Bill Gates Sr. applauds Renton schools, pledges $10,000 to new fund
By CELESTE GRACEY
Renton Reporter Staff Writer
April 26, 2010 · 2:59 PM
Bill Gates Sr. kicked off the Friends of Renton Schools first fundraiser with a keynote speech that praised district administrators.
"The guiding principle of Renton schools is higher expectations," he said, adding that leadership from principals and teachers under the guidance of Superintendent Mary Alice Heuschel has played a key role in Renton's success.
Monday's breakfast drew about 450 business owners, politicians and community members, who gave thousands to the new fund.
Gates outlined two priorities for Washington state schools.
The first was to focus on teachers, he said. "More than any other factor, the teachers will tell how schools do."
He hailed the Renton School District's partnership with Seattle University as the success of creative leadership. About 60 teachers have received additional math certification through the program in the past few years.
His second priority was to define a clear standard for what makes students college or career ready.
He thanked Renton for being an example of success for other districts.
"It couldn't have gone better," Heuschel said of the event. "I'm elated. This is the highest point of my career."
To rally support, Bob Bridge, a prominent businessman, challenged people from the podium to donate at least $1,000 each.
After Heuschel pledged $2,000, Gates stood with 10 fingers raised in the air.
"Hey Bob, that really turned me on," he said, pledging $10,000.
Bridge laughed and said, "Too much information."
Pledge after pledge broke way to applause and energized the room.
"The support in this town has been amazing," Bridge told the audience.
Valley Medical Center (VMC) donated $25,000 as the title sponsor of the breakfast.
"We're a major employer in Renton," said Scott Alleman, a VMC vice president. "As a hospital, we require a highly educated workforce."
VMC is heavily involved with students, said Sue Bowman, chairman of the board. "They're our future."
The Seahawks donated $10,000.
"Without the support of major businesses in the community, it's hard for schools to keep pace," said Seahawks spokesperson Mike Flood. "This is our home."
The support wasn't just local. Companies such as Comcast and McKinstry pitched in, Heuschel said.
The money raised will be used to pay for successful district programs that have lost funding.
While a committee makes the final decision, a program providing additional Algebra 1 teachers is at the top of Heuschel's wish list. It will lose support next year.
The breakfast was the first result of about three years of organizing, Heuschel said.
"It's nice to finally see that this need in the community is realized," said Lynn Desmarais, the school board president who also serves on the fund's committee.Contact Renton Reporter Staff Writer Celeste Gracey at email@example.com or 425-255-3484, ext. 5052.