Lakewood OH

Rocky River Education Foundation gives students an educational advantage

The Rocky River Education Foundation hosted the annual Turkey Trot family run at the high school track. (Photo courtesy of RR Schools)


Rocky River

By Sue Botos

A visitor to any of Rocky River’s four schools may peek into a classroom and see students working on iPads or using high- tech SMART boards and wonder how a district strapped for cash could afford these luxuries. But thanks to the Rocky River Education Foundation these, and other items, are available to students to better prepare them for life after school.

RREF President Jim Spallino explained, in a recent interview, that the foundation funds grant requests from teachers, administrators and student groups twice each school year. It also administers scholarships, on behalf of donors, to graduating seniors. “Our mission is to enhance the quality of the educational experience in the Rocky River City Schools,” he said.

According to information provided by the RREF, which was founded by seven trustees in 1984, it has awarded nearly $500,000 in grants and paid out about the same in scholarships.

During this year’s fall grant period, 12 individual grants were funded, totaling $18,586.67. Among the recipients were Christina Bright, a Rocky River High School technology teacher — who got $1,955.57 for the purchase of an Engineering and Programming with Robotics hardware and software teaching tool — and Derek Davis, who received $2,000 for four iPads to help prepare students for the business world. High school Principal Debra Bernard is also helping to fund an additional two iPads.

First-grade teacher Ann Davis received funding for five iPads, which are shared with other first-grade classes at Goldwood Primary School. The school PTA also contributed an additional iPad.

“Young children are so used to this technology that it is a way to extend their learning in the classroom using iPads,” she said.

Last year, Sara Ziemnik’s Advanced Placement history class used present technology to visit the past. Her students used 15 iPads and apps, awarded through an RREF grant, to create minidocumentaries that analyzed a particular aspect of U.S. and local history.

“Through the generous grant from the Rocky River Education Foundation, my students created some amazing oral history projects in just a short period of time that were very impressive,” commented Ziemnik. (Watch videos of two minidocumentaries at

The grants are based on funds available and a detailed application, which asks for a total amount requested, plus the total project cost and any matching funds that have been secured. A program description is also required explaining goals and anticipated outcomes.

RREF also distributes $1,000 to each building principal, and $500 to the REACH (Rocky River Early Achievement) preschool program, through the annual Creative Cash Award. This money is used as each principal sees fit to meet the needs of the individual school, but must be consistent with the mission of the foundation.

“We view our mission as encompassing helping to ensure that the teachers in the district have the tools necessary to prepare our children for success in the future in terms of college and beyond. We feel this is what our donors and supporters expect when they entrust their hard-earned dollars to us,” said Spillano, who stressed that the funds cannot be used for school budget items. “The money is intended to help with programs and materials outside of the budget,” he said.

“We try hard to educate the community, and we have that same concern when looking at a grant request. We try to educate the community about what we’re doing and why,” he added. Spillano said that most of the time donors leave funds distribution up to the board of trustees, but will sometimes earmark their donations for such areas as scholarships, technology or special-needs students.

RREF Vice President Karen Weger commented that donations, which often are aided by a large endowment, were down last year. “We started the Pirate Parent Campaign toward the end of the fiscal year to help make up for that,” she said. Asking $20 from each family in the district, the campaign netted $9,600.

Spillano said that some reconfiguring of the present six committees is in the future for the RREF. A new website has been launched,, which gives background information about the organization as well as an opportunity to contribute. The annual fundraiser, “An Evening in Paris,” will be held March 31 at Westwood Country Club. More information is available on the site.



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