superintendent of Schools Randy Nelson.

Nelson joined with former Superintendent of Schools Richard Swantz in leading a celebration at a Nov. 1 anniversary dinner held at the La Crosse Country Club.

Click image to see video.

See our special video: 30 Years of Innovation in La Crosse Classrooms

Over the years, grants have run the gamut from an “Animal Library” with live animals that could be checked out by any teacher to the purchase of cutting-edge technology (such as computer modems in 1992) to various programs to bring cultural diversity into our schools. See year-by-year grant highlights below.

Grants foster innovation and professional growth, teachers say

Dirk Hunter, Summit Elementary principal and a recipient of a grant in 1988 as a teacher:  “When this first became available, my teaching partner and I, Tim Fladhammer, were both pretty excited about coming up with some type of project we could do with our kids.” Now projects funded at Summit “get kids excited about learning … Clearly, there’s no way we’d be able to fund the kinds of things that we’re doing right now without support from the La Crosse Public Education Foundation.”

Steve Johnston, Logan High Technology and Engineering Teacher, recipient of six grants: LPEF funding “has allowed me, at least professionally, to grow. There’s things that I would not have been able to do within my classroom due to the budget, that we can now do.”

Sondra LeGrand, retired Roosevelt and Longfellow teacher, who received seven grants: Applying for grants “was a huge opportunity for me. I was able to first of all see what a student needed and think about ‘what if?’ – What if I had a program that would read to this student? What if I had textbooks where the print was larger?”

Amoreena Rathke, Northside Elementary art teacher, recipient of seven grants: “I was using a lot of my own money (to do projects) … so I wrote a grant my second year in the District” and now apply every year. … My focus has been on providing different experiences for our students that they wouldn’t have opportunity to have otherwise.”

Shaundel Spivey, a cultural liaison with the District and also a leader of the community group, Black Leaders Acquiring Collective Knowledge, says LPEF grants provide an opportunity beyond what can be done with District funds: “A part of what we do as educators is we plant the seed, and then as students move along in life, they begin to kind of blossom.”

From left: Attorney Tom Sleik, who helped form the La Crosse Public Education Foundation and served on the initial Board, is joined by his wife, Judy Sleik, a retired teacher and former member of the LPEF Board; along with state Rep. Jill Billings of La Crosse.

Year-by-year highlights from LPEF grants

1988 – Dirk Hunter (Roosevelt) – $250 for “Panther Press – Paper” to work with UW-La Crosse journalism students to help 4th- and 5th-grade students create and publish a newspaper for school, community, national and world news.

Nancy McMullin, Andrea Mekkelson, Dorothy Paulikas and Kathy Fitzpatrick (Roosevelt, Hamilton and Jefferson) – $1,060 for “Literature Kits” to buy books and motivational items to develop a joy of reading among 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade students.

1989 – Linda West (Central) – $432 to create an “Animal Library” with various live animals that could be checked out by other District teachers at any time during the course of the year.

Enjoying good company and conversation at the 30th anniversary dinner were, clockwise from lower left: Marilyn Nieckarz, a member of the original LPEF Board;Ken French, a former member of the Board of Education; Susan Miller, wife of the late Dr. Charles Miller III, a co-founder of LPEF; Roger LeGrand, a current LPEF Board member; Rachel Gundersen, who joined the LPEF Board in its second year and later served as board president; and retired teacher Sonda LeGrand, who received seven LPEF grants during her work in La Crosse schools.

1990 – Sondra LeGrand, Elizabeth Nutter, Betsy Stannard, Becky Post, Sue Schettle, Ed Dornack and Ruth Mick (Jefferson, Roosevelt, Franklin and Summit) – $1,550 for “Raising Readers” to bring author George Shannon to schools for one week to work with students, talk about his books and tell stories.

1991 – Laura Schwalbe (Summit) – $1,400 to host a reading workshop for teachers and exceptional educational needs staff to study and discuss whole language methods and research on reading-writing connections.

1992 – John Whitsett and David Whiteley (Central) – $596 for “Connecting With The World,” to provide equipment and telephone links so students have access to computer bulletin board services and cooperative databases used in science research.

1993 – Elizabeth Nutter (State Road, Hintgen, Emerson, North Woods and Hamilton) $510 for “Technology Makes the Grade,” for five elementary schools to purchase Apple Smart Keyboard Lap Tops to be used in classrooms during instruction time.

1994 – Monica Lazere (Central) – $590 for “Success/Using The Best Sense,” to purchase audio textbooks for students whose learning style is auditory.

1995 – Tim Fladhammer and Nancy McMullin (Roosevelt) – $336 for “Pioneer Village,” to build a log cabin to help students understand pioneer life.

1996 – Gary Robarge (Central) – $668 for “Technology In The Classroom,” to purchase four state-of-the-art TI-92 graphic calculators for Advanced Placement Calculus classes.

1997 – Jim Bagniewski (District) – $1,410 for “Math and Science Technology” to buy equipment to allow high school math and science students to work with real live data that they collect.

1998 – Alex Vaver (Central) – $1,826 for “African Drumming Ensemble,” to purchase 10 authentic African drums and train students on African drumming technique and skill.

