Funding innovation: Zionsville Education Foundation funds innovative projects for the school district


Because of a variety of eligibility factors, Zionsville Community Schools receives the lowest amount of funding per student from the state of Indiana, according to ZCS officials. But the Zionsville Education Foundation is ensuring that the school system and teachers have everything they need to pursue innovative avenues to effectively teach students.

ZEF is a nonprofit that operates separately from ZCS to raise funds privately from individuals, corporations, family foundations and small businesses and grants the funds to the school district. The money fund grants for teachers, students, classrooms and the school district as a whole.

“It can be anything in between,” ZEF Executive Director Lyle Browne said. “We fund classroom grants, which you would think of as a traditional kind of teacher grant. We also fund professional development for teachers and student-enrichment grants. We have some matching funds through DonorsChoose, and then we do larger strategic initiatives, which would be more transformational districtwide grants as well, so we do a lot.”

Browne, who has been with the foundation for five years, said its mission is to serve the school community by providing funds that promote academic excellence.

One way the foundation achieves its mission is by funding innovation in the schools by awarding grants that enrich specific curriculums, such as STEM, arts, literacy, cognitive/motor skills and social sciences.

“We want to take teachers’ innovative ideas and creative projects that they submit to us and enable those to come to life,” Browne said. “Since Zionsville Community Schools are the lowest-funded school district in the state of Indiana, it’s not always possible for teachers and the schools to fund creative projects, which is where we come in.”

ZEF Board President Challis Imes said she is amazed at some of the creative ideas teachers seek grants for.

“We are continually impressed by teachers’ ideas to enhance learning for their students,” she said. “We are grateful for their dedication and the extra work they put in to submit a grant application and implement these projects in their classrooms.”

According to the school’s website, ZCS receives the lowest amount of state funding for several reasons, including the low number of students on free and reduced lunches and average household income in the town, but Brown applauds the donor community for making up the difference.

“We live in a great place, in a very generous community, and often people move here for the schools,” Brown said. “So, our donors are heavily invested in making sure teachers have what they need, and they are able to have funding to implement some of their more innovative ideas.”

To date, the Zionsville Education Foundation has provided more than $1.6 million in support of Zionsville schools since it was founded 26 years ago. And in 2021 alone, ZEF awarded more than $118,000 grants to ZCS teachers and students to fund their creative solutions and innovative ideas.

“I love my job, I really do,” Browne said. “Not only do I get to work with donors and the incredible people they are with their generosity, but I also get to work with a great team of volunteers and the wonderful people of Zionsville Community Schools. What else could I ask for?”

2022 Spring Classroom Grants

On March 8, Zionsville Education Foundation awarded seven grants totaling $21,044.35 to Zionsville Community Schools for its 2022 Spring Classroom Grants cycle. The grants are as followed:

  • Sharing the Power of Our Stories Through Written Word and Graphic Arts (with local author Rob Harrell) – $1,469.70 to Zionsville Middle School
  • Generation Genius for a Genius Generation – $175 to Boone Meadow Elementary
  • ZEF 2022 Sports Enhancement through Speed Development – $996 to Zionsville Community High School
  • Haven in Hall Seven – $3,174.65 to Zionsville Community High School
  • Fairy Tales and Folk Tales: Creating Alternate Endings – $835 to Pleasant View Elementary
  • Experiencing Art & Culture – $4,000 to Zionsville Community High School
  • Set the Scene: Constructing Scenery for ZCHS Performances – $10,394 to Zionsville Community High School