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The Commercial Appeal
December 4, 2004

Business leaders want to revive East

Alum provides push for goal of $3 million aid for school

By Ruma Banerji Kumar
December 4, 2004

A group of local business leaders and East High alumni are launching an ambitious effort to raise $3 million for the embattled school.

The group, formed last month by prominent commodities trader and East High alumnus Charles D. McVean, will meet Monday night at 6 in the school library to recruit more members.

The group hopes to get about 150 alumni and local businesses to chip in and help East High out of an academic slump. McVean wants to restore the school's reputation as it was more than 40 years ago when he graduated.

"That was back in the stone ages," the 1961 graduate, McVean, jokes, "but East High was arguably the best public school in the city, and in the state. The records of East graduates who attended Vanderbilt are proof of that."

Much has changed since 1961.

The school is now among the weakest in the state, facing state takeover if it doesn't improve test scores.

"The thought initially was to raise money for Vanderbilt, since Mr. McVean attended the school, but Vanderbilt has a billion dollars, maybe, in its foundation," said Bill Sehnert, interim director of the group named Greater East High Foundation. "If you raise a million for Vanderbilt, they say thank you and your name goes on a wall that's about to fall over with about a hundred other names. But if you raise a million three or four for East High, you can see a real return on your investment."

The group plans to use the money to pay students in the top 20 percent of their class to tutor the bottom 20 percent of students at the school. The money also will help outfit the school's auditorium, slated for renovation soon, with top-notch audiovisual equipment.

Already, the Foundation has donated money to the school to install computers in the library. Money is also being used to motivate students and teachers: the top 225 students this semester will be honored during halftime at the Dec. 11 Grizzlies-Pistons game, and teachers and staff will get a Christmas party to boost morale.

While several city schools have business adopters who donate books, school supplies and small gift certificates, the Greater East High Foundation's efforts, should they succeed in meeting their $3 million goal, would be the most ambitious business-public school partnership locally.


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