Noe Valley Voice September 2010

Twenty-fifth Street resident Dan Polk is founder of San Francisco Partners in Education (SF PIE), which strives to link wealthy donors to needy public schools.   Photo by Pamela Gerard

Local Parents Going Corporate to Make Money for Schools

By Heather World

School is in swing again, and while public schools like Noe Valley’s Alvarado Elementary have mitigated the impact of severe budget cuts through aggressive fundraising, some of the neediest schools in the city struggle to attract the wealth of their communities. Now a handful of determined Noe Valley parents are working to help all the city’s schools reap the benefits of their own connections and experience.

“We have to create equity for all schools without discouraging people to give to their own schools,” says Todd David, a Eureka Street resident with two of three children at Alvarado.

Last March, David and five public school parents created Ed Match, an organization that is asking corporate donors to match the money raised by the city’s public school PTAs—about $6 million last year. The matching funds will then be distributed evenly per pupil across all the schools, says David.

“The concept was to leverage what was already going on by parents: every dollar you give to your school helps every school in the district,” he says.

The group, which includes three Noe Valleyans with children at Alvarado, started by drawing up a list of companies with corporate headquarters in the city. At the same time, they snagged the sponsorship of the San Francisco School Alliance, a nonprofit clearinghouse for programs that support the school district. The School Alliance board of directors includes fundraising and education luminaries who can open the door to executives on the Ed Match list, says Angela Danison of Hoffman Avenue.

“It’s an established organization that has links to everyone supporting public schools,” Danison says. The Alliance will extend its nonprofit status to Ed Match and handle money raised and disbursed. “It gives us credibility.”

Ed Match will approach CEOs at companies like McKesson Corporation and Chevron Corporation this fall, and Danison thinks her group can make a compelling case by stressing that San Francisco students are the future workforce for local businesses.

For its first year, Ed Match will try to raise $1 million by January when the district sends schools their preliminary budgets, Danison says. That way, school site councils—the body of parents and staff that determine spending—will know how much they can add to their budgets for the next school year.

While Ed Match money will go to school site councils, the funds that 25th Street resident Dan Polk hopes to raise will go to parent organizations at individual schools.

Drawing on a background in education fundraising, Polk created a foundation, San Francisco Partners in Education (SF PIE), in March to link wealthy donors to needy public schools.

Polk, an American history teacher, has seen firsthand the impact of economic disparities in school funding. After moving to Noe Valley in 1996, he taught at Malcolm X Academy, a struggling public elementary school in Hunters Point. Now he teaches at the exclusive Woodside Priory School, a private boarding school in Portola Valley.

“I’ve been very interested in trying to get educational equity,” says the 37-year-old father of two children not yet in elementary school. “What I wanted to do was be a partner for fledgling PTA groups that are looking to help themselves, that know what they need for their school but just don’t have the money.”

Eventually Polk hopes to help the two-thirds of San Francisco’s public schools that cannot raise $100,000 themselves, but this year a few distractions (like a new baby) have limited his scope.

Polk has started by partnering with Daniel Webster Elementary School on Potrero Hill. According to school district data, three quarters of students there qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, which means their families earn an income of less than $28,000 for a family of four. Daniel Webster’s PTA is gathering steam but not much money.

Polk is compiling a list of needs and will shop it to wealthy donors in Silicon Valley, rounding out his requests with detailed stories about life at the school. He has met with restaurant celebrity Gary Denko about hosting a major fundraiser in January to target San Francisco wealth, but in the meantime he is looking on the Peninsula, where he has made connections in the past.

Three years ago, he and a friend raised money to create Kenya’s first all-girl boarding school, Daraja Academy. Shortly thereafter, he started a scholarship program at Priory that has already raised $300,000.

“I got a good taste of how to fundraise, meeting and approaching people from these enclaves, like Atherton, Menlo Park, Hillsborough,” says Polk. “I know someone in Atherton who says it’s crazy a school doesn’t have P.E.—I want that connection to be made.”

He believes people are more willing to donate when they know exactly what they’re supporting. He hopes to raise $150,000 for the school by offering donors concrete projects to fund and following up with school tours to show how the money benefitted the students.

The model he will use is based on one he helped develop at Daraja Academy. The school offers a restaurant-style menu of funding choices, from uniforms under “Starters” to a teacher’s annual salary for a “Main Course.”

“Whether people like it or not, we’re in a new paradigm,” says Polk. “If you want your school to have what you want, you need to be able to fundraise.”

To get involved in Ed Match, contact Todd David at 415-401-0625 or email To get involved with SF PIE, contact Dan Polk at or call 415-244-2407.

As part of the team at Ed Match, local parents (right to left) Angela Danison, Todd David, and Anna Burke—shown with son and Alvarado fourth-grader Joe May—are asking corporations to match the money raised by school PTAs.    Photo by Pamela Gerard