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Alumni work to save NC Governor’s School

Alumni of the North Carolina Governor’s School are refusing to let their cherished program disappear.

Governor’s School—founded in 1963 by Gov. and Duke President Terry Sanford—is a six-week summer residential program for gifted rising high school seniors in the state to study specialized subjects at either Salem College in Winston-Salem or Meredith College in Raleigh. The program suffered a near-fatal blow last June when the North Carolina General Assembly stripped Governor’s School of all of its $100,000 annual funding in order to alleviate the state’s $2.4 billion deficit.

Jim Hart, president of the Governor’s School Alumni Association, wrote in a Tuesday email that the North Carolina Board of Education was reluctant to see the program go. The Board met with the alumni association and the Governor’s School Foundation—a non-profit designed to support the program—and ruled that it would give the two groups until late August to raise the $100,000 needed to continue the Governor’s School next summer.

Even though the groups had 15 days to raise $100,000, they managed to collect that amount in nine days, said Roice Fulton, vice president of the Governor’s School Foundation. Fulton said the groups’ success inspired them to set an ultimate goal of raising the $1,000,000 necessary to operate both Governor’s School campuses at full capacity without charging students. The efforts were one of the first instances where a public education program with an unknown future held a campaign to raise private funds, he added.

“That was the beginning of our fund-raising drive,” Hart said. “Working mostly through alumni for whom we had recently-updated contact information, through our Facebook group and through our web sites, we were able to raise $175,000 by the deadline.”

Junior Elena Botella, who attended the program, said she was not surprised that the Governor’s School Foundation was able to raise money so quickly. Botella called Governor’s School “an investment,” adding that it brings people together from different backgrounds who want to see the state succeed.

“The General Assembly is mistaken if it thinks it can have a fast-growing economy without cultivating talent,” she said.

Governor’s School has been affected by budget cuts since last year, when the General Assembly removed $475,000 from its budget, forcing officials to charge tuition—$500 per student—for the first time in the program’s history. Governor’s School was also forced to decrease its enrollment from 800 students to 600—with 300 on each campus. According to the Governor’s School Foundation website, the monetary campaign aims to restore the program’s tuition-free status.

Fulton said he attributed the campaign’s success largely to the program’s 35,000 alumni, many of whom held their own small gatherings as well as wrote testimonials and letters to the state legislature. He added that 80 percent of funds raised came from small donations.

The Foundation’s tactics also included soliciting major gifts and appealing to philanthropists and major players through the state. Fulton noted that the organization applied for several grants, adding that BB&T had already awarded the Governor’s School Foundation a $20,000 grant. The Foundation hired the Winston-Salem-based fund-raising company The Winslow Group—headed by Governor’s School alumnus David Winslow—to help with the efforts.

Despite future challenges, alumni are confident about the program’s future.

Hart said the groups will continue working in order to approach the N.C. Board of Education in November with enough funds to convince them to continue Governor’s School with 2012 sessions.

“It’s been very inspiring to see the show of support and we really aspire to the restoration of [state] funding for 2013,” Fulton said.

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