Weather Forecast


Public schools foundation raises $115,000 at annual fundraiser

Tara Kranz and Ben Utecht are pictured during Saturday night's fundraiser at Hastings High School. Star Gazette photo by Chad Richardson

Seven or eight years ago, a few Hastings teachers wanted to buy SMART Boards for their classroom. The computer-driven interactive whiteboards replace chalkboards in rooms and offer students the latest in technology. The boards, though, aren't cheap, costing thousands of dollars.

That's when the Hastings Public Schools Foundation stepped in - the foundation awarded a few teachers a grant to purchase the boards, and testing began in Hastings schools. The results were clear - teachers loved them and students benefited from them.

Nowadays, just about every classroom in the district has the board, thanks to those favorable tests.

"Just think of what it would have cost to have bought all those SMART Boards without knowing for sure that they were going to be effective," said Leslie Nielsen, vice president of the foundation. "These grants are a great way for District 200 to do some test programs and see if a new concept would work."

Funding the grants obviously takes a lot of money, and to that end a fundraiser is held every year. A $1 million endowment was funded just after the turn of the century and by 2004 the first grants were awarded to excited Hastings teachers. Those grants were funded by the interest from that $1 million so that the endowment could continue to provide funds year after year.

To make it possible for additional grants to be given every year, the HPSF holds an annual fundraiser, and this year's was Saturday at Hastings High School. The event, titled "An Uncommon Gathering," sold out its 360 spaces to guests. By the end of the night, $115,000 was added to the foundation's coffers.

"We are thrilled," Nielsen said. "It went really well. People were just very positive about the whole night."

Every January, the foundation awards the grants to selected teachers in the district. The teachers are required to fill out an application form for the grants, which range in cost from $100 to $10,000. In January 2012, $60,000 was given to teachers in the form of the grants. Saturday's fundraiser is a shot in the arm for the foundation.

"We want to keep growing the endowment so we can increase the number of grants we give in a year," Nielsen said.

Guests at the fundraiser were treated to a catered meal and then WCCO's Mark Rosen took the stage as the emcee. Four Hastings High School graduates then took the stage to perform for the crowd. They all donated their time to the cause.

Mike Jones, who played with the band The Stalls for a number of years here, was one of the performers. He is now a choir director for a school district in Greendale, Wis.

Tara Kranz performed, too. She was active in music at the high school, performing with a number of choirs. She attended the College of St. Benedict and graduated this year.

Ben Utecht performed as well. He was active in music in Hastings, all the while being active in athletics, too. He played professional football and since retiring has pursued his interest in music.

Patrick Sieben, who played with his band Select 3 for years, is now performing in Las Vegas on a regular basis. He performed Friday night, then flew to Minneapolis for Saturday's show. He then flew back to Las Vegas on Sunday so that he could perform there Sunday night.