A cross section of leaders in education and business converged last week at the Detroit Seafood Market to raise money — $60,000 to be exact — for the Detroit Public School Foundation scholarship program named after Chronicle publisher Sam Logan. The event was part of an effort that began at the birthday celebration of Logan this year where all proceeds were donated to the DPS Foundation.
The gathering at the upscale downtown Detroit restaurant brought together individuals from different backgrounds but whose passion for education is indisputable. Chacona Johnson, who came out of retirement from the University of Michigan where she served as associate vice president for development, is the head of the DPS Foundation. Johnson was on hand to thank supporters and donors for contributing to create a better and meaningful future for Detroit children.
The foundation is an independent nonprofit entity with the sole purpose of seeking funding to support programs like fine arts and athletics, among others, at DPS. Johnson whose demeanor shows she is not the kind of person who cherishes the media spotlight, sat down with senior editor Bankole Thompson to briefly talk about her foundation and her plans moving forward.
MICHIGAN CHRONICLE: Given the current state of the district, what was at the back of your mind when you accepted to lead the DPS Foundation?
CHACONA JOHNSON: As a member of the Detroit community, I felt strongly that it was time for me to do my part in helping to ensure that DPS students have a quality education, have the opportunity to graduate from high school, and are able to pursue educational and training opportunities beyond high school.
MC: What has changed since you took over DPS Foundation?
CJ: The Detroit Public Schools Foundation now has office space and professional staff. We have raised over $2.2 million from foundations, corporations, organizations and individuals, including two six-figure gifts from individuals. Additionally, we have expanded our board and are launching our first public annual campaign in December.
MC: What is the most important objective that you want to see DPS Foundation achieve?
CJ: I want the foundation to help the students of Detroit Public Schools by first building trust and relationships in our community and region, and among DPS alumni. By building trust and relationships, we can then generate financial support to help impact learning opportunities for Detroit students.
MC: Given that the DPS Foundation is relatively new, set up six years ago, what impact has had?
CJ: As the foundation was not staffed until October of 2009, little progress was made in those early years, but now we have been able to secure support for DPS students and are making an impact. Through the foundation, the PNC Bank Foundation has started a three-year “Grow Up Great” pilot project in 12 DPS Pre-K classrooms in seven elementary schools.
We are hearing very positive results from the teachers in these classrooms. We have generated support for DPS music and athletic programs. Funding was secured from First Student and the Pickard Family Fund to revitalize the DPS All City High School Marching Band and local minority McDonald franchise owners have provided support to high school marching bands.
Last spring Yessian Music generated support for DPS music programs and Marathon Oil gave support to the foundation to allow DPS students to attend programs at the Michigan Opera Theatre, and Bank of America provided support to the DPS Evening of Fine Arts. We are also very proud that the new CEO of General Motors, Dan Akerson, personally donated $10,000 to support DPS athletics. And we are currently discussing an opportunity to secure support for an important math and science initiative.
MC: Do you find more people willing to give to the DPS Foundation in light of the troubled financial history of the District?
CJ: I find people willing to give to education, especially K-12education, because we are experiencing a national crisis in K-12 public education throughout our country.
MC: In 2011, what goals do you have set?
CJ: Continuing to build our image and to add value-added programs and activities for the benefit of DPS students, which will generate more financial support. Specifically, I look forward to expanding our support among the area’s philanthropic community and reaching more DPS alumni.
MC: Coming out of retirement, how long do you plan to lead this foundation?
CJ: I have no plans for leaving the foundation.