Each spring Stephanie Maxwell watches as her board members hear from teachers who have been awarded Institute for Innovation grants. And every year they say, “I want to go back to school. I wish I had teachers that were that excited and that creative.” That’s a big part of why she’s so passionate to fundraise for the schools foundation and its investment in Mountain Brook City Schools. As she comes up on her three-year anniversary in the position, we chatted with Stephanie about what you should know about the foundation’s work.
What are some misconceptions about the foundation?
We have so many generous organizations in Mountain Brook, so people say, “I gave to PTO” or “I gave to Mountain Brook Sports Corporation, or All In” and they think that’s the same. All of these organizations do amazing things, but we are different. We don’t fund bricks and mortar, we fund only in the areas of technology, teacher development and library enhancements.
What’s new and exciting this year?
This year we kicked off a grandparents appeal with Mimi and Fred Renneker as our chair couple. It started off as a small project that hoped to raise $10,000-20,000, and we are now at over $90,000 with 105 grandparents. That was very exciting, and it was awesome to work with Mimi and Fred. This year we made the switch to have an online alumni directory, which can be reached through our newly designed website. We want to use it to network for reunions and alumni news. This way alumni can log in and update their own information. It’s not necessarily a fundraising school for the foundation, it’s a networking tool for our alums. But yes, we think donations will come from it.
Can you talk about the importance of the foundation’s endowment?
Since I came on board we work to add money back to the endowment over our operating expenses to be able to award gifts back to the school system each year. The first year we were able to transfer $50,000 back to the endowment. The next year we were able to transfer $100,000. This year we set a goal to transfer $130,000, and we are already at that and the fiscal year ends April 30. The endowment itself is now at $9.5 million, and this year that spins off $410,000 interest for the school year. The more we grow that corpus of the endowment, the more we will have to spin off each year. We have also awarded back $6.7 million to the school system since the mid-‘90s. When you add that all up, that’s a lot of support that comes from the community. We work with Jim Underwood at Welch Hornsby, and we’re pleased with what they are doing.
Your kids attended private schools in cities where you lived in the past. How does Mountain Brook compare?
You have some basic differences like uniforms. For our kids, they had to step it up for the education here coming in at the junior high level. When I first took the job and met Dr. Charles Mason, we both agreed it’s higher than the private school education; the expectations here are so high. The average cost of private schools is more than $23,000, so even though we pay higher property taxes, we still don’t pay near what we’d have to for private schools.
What’s the story behind the piece of art behind your desk?
Katie Caughran is one of our teachers at Brookwood Forest Elementary. She’s an enrichment gifted specialist and does a lot with TedX and technology. She has been making paintings and jewelry as a side thing. I saw one of her paintings and asked if she could do it in green, gold and white. I get more compliments on it, and I can say, “That’s one of our own.”