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Decatur Education Foundation Has New Leader

Paula Collins is chairwoman of the group that raises money for Decatur City Schools.

The Decatur Education Foundation was founded in 2001 to help students of the not only in the classroom, but through learning experiences in the community that lead to personal as well as educational growth.

The organization is managed by executive director Gail Rothman and a 27-member board of directors. The new board chairwoman is Paula Collins and, after serving on the board several years, she has some definite ideas for moving the foundation forward.  

Collins, who grew up near Statesboro, moved to Decatur in 1981 to attend Emory University.

Her involvement with the foundation began when real estate agent Emilie Markert asked her to host the Low Country Boil, an annual fundraiser for the organization, at her home. And that’s all it took for Collins to get fully involved.

Collins, a principal with the professional training and coaching firm Peak Focus, has always been a proponent of education, particularly public education.

“Education is a great equalizer,” Collins said. She saw the foundation as a great way to help students and their families.

 The Decatur Education Foundation, with the financial support of individuals, businesses and organizations, awards grants for a variety of efforts -- from supporting innovative teaching to professional development to scholarships to Decatur High School graduates to buying nearly 20,000 books for economically-disadvantaged students.

Community involvement is a major factor and one on which Collins hopes to successfully focus.

 “While the organization has a solid reputation, it’s not as well known as it should be," she said. "As Decatur continues to grow and change, we must tell the success stories of an organization that helps our children.

"And Decatur knows the importance of education, whether there are school-age children in the home or not. A good education system is the most critical part of a vibrant, successful community."

And, she says, there will be faces to the stories, not just statistics.

For example, a student wanted to try out for the youth orchestra, but did not have the money to buy a viola. Funds were raised, he got his viola and he auditioned for the orchestra.

 Collins’ first goal is to broaden awareness of and support for the Foundation.

“We’ve had great success engaging people with children who are in or have been in the system," she said. "And it’s vitally important to continue to engage them in some effort related to the overall work. They’ll have a lot of options. We welcome volunteers and we promise to put them to work!”

 The board has increased in number and reflects the changing demographics of Decatur. Not all members have children in the school system, but they know the importance of education to the community.

Term limits are now in place. Members come from different areas of the community and bring new resources and circles of connection to the board.

 One of the new projects is CSD 101. Using the “Decatur 101” program as their model, the foundation applied for a grant from the Decatur Craft Beer Festival and created a free course which shows how the school system works – from funding to curriculum to special events – and how people can support the schools and get involved.

 “We had more people interested than we could handle for the pilot course and still managed to have a class of 30,” Collins said. “The program, which will officially launch early in 2012, is a wonderful bridge between the schools and the children and the community which supports them.”

 Another new initiative is “Friends of the Foundation” which includes former board members who want to stay connected and be ambassadors for the foundation which they helped build, along with new people who don’t necessarily have children in the system but who reflect an increasingly diverse community.

“This is a great opportunity for me to make a difference,” Collins said. “I look forward to working with everyone in Decatur to ensure that our children are thoroughly prepared for the challenging future they face.”

The annual report of the DeKalb Education Foundation will be published in the October issue of “Decatur Focus” Magazine.

The foundation's Low Country Shrimp Boil will be held at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Solarium at 321 Hill St. in Oakhurst. Tickets are $60 in advance, $75 at the door.

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