The Seven Locks Elementary School Educational Foundation (SLESEF), founded in 2012, originally began as an initiative by Seven Locks parents staff, and community primarily as a way to help Seven Locks reflect that the school is named for the “seven locks segment” of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C & O) Canal. While continuing that commitment, the Foundation has since broadened its scope considerably to promote an enhanced educational experience that helps the school meet the unique needs of its students and community.
The Foundation is governed by an all-volunteer Board of Directors that includes parents of current students at the school, representatives from the surrounding community, the school principal and the PTA president. The Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation
Original Focus on Canal Heritage
The proposal for establishing the Foundation arose during meetings held, 2009-2011, to discuss final designs for the new building that was to replace the original Seven Locks Elementary School constructed in the 1960’s. During meetings convened by Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) personnel, several parents suggested incorporating the theme of the C & O Canal into the exterior and interior design of the school.
Mrs. Robin Gordon, Seven Locks principal; Jim Tokar, MCPS construction manager for the Seven Locks project; and Michael Poness, architect for the new facility, convened a meeting (November 17, 2009) with staff from the C & O Canal National Historic Park and interested Seven Locks parents. That meeting resulted in the formation of a Planning Group that included representatives from the Seven Locks PTA and the community (West Bradley Citizens’ Association and Friends of the Historic Great Falls Tavern).
From late 2009 through 2011, that Planning Group explored how to bring Canal history to life for Seven Locks students to complement the interior and exterior design features incorporated into the architecture of the building. The Planning Group focused on the purchase and installation of historic photos, educational posters and maps suggested by the National Park Service for the school’s main hallway. MCPS representatives indicated that a separate foundation was needed to accept donations from fundraising efforts. Anything under $50,000 could be approved by the Director of Design and Construction and anything over that amount required approval by the Board of Education. In January 2012, the building was completed and welcomed back its students and teachers.
Organization of Foundation
To comply with MCPS regulations, an initial Board of Directors convened in February 2012. That Board consisted of Shervin Eftekhari and John Manning (parents of Seven Locks students), Sandy Vogelgesang (community leader), Sharon Bland (PTA president), and Robin Gordon (principal). On February 23, 2012, the Board approved and signed the Articles of Incorporation for the Foundation which were, in turn, filed with the State of Maryland Department of Taxation and Assessment.
The Foundation held its first public event at a Community Open House at the school on March 8, 2012. On May 1, 2012, the Board held its first “annual meeting” and adopted unanimously the Bylaws for the Foundation. In accordance with the Bylaws, the Board elected officers and expanded to seven members (Shervin Eftekhari, president; John Manning, secretary/treasurer; and the following as Directors: Sharon Bland, Karen DePirri, Robin Gordon, Greta Hando, and Sandy Vogelgesang). John Manning announced that the IRS had assigned the Foundation an Employer Identification Number which, in turn, enabled the Foundation to open a local bank account.
Expanding Role and Outreach for the Foundation
After initial emphasis on the historic connection between the school and the Canal, the the Board expanded its focus to two more projects in the autumn of 2012.
One was landscaping the area on either side of the school entry. That project drew on a design provided by the Montgomery County Master Gardener Program and assistance from the RainScapes Program to use native plants reflecting the Canal theme. One goal of the Landscape Legacy Project was to provide “conservation education” and support for the curriculum of Seven Locks students. The other project approved by the Board at the suggestion of Carl Bencal, who became Seven Locks principal (August 2012), was for staff development. Mr. Bencal proposed several programs that would help staff expand their professional skills.
In addition to adopting this three-part program (Canal history, landscaping, and staff development) during its first full year of operation, the Foundation Board decided to expand outreach. It set up a website, thanks to the work of Dorothy Chung, who joined the Board in the autumn of 2012. The Foundation also held its first major fundraiser.
The first “Spring Fling” fundraiser, held in April 2013, helped establish a financial reserve for Foundation programs which, in turn, enabled the Board to provide initial grants for Seven Locks staff development and to complete the first stage of the Landscape Legacy Project.
Thanks to the work of students, parents, and staff on “Planting Day” (April 27, 2013), Seven Locks Elementary School was ready for the formal dedication of the new building on May 2, 2013. The Montgomery County Executive, members of the County Council and Board of Education and others attended that ceremony where the featured theme was the school’s historic heritage with the C & O Canal.
Relationship between the Foundation and the PTA
There is a complementary relationship between the Seven Locks Educational Foundation and the Seven Locks PTA.
The PTA’s main mission is to build a sense of community among school families by sponsoring events and educating parents through topical presentations at PTA meetings.
The Foundation’s primary role is to fund longer-term goals such as capital improvements to the school building and grounds, staff development, increased academic achievement of students, and the school’s relationship to the wider community.
Unlike the PTA, which operates with an annual budget, the Foundation can fund multi-year programs. The Foundation is separate from the PTA, but the PTA supports its mission since the Foundation supports programs and activities that would otherwise not be available to Seven Locks students.