Building a foundation

Washburn kicks off ambitious fundraising campaign

TANGLETOWN — Growing up in Southwest, Jeremy Graff dreamed of the day he would wear the Millers’ orange and blue, as did many of his friends living near Washburn High School.

Graff and his wife both graduated in 1993 and, after several years of suburban living, moved back to Tangletown in 2001. He said he was “shocked” to learn how much had changed.

“Every kid in the neighborhood was going to South or Southwest [high school],” Graff said.

That’s beginning to change, and an ambitious new fundraising campaign aims to capitalize on Washburn’s recent momentum. With its Windows of Opportunity event Oct. 8, the Washburn High School Foundation begins a push to raise $400,000 by the end of the school year.

It was just 18 months ago that the district announced a “fresh start” for Washburn, citing lackluster academic performance and declining enrollment. The high school’s apparent lack of appeal to neighborhood families — what Graff noticed in 2001 — was just part of the problem.

Principal Carol Markham-Cousins, who arrived at the school in 2007, replaced more than half of the school staff before last fall and made a concerted effort to reach out to Tangletown and surrounding communities. Championships in basketball and robotics, along with a successful musical production, gave the impression things were beginning to change.

Families responded, and student placement requests from eighth-graders jumped about 8 percent last spring. The final numbers weren’t in, yet, in September, but Markham-Cousins said there was a subsequent increase in incoming freshman this fall.

In a time of tight district budgets, fund-raising efforts by individual schools may be more important than ever. Many have organizations that collect donations from parents and alumni, but few have gone so far as to hire a professional fundraiser, a step the Washburn High School Foundation took last year.

David Buck of Abundance Philanthropy will help lead a three-phase campaign. In September, the foundation already was one-quarter of the way to its first goal: to raise $400,000 for immediate school needs in academics, arts and athletics.

Jim Bratly, a Washburn alumnus and foundation board member, helped put that number in perspective. A twice-yearly alumni newsletter, annual golf tournament and other events typically raised $25,000–$35,000 a year for the foundation, Bratly said.

The second phase of the campaign will raise money for capital improvements, including long-overdue renovations to Washburn’s auditorium. Within four years, foundation officials hope to begin building an endowment, phase three of the campaign.

Graff, who recently joined the campaign steering committee, described a “sense of urgency” around the effort to rebuild Washburn.

When the School Board voted to close four schools in September, none of the city’s seven high schools were on the list. But board members have publicly discussed the need to close one or more high schools in coming years, as well.

Vicki Bunker of the foundation steering committee said school and foundation leaders were focused on remaking Washburn into one of the city’s premier high schools.

“When parents and students have choices about where they want to go to school, we want them to be choosing Washburn and be very clear about their choice and very pleased about their choice,” Bunker said.

The foundation’s efforts dovetail with Markham-Cousins’ work in the school. She said her budget focused on teacher salaries and training to build talent and expertise in the building. The foundation funding fills in the gaps.

Bunker, class of ’66, recalled a real sense of community during her time at Washburn. Beyond funds, it’s community spirit the foundation aims to grow, whether that means neighbors volunteering at the school or cheering on the Millers football team, she said.

Said Buck: “We want this to be a hub of the community.”


Schools prepare for H1N1

As suspected cases of H1N1 flu led to huge numbers of absences at some Minnesota schools in September, Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) was preparing for the virus with the help of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Children’s distributed 15,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul Sept. 23. They were intended to both help prevent the spread of influenza and remind students to be vigilant about preventing the spread of flu germs, the district reported.

Children’s distributed newsletters in both Spanish and English with information on H1N1 in schools. They included H1N1 facts, advice on limiting the spread of the disease and information on flu vaccines.

The newsletters can be downloaded from the Children’s website (, as well.

The MPS website also include a flu fact page:

Kick-off Event

The Windows of Opportunity campaign kick-off event is 6:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m. Oct. 8 at Parkway Theater, 4814 Chicago Ave. S. Tickets are $20 and can be ordered at or by calling 308-9394.

For more information on the campaign, visit