Inquiry Magazine Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy

FALL 2012

Patty Barbato

Patty Barbato (MS97) brings together the com- munity as a leader of the foundation supporting Evanston/Skokie School District 65. The foundation offers teacher grants and curriculum-based programs for chil- dren and families.

Patty Barbato: Building Community Support to Enhance Public Education for All Kids

By Rebekah Snyder
Patty Barbato and students

When Patty Barbato (MS97) took her first teaching position in a fourth-grade classroom in a low-income Chicago community, she found herself doing what too many teachers do: dipping into her personal funds for the supplies necessary to respond to her students’ needs. School leaders were supportive, but resources were critically low. “There was room to pursue innovative new ideas and collaborate with other teachers, but the only way to fund it was with our own wallets,” Barbato says.

To address this common problem throughout American schools, supporting foundations associated with public school districts have become a nationwide trend. Private dollars are raised to support direct teacher grants and, often, capital improvements. Under Barbato’s leadership, and with broad community support, Evanston’s answer to this problem — Foundation 65 — is doing so much more.

The graduate of the Master of Science in Education (MSEd) program is immediate past president and advisory board chair of Foundation 65, a supporting foundation of Evanston/Skokie Public School District 65. When Barbato joined its board in 2004, the foundation had no staff and did no programming. It was small in scope, but she and a handful of other leaders saw its potential. Today, Foundation 65 has demonstrated eight years of programming success and recently received investments from Northwestern University and the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation. These funds have provided the infrastructure for one of the most sophisticated organizations of its kind, with a focus on collaboration, community engagement and evidence-based research.

Barbato traces her particular philosophy of education reform to key aspects of the MSEd program in which she trained. A critical element was the Urban/Suburban Consortium. Through the consortium, MSEd students spend valuable time in diverse school settings, from well-funded suburban schools to struggling urban schools. Her experiences in these disparate environments impressed upon Barbato the conviction that “you’re preparing kids to live in the real world, so you have to know the real world.”

As an educator herself, Barbato understood that teachers know best how to meet the needs of their students, and she witnessed, firsthand, the power of collaboration. “SESP taught me a lot about being a teacher leader,” says Barbato. “You are not only a teacher within the four walls of a classroom. You are a community leader at the same time.” In 2004, the foundation started with direct teacher grants to support innovative approaches. They observed teachers learning from each other, sharing best practices, and soon found that continued investment in replicable models can make a deep impact on more students. Programs such as Advancing Literacy for ALL and the Summer Reading Program are showing measurable results toward specific outcomes.

Today, Foundation 65 is unique for its programs that actively engage families, such as Family Author programs, and other community organizations, such as Kindergarten LEAP, a partnership with Evanston Public Library. Programs are also deeply rooted in District 65’s curricular goals, often taking place in the classroom to support instructional practice. “Foundation 65 is a true partner with District 65 and other community organizations that want to invest in educating our students,” states Barbato. In the coming year, the foundation expects to provide nearly $200,000 for its programs and hopes to reach all 7,000 kids in all 12 district schools.

Barbato’s advice to other parents and concerned citizens: “Plug yourself in. If you want to see something change, be the change.” Improving schools is not a task for school boards, principals, teachers, or even parents, alone. It takes active listening and collaboration. “It takes a community effort,” she says, a lesson Barbato credits SESP for teaching her. She may no longer be at the head of that fourth-grade classroom, but in a very real way, Patty Barbato and Foundation 65 are having an even more important impact: improving education for all of Evanston’s kids.