All-Star Teacher Initiative rewards teachers at Olympic High with $150 checks

Teachers at Olympic High are coming up with plans for what to do with $150 checks they received this week through a new recognition program launched at the southwest Charlotte school.

Modeled on a successful program at East Mecklenburg High, the All-Star Teacher Initiative raises money from alumni to reward teachers for the extra time and money they put into the job.

The checks distributed to each teacher this week was the first step. Teachers won’t be required to document how the money is spent. They’re trusted to use the money for their classrooms.

The Olympic High School Foundation, which manages the initiative, also has a budget for teachers to apply for grants for special trips or equipment.

“Tax dollars communicate support, but what we’re doing communicates love and appreciation,” said Olympic alum Al Winget, one of the foundation’s leaders.

The checks were distributed to teachers Tuesday, and many have already laid out plans for how they’ll be put to use.

‘It makes you feel good’

Culinary arts teacher Christine Kapakos said a small thing she’ll buy right away is an upgraded first aid kit. The rest she’ll save, perhaps for a class trip.

“It was nice to hear, ‘Thank you, and here’s a reward,’ ” she said. “It makes you feel good that you are felt to be important and loyal to our students.”

Suzanne Newsom, an English teacher who also serves on the foundation’s board, is teaching the classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” in her classes. She said she’ll likely use the money to take her students to see the story performed by Theatre Charlotte.

“I just thought that would be really neat because it’s an experience,” she said. “It would create a memory.”

Inspired by East Meck alum

The idea for the program dates to 2005, when East Meck alumnus Bob Silver made a $500,000 matching grant to help his former school. The school brought in professional fundraiser Joan O’Brien to manage the program, and she turned it into a sustained annual benefit to the teachers there.

A group of Olympic High alumni hired O’Brien to launch a similar program there. The funding at Olympic was kick-started by a $250,000 pledge from alumnus Bruce Dye, who lives in Fort Wayne, Ind. He donated $100,000 to the effort up front, and the rest will be given as a matching grant. As O’Brien raises more money, Dye will write more checks.

Dye, 59, said he was inspired to give to the school when he attended his 40th class reunion in October. With a background in private equity, Dye said he quickly felt that a matching grant program was the way to go.

“It helps keep people focused,” he said.

O’Brien said the foundation is now working toward securing more donations. The organization held a barbecue fundraiser before the school’s first home football game in honor of longtime coach and athletics director Dave Johnson. The event drew a number of alumni who were inspired to give as well.

“People need to remember where they come from,” O’Brien said. “Public school teachers are professionals who are dealt a tough hand in general.”