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Gillispie’s gift: School receives $1.5M to fund excellence in teaching

Sometimes big gifts come in small packages — such as the one the Gillispie School recently received from an anonymous donors.

The unnamed donors gave the tiny private school seed money of $1.5 million to establish The Gillispie Endowment for Excellence in Teaching, Alison Fleming, head of school, announced. On top of that, the donors will match other gifts and pledges up to another $1.5 million and the school has set its own goal to raise the total to $4.5 million.

Although wishing to remain unnamed, the donors told school officials Gillispie was selected for the gift because “children’s preschool and elementary years form the foundation for everything to come, and yet the importance of these early years in their overall education is often overlooked.”

The school, on Girard Avenue in the heart of the Village, has 285 students ages toddler through sixth-grade. The endowment will not be used to expand the school but rather to recruit and retain “high-quality teachers,” to support a faculty visitation program, and perhaps add specialty teachers for programs like instrumental music and drama.

With its stated mission “to prepare children for their lives ahead of them by teaching them the love of learning, how to be kind and respectful individuals and the importance of making positive contributions to the broader community,” Fleming said the money will enable that mission to be more than just on paper.

“We want to have faculty who understand the impact on children,” she added, with the key being to figure out how to make that a reality.

In a news release announcing the gift, she said, “Teachers are the heart and soul of our children’s educational experience and we want to establish an environment that rewards teachers for their commitment and helps them grow professionally.”

Last week, she explained that the school has funds for the children, but this gift will help “to grow the adult minds.”

One of those who stands to benefit is first-grade teacher Connie Engelhardt, who spoke at a recent event for the endowment. She told those attending of " the profound effect that the Endowment for Excellence in Teaching will have on our teachers and in our classrooms.”

Teachers, she noted, have “the responsibility to be up on current best practices to help children learn” and gain a new perspective from attending conferences and workshops.

The endowment, she said, “is invaluable as we strive to achieve our goals for differentiated instruction, which will enable us to meet the needs of every child.”

Among the ideas the Gillispie staff is exploring are ways to help teachers learn to deal with differentials among children, “from the child with issues with memory to the high-flyer,” Fleming said. Already, she added, they have started a pilot after-school math program, are looking at textbooks and planning for what’s ahead.

She also said they might use some of the funds to bring a writer of children’s books on campus to work with students on “what it is to be a writer” — enabling teachers to learn as well — or to bring scientists to teach what they do and why knowing science and math are helpful.

Another angle might be to build on an already “wonderful choral program” and add drama or improv classes for the older children, Fleming said.

The endowment might also enable a teacher to get an advanced degree or attend workshops that might help them increase the students’ “level of learning, creativity and readiness for the future,” Fleming said.

She noted that the school is especially fortunate that, as public schools are facing cuts, Gillispie “has been given this tremendous gift.”