By Norm Ritter
June 25, 2009 2:00 AM
York County Coast Star
KENNEBUNK – Four years ago, Ted Damon, then 75, attended Kennebunk High School for a year as a freshman to see what he could do to help education in the local public schools. Susan Cressey, a KHS teacher and administrator, arranged for him to attend classes.
The retired Singer Company vice president with a reputation for community service decided to apply his classroom experience to the creation of the Education Foundation of the Kennebunks, now thr/ee years old. It has raised more than $200,000 and funded 42 programs, ranging from a solar panel built by ninth-graders to demonstrate how the sun’s rays can replace more expensive energy for many applications, to teacher training in new brain research revealing how children learn.
The 2009-2010 annual report of newly formed Regional School Unit 21 notes the Education Foundation provided more than $90,000 in 2008 for innovative education programs thr/oughout former Maine School Administrative District 71 schools. All five public schools of the Kennebunks have received foundation grants, mainly initiated by the teachers. Ninety-seven percent of all the funds raised by the foundation go directly to programs for students and teachers.
“Our mission is to help increase excellence, creativity and innovation in the schools, with a focus on programs designed to engage all kinds of learners in projects of lasting value,” Damon says. “To spark excitement by inspiring students to make a connection between the classroom and their future is critical to their success. People in the Kennebunks believe in education.”
The foundation’s 14 directors include School Superintendent Pat Manuel and Assistant Superintendent Wayne Dorr. Damon is president and a director of the foundation.
Kevin Crowley, principal of the Sea Road School, praises Damon and the foundation for funding programs that “have had a profoundly positive effect on our school and school district.” He cites the grant that enabled two of his teachers to attend a “Learning and the brain” conference in Washington, D.C., and funds for the construction of a greenhouse that is an extension of the current science lab and available to all 250 students and staff members. It will support and enhance five new science units.
The foundation also has provided funding for more than 315 fourth- and fifth-graders from Sea Road School and Kennebunkport Consolidated School to attend an arts-immersion program at Heartwood College of the Arts for thr/ee years. Titled “Heartwood Bound,” the program will give children the opportunity to watch demonstration lessons in 10 different media. After observing these lessons, they will return to Heartwood to create projects in the media of their choice.
In other foundation-funded programs, sixth-graders learn civics and economics by running a mini-city and the businesses inside it. They learn to borrow and lend money, pay and receive interest, maintain a checkbook and understand pricing, supply and demand, and taxes. Students compete for town offices, create publicity and deliver speeches. After seven weeks, they travel to Exchange City in Portsmouth, a model city set up inside a former school building, where the students run it for a day. They have specific job assignments for which they have been prepared.
Students in the second and third grades may significantly improve their reading skills thr/ough a motivational program financed by the foundation. They track their own daily progress by computer, learning thr/ough immediate feedback. Damon’s dedication to educational excellence impresses his colleagues.
“In his low-key but very effective manner, Ted conceived and continues to develop a growing source of funds that provide career-building experiences for students,” says Bob Bauman. “As a donor, I’ve been very impressed with the way he involves givers in choosing and working on projects. It’s a treat to be with students and see their enthusiasm. The towns owe a lot to the hard work of Ted Damon.”
“Ted’s drive to make a difference, especially with young people, is amazing,” says Tim Hussey, a foundation director who has been associated with Damon for a decade. “He has a unique ability to have visionary thinking while at the same time sweating all the details. Ted is singularly responsible for stimulating staff ideas, recruiting community members to be involved, and being fearless in raising money.”
Ann Stockbridge, a director and chairman of the grants committee, is another Damon supporter. “His genuine and selfless interest in creating excitement in learning for our students is admirable and inspirational,” she said, adding that she “loves to see the experiences materialize in the students. I asked a friend’s second-grader how he knew the answer to a question, and he said, ‘I sit on a ball at school and it makes my brain think.’ His teacher had introduced stability balls to replace chairs in her classroom after hearing about the benefits of them in a conference the foundation sponsored.”
The other directors of the foundation are Tim O’brien, secretary; Kate Rizzo, treasurer; Julie Allaire-McDonald, Tricia Gallagher, Jeni Kingston, Gary Koch, Steve Morris, Jason Saltmarsh and Steve Vatcher.