Members of the Wicomico County business community are coming together to create a backbone for the school system.
The Foundation for Wicomico County Public Schools, the brainchild of the Greater Salisbury Committee and Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, is a nonprofit still in its beginning stages, which will aim to provide support and help improve the Wicomico County Public Schools’ image.
“This concept is in its infancy,” said Mike Dunn, Greater Salisbury Committee president and CEO.
The foundation’s primary goals are simple: foster business involvement with the school system and provide funds or in-kind donations for initiatives. Dunn sees a need for the nonprofit due to how much weight incoming residents put on the school system.
“We think perception matters,” he said.
After a simple internet search, possible job candidates can quickly determine the standing of the county’s school system standing compared to surrounding counties, becoming one of the biggest factors on which local companies are losing out on employees, Dunn explained.
“We lost out on some talent,” he said.
According to Niche, a schools and neighborhood ranking website, Wicomico schools ranked number 14 on the “2018 Best School Districts in Maryland.” Neighboring Worcester County ranked number six.
Worcester County already has its own organization, the Worcester County Education Foundation, which is being used as a model for Wicomico County, Dunn said.
David Ennis, chairman of the foundation’s start-up committee, is also a business owner, running Pro Coat, LLC with his son. He sees the foundation board members as a group of people who are passionate about their county and want to help their school system succeed, while also fostering and recruiting career talent.
“You want your community to have the best of everything,” he said.
Ennis sees the benefits of an education foundation as two-fold. First, a stronger school system will graduate students who are prepared to enter the workforce or attend top-ranking colleges. It will also entice new businesses and job candidates to locate in the county, helping businesses flourish.
In a statement from Donna Hanlin, Wicomico County Public Schools superintendent, the school system voiced support for more community involvement.
“Having the community come together to support our public school system is just incredible, and extremely important. It not only shows an understanding of the importance of financial resources for our school system, but it also represents our community’s commitment to providing the highest quality education for each and every student of Wicomico County,” she said.
The foundation filed its 501(c)3 status in the early months of 2017. With an initial 11 board members, Dunn said the foundation was able to create bylaws and complete application paperwork. However, it plans to really get rolling this fall by expanding its board and holding regular meetings.
While the foundation will be run by community members, it will also work closely with the school system to see what is needed the most and how those needs can be met. Dunn said he hopes Hanlin can identify some initiatives the foundation can help begin to tackle.
“We’re hoping the foundation would be a vehicle,” he said.
During an Aug. 31 opening ceremony and pep rally, Hanlin voiced her goals to Wicomico County teachers and administrators: a higher graduation rate, universal prekindergarten, and recruiting and retaining a skilled workforce.
A few things the foundation is already in talks about include initiatives with early childhood development, arts education and technology literacy, Ennis said.
“We’re here to support (Hanlin) and the (Wicomico County) Board of Education,” he said.
Meg Ryan, MRyan@Delmarvanow.com
On Twitter: @The_MegRyan