The Washoe County School District, which serves Reno/Sparks and the surrounding area in Nevada, faces some tough challenges--including the threat of budget cuts during the 2011 legislative session and low graduation rates and proficiency levels in K-12 schools. The district has a new superintendent, Dr. Heath E. Morrison, with a bold strategy for reforming the schools, and community leaders want to get behind him. Several members of the Reno/Sparks Association of REALTORS® (RSAR) are playing an instrumental role in that effort by volunteering their time--and substantial energy--in support of education reform. REALTORS® Daryl Drake and Kris Layman, both members of the RSAR legislative committee, are also members of the Council for Excellence in Education (CEE), a group of business leaders from throughout the community that shares a commitment to improving K-12 education. Says Drake, who played a central role in establishing CEE and developing a Community Compact in support of its efforts, “The program is designed to elevate awareness of the importance of K-12 education throughout our region and to promote the improvement of graduation and proficiency rates.” RSAR leadership is expected to approve the compact--continuing its longstanding support of local public schools.
REALTORS® have a significant role to play. “From the time our new superintendent, Dr. Morrison, arrived, he could not stress enough the vital role that the real estate community plays with regard to the schools,” says Kris Layman, past president of RSAR. “When we have to list and sell a home to a family, that school is really part of the home. Dr. Morrison has taken us on as a champion of that cause. He knows he has some schools that are hard to sell, and he’s doing everything in his power to improve the schools.” Through their involvement, Drake and Layman bring the REALTOR® perspective to the process and help engage the broader community--opening the way for better schools. “This is a monumental task that we’re taking on,” says Layman. “I believe that Daryl and the rest of us are going to be successful in changing the perception of our community and our schools and meeting the goals that the superintendent has put forward.”
Jim Johnson, a REALTOR® specializing in property management in Spring, Texas, has been volunteering all his life. As the parent of two special-needs children, Johnson was heavily involved in the Special Olympics program. In 1987, he helped create a district-sponsored booster club to provide support for Special Olympics teams. Now his granddaughter attends Ehrhardt Elementary School, with nearly 600 students and a very active community presence. He has taken on numerous volunteer roles at Ehrhardt, but perhaps the most ambitious is his current position as coordinator for the school’s 256 volunteers--a job that has involved building the school’s volunteer, teacher, and parent teacher organization databases, as well as setting up three Yahoo-based user groups to facilitate better communication. He coordinates volunteers for activities ranging from the school’s rummage sale and school fun nights to library and administrative office support. In an effort to learn the job, Johnson took it upon himself to visit various district offices and find out how others address the challenges inherent in the position. He’s become a recognized force in the school community. “I’m on a first name basis with the district superintendent and the principal. I attend the monthly VIP luncheons where they cover a wide range of subjects, and I learn a lot,” says Johnson. “The neat thing about being a REALTOR® is that when the district recently changed the elementary school, they asked me to be part of the committee. I was able to give my insight from a REALTOR’S® viewpoint.” Johnson is in a position to make a real difference in the school and the community. And there’s an added benefit—“I love going over to the school because I get more hugs than I can stand,” he says.
Here are some of the REALTORS® and association leadership around the country who volunteer their time at schools--and for schools. They help raise money for local schools, organize projects in support of local schools, and volunteer at the school level or through community-based organizations that support schools.
- Jana Miracle, Sandals Realty, Sarasota, Florida, is an active member of the parent teacher student organization. She participates in major fundraising events and student activities, and chaperones student field trips at her daughter’s middle school.
- Kelly Nahas, Keller Williams, Boise, Idaho, organized a project with other groups in her community to provide new shirts to students who were unable to afford to purchase shirts for school.
- Members of the Royal Gorge Association of REALTORS® in Canon City, Colorado, volunteer at two area high schools during Fun Fest, which incorporate games, fellowship, and fun for graduating seniors the night before graduation.
- Kay Watson of K. Watson Properties-Metro Brokers, Centennial, Colorado, past president of the Colorado Association of REALTORS®, lends her support to the Littleton Public Schools Foundation, which has provided wireless capabilities and computer labs in every area school and made it possible for a local elementary school to be a music and art magnet school.
- Libby Rentz, New York State Association of REALTORS®, vice president of finance and chief of staff, serves on her local school’s parent school association, development committee, technology committee, and endowment subcommittee, and manages the school’s website.
NAR Good Neighbor Awards1
This program recognizes REALTORS® who are improving the lives of others through volunteer work. Each year, five winners are selected to receive $10,000 grants for their charities as well as national publicity to help their causes.
This national campaign promotes parental and community involvement in public schools and spearheads three annual events including Public School Volunteer Week to help promote better schools and mobilize parents and other volunteers.
To find public schools in your area actively seeking volunteers, follow this link to the searchable database at VolunteerMatch.org. Then enter your town or city and state for location and the words “public school” in the keywords box.
How to Volunteer4
Guidance on “How to Volunteer at a Public School.”
See related article in Issues in Public Education, “Cultural Issues: The Achievement Gap.”