Lissa Gibbs

Lissa Gibbs has now spent six months as the executive director of the Educational Enrichment Foundation (EEF), an independent nonprofit organization that helps fund various programs at Tucson Unified School District schools. Thanks to the EEF, TUSD students and teachers are given classroom and special-project grants, as well as student vision exams and eyeglasses, and interscholastic activity-fee scholarships. To benefit the EEF, Tucson Racquet and Fitness Club, 4001 N. Country Club Road, will host a picnic and swim party on Friday, Aug. 13, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., with a barbecue and music. The cost is $12 for general-public adults; $10 for adult Racquet Club members; and $5 per child. Bring a swimsuit, towel and picnic blanket. For more information, visit eeftucson.org.

What's important to know about EEF?

We are the community-based foundation that supports enriched learning in TUSD schools, meaning that we support TUSD teachers and students with direct services. ... We're also governed by a separate board of directors that's made up of community and business leaders who care about education and understand that education is vital to the economic future and the cultural future of Tucson.

The EEF is a foundation for TUSD?

Yes, but I don't work for TUSD. We work closely with TUSD, but we're not TUSD. We're an opportunity for people who strongly believe in the value of quality public education to support (TUSD schools) through us. It's really important that it is understood that we help TUSD teachers and students, and not TUSD (administration). We work closely with them, but what we fundraise is not part of TUSD's budget in any way. We are supported by the donations of individuals, but many of those individuals are TUSD employees.

Through workplace campaigns?

A little bit through those, but mainly through payroll deductions. TUSD employees can make a payroll deduction each pay period, and we have about 800 TUSD employees who do that. The largest number of people making payroll deductions are the bus drivers, because they see the kids at the beginning of each day ... but if every TUSD employee did a 50-cent payroll deduction every week of the year, for less than the cost of a cup of coffee (every week), we could triple the size of our classroom-grants program. And that money goes directly back into classrooms, because it is for teacher-initiated projects.

Where do other EEF dollars go?

The major areas of EEF are classroom grants, which (make up) a very sizable chunk of our budget, and (are) what we work on to raise money for and administer during the year. Last year, we had 42 classroom grants that were awarded, and those range in size from $500 to $1,500. ... those are designated funds that come to us from the community. So EEF is that bridge from the community to TUSD schools, teachers and students. We also do college scholarships to graduating TUSD seniors.

You also work with special-needs students, right?

Within the EEF's Special Needs Fund is Focus on Vision, which provides prescription eyeglasses and eye exams for students who, for whatever reason, don't have access to a health-care plan for that. And we have interscholastic scholarships that are $50. We do about 700 to 800 annually for students to pay their mandatory scholastic participation fee, to pay for things like competitive team sports, band, orchestra, chess, academic decathlon, cheerleading, folkloric—anything that's an organized extracurricular activity.

Why interscholastic-fee scholarships?

People need to know that the student has to be academically eligible (and) has to attend class. It's actually an academic-achievement program. It's been studied that students who do extracurricular activities are the students who go on not just to graduate from high school, but to have rich and productive lives.

Why did you decide to work for EEF?

There won't be a solid, properly trained workforce that's ready for work if we don't solve the issues related to public education and making sure quality public education is offered to the broadest number of people. It's the backbone of democracy.