The Norfolk Public Schools Foundation announced Thursday morning that it has raised more than $1.6 million for the district's career academies.
The positive news came at Traditions Breakfast put on by the foundation, which is a separate, non-profit entity from the district and works to provide financial support — through scholarships, grants and other ways — for the public schools.
The annual breakfast — held at Northeast Community College's Lifelong Learning Center — is a way to gather community members together to learn about what's going on in the schools. It also gives individuals and businesses the opportunity to donate in support of educational opportunities for students.
The foundation's goal is to raise $2.2 million for Norfolk High's career academies by the time the capital campaign finishes.
The money is needed to add an addition to the high school that will be utilized by the welding and automotive career academies, which will be rolled out in the 2017-2018 school year. Academies in the areas of early childhood education, culinary, information technology, hospitality and tourism, business management and administration, finance and marketing will also be available next year.
But students had the opportunity to enroll in drafting, construction, health sciences and agriculture — both plant- and animal-focused — academies already this school year.
Updated equipment is also a necessity, which the fundraising will help purchase.
"We do not want our students to learn to weld using this antiquated equipment or to use lathes that came off of World War II ships 70 years ago," said Superintendent Dr. Jami Jo Thompson, who was the breakfast's keynote speaker. "What we want is for our students to learn skills that are relevant to our current workforce, using the same equipment that our local businesses use today. That is what will prepare them for high-skilled, high-wage, high-demand jobs.”
Thompson recognized major donors that have helped the district reach its current fundraising total during the breakfast.
Silver donors — which contributed between $10,000 and $49,999 — are Daycos, Elkhorn Valley Bank, Agri-City Insurance and U.S. Bank. Platinum donors — which contributed between $100,000 to $249,999 — were the William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation and the Nebraska Community Foundation.
Top donors — or diamond donors, which contributed $250,000 or more — were Nucor and Norfolk Iron and Metal.
Sharing their thoughts about why their companies made leading contributions to the career academies were Dick Robinson, president of Norfolk Iron and Metal; Dirk Petersen, vice president and general manager of Nucor; and Troy Brooks, vice president general manager of Vulcraft-Nebraska, Cold Finish-Nebraska and Nucor Detailing Center.
"In today's society, we have to offer two tracks for our young people,” Robinson said. “There’s the traditional go to school, maybe go to college. But how about a track where they can go to school, be with their friends at the same school, come out, maybe they're not ready for college or maybe they don't want to go to college or maybe they want to try something else, and they come out with a skill to use in our community. I think that's so important."
Each of the career academies the Norfolk Public Schools selected are designed to address an area where there is a workforce shortage. Students who enroll in any of the academies will have the chance to take dual credit classes through Northeast Community College and work toward relevant professional certifications.
For example, students in the health sciences career academy will graduate from high school as certified nurses assistants.
The Sherwood Foundation is also a diamond donor and has promised to match dollar for dollar every donation that is given to the career academies up to $281,456.74.
On top of the current fundraising total of $1,651,136.65, Nucor-Vulcraft has also donated steel for use in the construction process. The value of that hasn't been tabulated yet, but it will bring the foundation even closer to its fundraising goal.
"(This) is an opportunity to not only help our Norfolk students learn and grow, but to help our Norfolk economy and community grow as well," Thompson said. "... Norfolk Public Schools' mission is to ensure that every student is prepared to pursue their goals for the future.
"We take that mission very seriously and we're committed to ensuring that happens, but we also recognize we cannot accomplish this alone. We are reliant on the support of our community partners and must work collaboratively with you in order to meet our students' changing needs. In so doing, we will also be meeting our community's changing needs and helping Norfolk to grow and prosper in the future."