- Last Updated on January 27, 2012
- Written by CMI Staff
Some teachers just don’t know when to quit. Conway’s Billy Coyle is one of those teachers, and the students of this Dallas County district are all the better for it. A science teacher for 44 years, Coyle has touched the lives of many students both in and outside of the classroom. One former student credits Coyle with teaching him and others on how to be mentors as adults. “It is like virus growth,” he said, “but a good virus!”
Another former student remembers with emotion how Coyle opened up his home to him when his family was having difficulties. The stories are endless, but Conway Superintendent Chris Berger believes Billy Coyle’s impact goes far beyond his roles of teacher, mentor, and compassionate friend. “Coyle has always been civic-minded,” Berger reflected before adding with a laugh. “He even served as Mayor.”
Considering all that Billy Coyle has done, it should not be surprising that his “giving” has extended into more formal philanthropy. Inspired by his personal commitment to encouraging, challenging, and inspiring students, Coyle made a substantial gift to establish the Billy Coyle Leadership Fund through the Rural Schools Partnership (RSP) as an endowment dedicated to students with an interest in science, science education, and law enforcement. Not only will this fund assist scores of Conway students in the years to come, but it became an anchor fund to establish the new Conway School Foundation.
“Coyle has given more than $100,000 to support the school and students,” Berger remarked, “but moving our school community into true foundation building may ultimately be his most important legacy.”
In fact, Berger believes the Conway School Foundation’s ability to facilitate community engagement is every bit as important as the money.
“This foundation will keep people aware of our good news and the challenges we face. Also, we can attract foundation board members whose children may have graduated or even left the community. Hopefully, we can put people in a position where they can really help us throughout their lifetimes.”
The spirit of Billy Coyle, his impact on students, and the subsequent formation of the Conway School Foundation are at the heart of the Rural Schools Partnership movement. In two short years, CFO’s Rural Schools Partnership has gone far in promoting school- centered philanthropy, supporting place- based education, and building important partnerships. RSP’s impact has gone beyond the Ozarks, as it has become a national model, featured in leading newspapers, education journals, and blue ribbon conferences.
RSP has grown to include 103 school communities, 165 new charitable funds with total assets of $16.9 million, and led to the establishment of 23 new school foundations. In the past year there were several key additions: the $1.4 million Laverta Arnhart Jones Scholarship Fund serving Lawrence County students; the $500,000 Johnny E. Tubaugh Scholarship Fund providing opportunities for Dade County high school graduates; the Truman Lake Community Foundation’s $318,000 Lovella Hilty Memorial Scholarship Fund; Ste. Genevieve’s $248,000 Valle Schools Academic Enrichment Fund, and Hermann’s $77,000 Streck Educational Foundation Fund. And 26 RSP schools completed the year-long Harry Cooper Supply Company Campaign for the Ozarks Phase II challenge, which raised nearly $1 million to build education endowments for these districts.
There is more to RSP than money, however. The innovative and lauded Ozarks Teacher Corps now includes 25 students from Missouri State University, Drury University, and Evangel University, and last summer placed its first six alumni in their hometowns or other small schools. Strengthening this effort is the launch of Missouri State University’s new Rural Education Center, based out of West Plains. Featuring a progressive field-based K-8 alternative certification program and professional development focused on place-based learning, the Rural Education Center will soon work out of a state-of-the-art Gohn House, made possible by private donations and institutional commitments.
The South Central Leadership Initiative is another exemplary RSP program. Under the direction of CFO’s Carol Silvey, high school students from nine Ozarks communities learn leadership skills and how to apply them to their respective Ozarks towns and schools. Placeworks, an integrated arts- based program, is in its second year and RSP grants continue to be offered for conservation/water quality as well as the Coover place-based grant program.