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Community Connections

Hazard (Ky.) Independent School District

Hazard (Ky.) Independent School District officials don't boast about the good relationship they have with their local businesses. It's a quiet confidence that if they need help, they know where to turn.

So it's no surprise that when Hazard High School needed to raise $50,000 to start a one-to-one laptop program, district officials didn't think twice about asking the business community for donations. And they got it. One local business contributed $10,000 toward the cost of leasing laptops for ninth graders during the 2003-04 school year, with the goal of giving all high school students laptops over four years.

" When we can show [businesses] that what they're funding
changes students' lives, they will respond favorably." -James Francis

Every incoming ninth grader receives a laptop to keep for all four years, returning it during semester breaks and over the summer. Upon graduation, students can buy the computer for a fraction of the market value, or about $125, explains Doug Bryant, the district's chief information officer. In the 2006-07 school year, all 300-plus high school students will have laptops and the first class that received them four years ago will decide whether to own them for life. Parents pay $40 a year for theft and tracking protection.

Neighborhood resources: Former Superintendent James Francis made the first push to seek help from the business community. Children of this small town's business owners and their employees attend the local schools and many of the town workers are products of the local schools. The idea that businesses would want to make a financial investment in the schools seemed natural. "Businesses need good schools and schools need businesses to support them," says Francis. Plus, local businesses had long been supporting sports teams for trips or uniforms as well as for small technology purchases.

Getting buy-in: To get the word out, Francis first pitched local civic organizations. Then he visited a community mainstay, Whitaker Bank, which contributed $10,000 for each of the four years. Coca-Cola gave $2,000 for each year. Kentucky's Department of Education also gave $25,000 for the program's first year in exchange for the district piloting an online testing program. The remainder of the money came from federal Title II funding.

Delivering results: Francis' promise to the businesses? Producing positive academic results. Before the program, in 2001, the district was listed in the bottom third in academic performance among Kentucky's schools. Last year, the district ranked 24 out of 176 in the state and Hazard High School was listed among the top 10 high schools in the state.

"It's easy to ask businesses for $5,000 and put their name on a sign," says Francis. "But when we can show them that what they're funding changes students' lives with a zero dropout rate, increased attendance and improved academic scores, they will respond favorably."

Funding the future: For Janet Sandlin, manager of the Whitaker Bank branch in Hazard, helping to fund the laptop program means helping future employees as well as neighbors. "We are the community," Sandlin says of the bank. "The city schools are our customers. ... So, the community has to help the schools because if we don't, we all lose."

Lucille Renwick is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor.