‘It’s All About The Kids’
For over 30 years, that singular idea has guided the Indian Prairie Educational Foundation. Working with district families and teachers to educate, elevate and celebrate ‘the kids’, IPEF has helped build and sustain many of the programs that make IPSD204 such a highly regarded school district.
In 1987, Indian Prairie School District 204 served 3000 students in Waubonsie Valley High School, Hill Middle School and five elementary schools. IPSD204 Superintendent Dr. Thomas Scullen had seen how a supportive educational foundation could help a school district and was determined that one be formed. He asked Board of Education President Peter Neumeister to reach out to active citizens who could ‘get things done.’
They recruited Tom Miers and Alan Fry who, in turn, assembled a ‘blue ribbon’ group of volunteers as the founding Board of Directors of the Indian Prairie Educational Foundation. The IPEF was incorporated in 1988 with Fry as its Chairman.
The Inaugural IPEF Board of Directors. Front: Alan Fry, Judith Sotir, Sue Mortenson, John Triebe Back: Dodd Fong, Tom Miers, John Brohier, Dr. Tom Scullen, John Karubus
Dr. Scullen and the School Board envisioned academic excellence in every school, with IPEF helping to pay for programs which tax dollars normally cannot fund. The first priority was recognizing academic achievement and the IPEF Excellence in Education Awards program was born. It honored the top seniors of each academic department and the teachers who most influenced them. 30 students received the first awards. Since then, over 1400 seniors have been honored with ‘Excellence’ awards.
The second priority was to build a top-tier music program. Why? The dedication and discipline needed to master orchestral music carries over to other academic pursuits. The district had been recruiting top music teachers and building curricula, and IPEF helped by purchasing non-curricular items – from pianos to stage lights.
IPEF also took over sponsorship of the Fine Arts Fair – IPSD204’s annual celebration of student musicians and artists. The first Fine Arts Fair was held in 1987, in a tent behind Brookdale Elementary, and featured performances by and visual arts of an estimated 200 students.
Years of Growth
The 1990s and early 2000s were years of rapid growth for IPSD204 and the IPEF. The investment in music education bore fruit – district programs were recognized for their excellence, winning the first of an eventual 16 Grammy Signature awards. IPEF funded a new Artist-in-Residence program, high school holiday concerts, and the Fine Arts Festival, which grew to include displays of visual art from all grade levels.
IPEF also instituted ‘mini-grants’ – gifts to teachers for supplies and instructional tools beyond standard curricula. Mini-grants evolved to today’s Teacher Innovation Grants.
One teacher’s idea for an innovative program was so exceptional, that IPEF funded it for 10 years. Award-winning biology teacher Elaine Modine immersed her students in actual DNA research. This after-school ‘genetics club’ interfaced with University researchers and paved the way for IPSD204’s growing emphasis on extracurricular STEM programs.
In 2009, IPEF partnered with Edward Hospital to implement the first Young Hearts for Life cardiac screening program at all three IPSD204 high schools. This important program has saved the lives of students by detecting potentially life-threatening heart abnormalities.
Biology teacher Elaine Modine (left) pioneered immersive after-school STEM programs. The first Young Hearts for Life cardiac screening (right) was conducted at all three high schools in 1999.
The STEM Initiatives
As Chairman, Alan Fry oversaw the growth of IPEF for its first 23 years. in 2012, Fry ‘passed the torch’ to longtime Board member Kent Duncan. Duncan led IPEF’s effort to support the district’s growing emphasis on STEM enrichment, continuing funding of the annual Science Fairs plus new programs such as coding clubs, robotics teams and the District’s new engineering elective curriculum, Project Lead The Way.
Sustaining so many programs called for a step-up in fundraising, and a goal to double the foundation’s annual revenue was achieved in just three years. A key was this generous challenge from the Dunham Fund: for every $1 IPEF raised for STEM programs, Dunham would contribute $2. It resulted in the largest gift to the district in IPEF’s history.
But more programs and fundraising stretched the IPEF’s all-volunteer resources. To manage all of the activity, Susan Rasmus, a district parent and former Board of Education member, was hired as IPEF’s first full-time Executive Director. Her accomplishments were many, but chief was TEAM IPEF – the charity running squad that has turned the annual Naperville Half-Marathon into IPEF’s largest funding campaign.
A STEM initiative, competitive robotics teams (left), are in nearly every IPSD204 school. TEAM IPEF members – parents, teachers, staff – donate sponsor funds from the Naperville Half Marathon.
After 20 years on the IPEF Board, the last five as Chairman, Kent Duncan retired in 2017 and was named Chairman Emeritus. He was succeeded by Rana Khan, who has led IPEF in sustaining the foundational programs developed over the prior 30 years, plus a new category of programs. This new category of programs that IPSD204 leaders developed addresses the needs of at-risk students facing economic, cultural or social/emotional barriers to their academic success.
While proud of its history, the IPEF understands that it must continually evolve, as today’s educational landscape changes more rapidly in five years than it used to in 25 years. But the important element of IPEF that will not change is its guiding principle: “It’s All About The Kids.”
Three decades and three chairs of IPEF (left to right): Alan Fry, Rana Khan and Kent Duncan on the occasion of Duncan’s retirement after 20 years of service to the IPEF.