By Crystal Bonvillian, The Huntsville Times
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Though the Speak Up initiative is slated to wind down at the end of this month, the campaign to involve the community in discussions about public schools is showing no sign of slowing down.
"We just passed 1,000 people in our participation list," said Debbie Beaupre, executive director of the Schools Foundation. "We have completed 81 conversations as of Thursday, we have another 14 scheduled and I have a full inbox of requests for more."
The non-profit Schools Foundation launched the Speak Up effort last August as a way to get the community talking about ways to improve the Huntsville, Madison and Madison County school systems. The initiative was modeled after the 2001 "Yes We Can!" campaign that has been credited with reviving the struggling Mobile County school system.
The effort in Huntsville has blossomed, with eight conversations planned for Wednesday alone, said Beaupre.
"I used to say it snowballed, but it's grown more like a spiderweb, reaching out in all directions," Beaupre said.
The first of the community conversations began in November, Beaupre said.
"We invited anybody who wanted to be involved to let us know," she said. "We had a few test conversations in November, but hit the ground running in January."
Part of what kicked the initiative into overdrive was the revelation late last year of the financial trouble plaguing the Huntsville city school system. The system is currently working through a financial recovery plan designed to eliminate a deficit that left it $19.5 million in debt last fall.
"As you might imagine, the interest in this initiative is mostly in Huntsville," Beaupre said.
Over the course of the initiative's fundraising efforts, which began in February 2010, the Schools Foundation has raised more than $70,000 for Speak Up, she said.
Though the conversations will end this month, fundraising -- and the work to help the schools -- will continue.
The data obtained through the conversations will result in community contracts developed for each of the three school systems.
"It will mesh the priorities of the community with the priorities of the school systems, so we're all working for a set of clearly identified goals," Beaupre said.
The timeline for the contracts has them ready sometime this fall. Once they are presented to the school boards, the Schools Foundation will monitor the actions taken to ensure that the community contracts' goals are met.
"This is not just a short-term flash in the pan," Beaupre said. "This is a long-term commitment to education."
To learn more about that commitment or to sign up to host a community conversation, visit www.theschoolsfoundation.org.