Friends of Renton Schools raises 10s of thousands for education

Norm Rice, president and CEO of The Seattle Foundation, gave the keynote address at the Friends of Renton Schools Foundation breakfast Monday. - Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter
Norm Rice, president and CEO of The Seattle Foundation, gave the keynote address at the Friends of Renton Schools Foundation breakfast Monday.
— image credit: Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter

Friends of Renton Schools hosted a fundraising breakfast Monday morning, filled with personal testimonies and thanks to the community for supporting the school district.

The final amount raised isn't yet known, but the foundation estimates it has already raised close to $140,000 from money already pledged and from sponsors as of last Wednesday.

The fourth annual event was held at the Renton Pavilion Event Center, with more than 230 people in attendance, including former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice.

He was the keynote speaker and spoke on behalf The Seattle Foundation. Rice, the foundation's president and CEO, said his group funded a million dollars to an academic liaison project in the Renton School District. The project is run through the mentoring group, Communities in Schools of Renton.

"The Seattle Foundation covers all of King County," Rice said before his speech. "So we really care about education and everybody in King County and how well they can achieve their dreams."

Rice shared brief snapshots of his education experience growing up that took him from Denver to Seattle. His path to eventually become mayor of Seattle wasn't as easy as people might assume from his public image, he said.

He told the audience about being entertained by a bookmobile service as a child, while he was quarantined because of a polio outbreak. His parents took in boarders at the time and one came down with the disease. Rice talked about former teachers who inspired and pushed him to succeed.

He called himself a decent student, not great. Rice explained how he dropped out of college for a while "with style." He had a rough collegiate start after he learned his intended roommate did not want to move in with a black student.

Rice was motivated to return to college after performing in the play "A Raisin in the Sun" on the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. He acted on the side throughout school and was changed by that moment.

"I decided I wasn't going to dream anymore; I was going to make dreams come true," Rice said.

Eventually, he found his way back to school at the University of Washington and graduated. Rice has served the community in many capacities, including working with former Renton schools superintendent, Mary Alice Heuschel. They both served on the board of the state's science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM initiatives.

"Schools can't do it alone; they need community," Rice said.

Breakfast attendees chatted with student table captains while they ate. Attila Szabo, head of new Renton restaurant Wild Fin, chatted with a Lindbergh High junior, Aleisha Simpson. Szabo's restaurant donated more than $4,100 to the Friends of Renton Schools this year.

"Well, it's important to us at Wild Fin to be a part of the community and as we looked at the community of Renton, something that made a lot of sense to us was to support the school system," he said.

Attendee Michelle Lee was motivated to bid $700 for a visit to the governor's office in Olympia and a special lunch and tour with Heuschel, who is now Inslee's chief of staff.

"I felt that there was no better way to support the Renton schools' foundation and to communicate my passion than meeting with Governor Inslee," said Lee via email. "This auction item gave me the opportunity to do both. Gov. Inslee and state lawmakers have the tough task of figuring out how to fund education, especially since the state Supreme Court has said Washington isn't meeting its obligation to fully fund basic education. While I am not sure how to do that with all of the other competing priorities in our state, what I am sure of is not adequately funding education is the wrong move for our children and our communities."

The audience also witnessed how funds from the foundation are being used to help teachers in the classroom from a video. Lakeridge Elementary teacher Theresa Tse demonstrated how her 6-year-old students are articulating math concepts, thanks to resources funded by the foundation.

"Thank you so much; I'm so proud of my kids," Tse said to the audience.

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