Wicomico Education Foundation to step up efforts

Wicomico County’s fledgling Education Foundation has appointed local businesswoman Susan Purnell as chairwoman, as the initiative begins to support county schools.

Organized about a year ago, during which David Ennis was chairman, the Foundation was the brainchild of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Salisbury Committee.

“We think education is the No. 1 economic development tool in Wicomico County,” said Mike Dunn, CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee.

“We’re thrilled to have Susan Purnell as our chair. With her commitment to the community and her leadership, she is a perfect choice, and she has been involved in a lot of nonprofits,” Dunn said.

Dunn and Purnell made a presentation to the Chamber’s education sub-committee and were asked to serve as the advocacy arm for the Education Foundation.

“Of course, we agreed. This idea was presented to the Greater Salisbury Committee by Brad Gillis. He had the idea two years ago. We’re borrowing an idea from our friends in Worcester County. The superintendent of schools there, Lou Taylor, has been very helpful,” Dunn said.

Purnell deflected attention away from her appointment and highlighted the importance of the Foundation.

“The reason we are doing it is, I think it’s really important that we have a strong education system. We are losing people to Worcester County and other places because we are not as competitive and our hands have been tied by the revenue cap. Counties that just fund on Maintenance of Effort are always lower on student test scores than those that fund over that amount. It’s a shame we’re not thinking education is important because it truly is. Readiness for children is extremely important. One of the first things we’re going to tackle is universal pre-K,” Purnell said.

“Other jurisdictions have tried this concept with success,” Dunn said.

“Our goal to get the business community behind education. There has been the perception that Wicomico schools, over the past decade, are not as good as they used to be and we want to provide (Superintendent of Schools) Donna Hanlin with the tools to bring Wicomico County schools to where we feel they should be,” Dunn said.

“We want to make sure students and teachers have what they need to make it succeed. In Worcester, the Foundation there raised money to be sure laptops were in the hands of every student. Budget times are tight so maybe there are some things a foundation can do for public and public private schools. Also, there’s an effort to raise the level of education,” Dunn said.

The business community, including  CEOs of major companies such as Perdue Farms and Peninsula Regional Medical Center, “have been sharing with the business community that the state of public schools in Wicomico is making it difficult for them, sometimes, to retain, recruit and attract high-quality employees who want to come and live and raise their families in Wicomico County,” Dunn said.

It’s too soon to set a financial goal, he said. An event he dubbed “our coming out party” is set for May 23. As cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are served, board of directors will be introduced.

“If you think of a PTA, it is school specific,” Dunn explained.

“The foundation is on a different level. We are really trying to get the community, individuals, businesses, organizations, behind the notion that having a better school system can make this a better community. It will help us in the long run in terms of employees, recruiting and retaining employees,” he said.

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