1999 – Daniel Lee and other teachers (Logan High) – $1,825 for “Shakespeare In The Park,” to construct a replica of the Globe Theater to be used as the centerpiece of a 3-day Elizabethan Festival.

2000 –Harvey Witzenburg (Jefferson) – $2,700 for “After School Program” to train Viterbo and UW-L students and have them spend time with elementary students after school to better meet the academic needs of the students.

2001 Judy Young (Logan High) – $2,800 for “APCD for AP Calculus & AP Calculus Technology Update,” for tools to prepare students for the college AP Calculus exam.

2002 – First Richard Swantz Endowment Fund staff development grant awarded – $500 for Parents as Educational Partners.

Jeanne Halderson, Jon Morschhauser and Liz Krohn (Longfellow) – $500 for “Discovering Hmong Culture” to create Hmong history and culture kits for use in 7th-grade curriculum, helping promote understanding of Hmong culture and reduce stereotyping and racism.

2003 – Mark Lakmann, Nancy Adams, Dan Risgaard, Dean Gunnarson and Bill Sisson (Logan High) – $2,520 for “Portable Digital Recording Studio,” to enable students to be more competitive for college auditions/scholarships and honors band/choir/orchestra auditions.

2004 – Jim Bagniewski, Tom Kammer and Joe Anglehart (District) – $4,000 for “Using Handhelds in Science,” to purchase Personal Digital Assistants that work with software to allow students to collect real live data, graph it, print it out, and analyze the results.

2005 – Joseph Kuhn, Steve Bina and Brandon Holt (Central) – $1,750 for “Bringing Photography into the 21st Century” to buy digital cameras for the photography program.

2006 – Dawn Johns Swenson (Logan High) – $800 to help students develop relationship skills and process feelings, behaviors and patterns of communication by working with horses as part of a mentorship team.

2007 – Christopher Werner and Mark Lakmann – $2,000 for “Kim Archer Commissioning Project,” allowing students to interact with, play for and learn from Composer Kim Archer.

2008 – First Carol Taebel Fund grant awarded to Nancy Sikorsky (Spence) for “Art Room Projection System” so students can view the District’s video collection and web resources on a large monitor.

First Dr. Gunnar and Mary Baldwin Gundersen grant awarded to Richard Frost (Longfellow) for “Developing a Sense of Place,” to help students develop a stronger and deeper awareness of the land and rivers of our area through field studies, reading, writing, art and photography.

Dempsey Miller (Logan Middle) – $1,600 for “Annie Ruth’s Girls,” for a program offering gender-specific life skill training for middle school girls from diverse/multicultural backgrounds.

2009 – First Maureen and Robert Freedland Shoah Fund grant awarded – $433 for “Voices of the Holocaust,” for Logan Middle to buy material to help students understand the Holocaust.

Mai Chao Duddeck (Longfellow) – $1,550 for “The Bowl Throwing Project,” to help students “throw” bowls on pottery wheels and sell at a chili cook off.

2010 – Nick Kalina (Central) – $3,593 for “Robotics Initiative for Project Lead the Way,” for software and supplies for students to learn about robotics.

2011 – Susan Beauchamp (Central) – $8,000 for “One Community, One District, One Book,” to  purchase copies of the book, “Mockingbird,” and bring author Kathryn Erskine to La Crosse to  conduct workshops for students at Central and Logan, and for the community.

2012 – Erik Mathison (Central) – $5,800 for “Special Needs Laser Engraver Business,” to train Special Education students to create projects using a laser engraver.

2013 — Steve Michaels (Hamilton) – $4,000 for “Enrichment Residencies for 45-15 School Intersessions,” giving students the opportunity to come to school for morning enrichment instructions while they are on school break.

2014 – Charles Schreader (Longfellow) – $6,255 for “Ultrasonic Cleaning Tool for Brass Instruments,” to purchase an Ultrasonic Cleaning System for the annual cleaning of brass instruments in the School District; project saves  money that can be used for other music programs.

First Judy and Randy Eddy Sr. Fund grant awarded to Steve Johnston (Logan High) for “Logan Ranger Underwater Remote Vehicle” to purchase materials for students to design, build and operate an underwater remote vehicle.

2015 – First McGavock Family Music Education Fund grant awarded to Alana Seddon (Logan Middle) to help bring composer Michael Colgrass to La Crosse to work with students, including help with improvisation and composition skills, leading to a public performance.

Maggie McHugh and Garrett Zimmerman (La Crosse Design Institute) – $1,953 for “Zooming in on Science and Technology” to purchase microscopes to attach to iPads, allowing middle school students to conduct environmental research in the field.

2016 – Christina Fenton (Logan Middle) – $3,856 for “Gathering Fireflies,” to purchase 7 sets of the book “Gathering Fireflies” written by Mai Chao Duddeck to be used in the middle schools as part of the Hmong Culture unit.

2017 – Shelley Shirel and staff (Spence) – $4,400 for “Spence Outdoor Classroom,” to provide start-up funding for outdoor classroom and garden space at Spence Elementary.

2018 – Summer Elston (Emerson) and Jocelyn Buxton (Spence) – $6,480 for “Trauma Informed Self Care,” to send two teachers to a 4-day training program, allowing them to provide training to District staff on topics related to Trauma Informed Schools.