By Kevin Thompson :: Photography by Jocelyn Durand, courtesy of Boerne ISD
If your annual property tax bill reads, “Boerne Independent School District: $10,000,” it’s effectively incorrect. Boerne ISD doesn’t keep all those taxes.
Your bill should read, “Boerne Independent School District: $8,800 / State of Texas: $1,200.”
As a “Robin Hood” school district, Boerne ISD pays roughly 12 percent of its collections to the state. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) then redistributes the funds to “property poor” school districts, defined as those having less than $319,500 of property value per student. All the while, Boerne ISD spends less per student than the state average.
Two decades ago, supporters of public education in Boerne committed to offsetting the 12 percent outflow to other school districts by founding the Boerne Education Foundation (BEF).
BEF raises private funds that flow to all Boerne ISD campuses both on a per capita basis and through a direct grant program called Teacher Impact Grants (TIGs). Last year, BEF raised more than $365,000 for innovative academic initiatives within Boerne ISD. “Without BEF, we wouldn’t be able to do many of the things we do in BISD because of all the money we send to the state,” Boerne ISD Superintendent Dr. Tommy Price said. “BEF provides us with above and beyond tools we aren’t able to buy through our normal operating budget.”
Price has seen BEF’s impact particularly on Boerne ISD’s teachers. “If you look at video footage of the teachers BEF awarded grants to,” continued Price, “you see genuine surprise and enthusiasm on their faces. Some of them have tears in their eyes. To them, it’s a huge sign of support. That, to me, is the essence of BEF.”
Boerne High School physics teacher David Locke has experienced BEF’s support firsthand. He received a TIG to purchase carts and tracks so his students could better study velocity, acceleration and momentum. “The tracks BEF funded are aluminum,” Locke explained. “They replaced cheaper plastic tracks that were becoming warped. The warped tracks likely adversely affected the data that students collected.”
Locke also requested BEF fund optics kits used in conjunction with the tracks. Specialty mirrors and lenses enhance the learning experience. “I appreciate all that BEF does for the schools of Boerne ISD!” Locke said.
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) requests are becoming more common as TEA has increased its focus on those subjects. Boerne ISD mathematics coordinator Dr. Linda Gann helped a group of elementary math teachers apply for a BEF grant two years ago. “We needed a common set of math resources across Boerne ISD,” Gann explained. “To guide students through a learning process that includes tactile modeling, pictorial representation and abstract understanding, we asked BEF for standardized manipulatives for teachers to use with their students.”
BEF funded the acquisition of modeling bars, blocks, flash cards and shaping tools that can be customized to a student’s particular learning level. “The objects allow for differentiated instruction that keeps kids engaged,” stated Gann. “Teachers can work with certain students in small groups while others continue to be challenged in their own workstations. It’s been a phenomenal, grassroots approach — a pivotal turning point for us.”
Curington Elementary School second grade teacher Shanna Estes was among those who received the hands-on teaching tools. “My class is already benefiting from the guided math kits,” Estes said. “The students have something they can manipulate, ensuring a deeper understanding than if I just used a worksheet to teach the same concepts. The more hands on I can make my lessons, the greater the depth of understanding becomes for my students.”
Boerne Middle School North (BMSN) educational technology specialist Lisa McLaughlin is helping teachers deepen student understanding across multiple subjects. Using a BEF grant, the school purchased a set of Oculus virtual reality headsets. “Students are taking technology they’re familiar with and merging it with what we want them to see, giving them purpose and direction and making it an educational experience. That’s our goal,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin used the headsets with English / Reading teacher Stacie Murrah and Social Studies teacher Bret Bunker to bring topics like the dust bowl and wildfire damage to life for seventh graders. “We wanted to incorporate some of the history with this virtual technology,” said Murrah. “I hope they can relate what they see not only to the novels we’re studying but to their present-day life.”
Bunker agreed, “We’re trying to combine the novel they’re reading with the history they’ll be getting in Texas history in a way that builds a bridge between the classes.”
The integrated approach is catching on with students. “Hearing about it is a lot different from seeing it,” BMSN student Logan Ratliff said. “When you hear about it, you envision it how you want to see it. You make it better than it really would be. When you actually see it, that’s the reality and you can’t change the reality.”
“BEF has helped our students become time travelers and explorers of the universe!” stated McLaughlin. “The virtual reality headsets help make learning authentic for the students.”
Even librarians are getting in on the act. Cibolo Creek Elementary School librarian April Brinson received a TIG in 2017 to enhance science instruction through her library collection. “We increased our non-fiction collection by almost 10 percent,” Brinson explained, “and the titles we added have already been checked out more than 700 times. Students are able to learn more about a science class topic or a topic they simply find fascinating. We are so thankful for the addition.”
To learn more about BEF or to make a donation, visit www.BoerneEducationFoundation.org.