Avondale Elementary foundation works to change perceptionsThe Avondale Elementary School Education Foundation was created in 2016 by parents, community members and the school principal. The foundation had a mural on the school building and has continued to raise money for various projects and improvements at the school Photo submitted by Stephen Smith.
By Zoe Seiler, contributor
Avondale Estates, GA — The Avondale Elementary School Education Foundation since 2016 has worked to change the perception of the school, remove barriers and provide resources to students and teachers.
Avondale Elementary School Principal Dontae Andrews helped establish the foundation and said that he and his staff found that other Title I schools that serve low socio-economic families had foundations that helped bring in financial resources.
“That was our plan and we just kept researching and eventually got to create the foundation. Throughout the years, we’ve been very fortunate to have such a dedicated group of individuals who buy into the mission of the foundation,” Andrews said.
The current board members are hosting a fundraiser to sell poinsettias to the Avondale Estates community as well as Decatur.
Avondale Estates resident and AESEF board member Jessica Neese came up with the idea of the poinsettia sale to replace the foundation’s annual 5K race. The foundation’s annual 5K race was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was just thinking Christmas is such a big deal in Avondale. We usually have the tour of homes and Christmas caroling and a holiday market, well all of that has been canceled this year as well,” Neese said. “I just thought it would be nice to have a poinsettia sale.”
The money raised through the poinsettia sale will be used to create individual grants for the teachers at Avondale Elementary School to meet any needs they may have like extra supplies they may need or for professional development, Board Chairman Stephen Smith explained.
The foundation has money for various projects at the school, including painting a mural on the building, providing a new playground, updating the school’s media center, improving the gymnasium floor and replacing outdated windows.
AESEF also works to change the perception of the school and engage the Avondale Estates community.
Smith explained that the school’s perception is that it’s underinvested and student grades are not good, especially reading proficiency grades. He thinks that in the last two decades the school has lacked community support.
Smith noticed the perception when he and his wife were researching schools when their eight-year-old son started school especially as Google results show various third-party websites that don’t give the school high ratings. He said that he wasn’t sure the school was active when he moved to Decatur about 10 years ago.
“It’s unfortunate sometimes that if they don’t have eight out of 10 stars on that website that shows up that there’s this perception that it’s not a good school,” Smith said. “(Google) just doesn’t give the true representation of what the school is like because once you actually go into the school the perception is totally different. It’s a very energetic and positive and encouraging environment when you go in there.”
The foundation has gained an overwhelming amount of support from the community recently, even from Avondale residents whose kids don’t attend Avondale Elementary or from people who don’t have kids at all.
Smith and Neese have children who attend the Museum School but both parents commit much of their time to serve on the Avondale Elementary School Education Foundation.
Smith explained that at the first board meeting he attended a couple of years ago, Andrews asked for new dry erase boards.
“I felt like other schools in our surrounding communities weren’t having needs as small as that. They already had those needs met. I committed myself to Avondale Elementary because they deserve it,” Smith said.
Smith’s biggest goal as chairman is to change the perception of the school and said the foundation is doing what it can to provide opportunities for students and staff.
“I think they deserve it and there’s no reason why any student that is in our attendance zone should have any different experience or that shouldn’t have the same resources as anyone in any other school district in the state,” Smith said.
Andrews has been the principal for seven years and said he and his staff have made great strides with the perception of the school in the community during his tenure. He’s done this by working with community members, the schools PTA, the Principal Advisory Council and business owners.
“Throughout the six and seven years that I’ve been here, just developing those relationships, letting them know what our mission is at the school, our needs, inviting them into the school to actually see what’s going on in the school as far as active learning and all of the great programs that we have occurring at the school,” Andrews said.
“I think through those collaborations, through being transparent with our stakeholders, with our parents, I think it has created a sense of trustworthiness within the school and allowing parents to experience our program,” he added.
It takes a village to educate a child, Andrews said. The teachers and educators can’t do it alone.
“We need the support of our parents. We need the support of our business sector. We need the support of the community. I think we have definitely done that and have shown that it does work and we definitely have good relations with our Avondale Estates community,” Andrews said.
Smith mentioned that the foundation’s outgoing treasurer said that caring about the community means caring about Avondale Elementary School and he couldn’t agree more.
“If you care about your community you should care about Avondale Elementary because it is our traditional public school, it is our community school,” Smith said. “I think any time put into the foundation or to the school is well worth it because they’re making significant impacts.”
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