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Foundation names Larson as its new executive director

Longtime education volunteer takes over July 1; fundraising campaign tops $1.37 million


REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Mary Kay Larson steps into the role of Lake Oswego Schools Foundation executive director on July 1.Lake Oswego Schools Foundation officials announced Tuesday that community education leader Mary Kay Larson will be the nonprofit organization’s next executive director.

Larson is a longtime local volunteer who currently serves on the Lake Oswego Bond Development Committee and the School Advisory Committee for Hallinan Elementary. She also was the public relations manager for the successful Lake Oswego School District levy campaign in 2013.

She steps into the Foundation executive director role on July 1.

“I feel very passionately about schools,” Larson says. “And I think one of the things that makes Lake Oswego schools as good as they are is the Foundation, so I’m really honored to be a steward of the Foundation.”

Larson, who logged 12 years in corporate public relations in the Bay Area, replaces interim executive director Jennifer Zagacki, a longtime local volunteer. Zagacki replaced Sara Patinkin, who left in July 2015 for “personal reasons” after serving the Foundation since August 2013. Patinkin's predecessor was Mary Puskas, who led the Foundation for two decades.

"Jennifer’s accomplishments included orchestrating a very successful luncheon with a nationally recognized speaker, implementing and updating our donations data system, and leading our annual campaign," Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Heather Beck says. "Jennifer will continue her work on the Foundation Board, and we are so fortunate to have had the benefits of her leadership this past year."

Larson says she's eager to bring a new perspective to the Foundation as it approaches its 30th anniversary this summer. She wants to look at donor bases and involve more people in contributing to the organization.

“I’m really excited about this job," Larson says, "because I see it as a chance to contribute to the community and really build community involvement.”

The Foundation is a major supporter of Lake Oswego schools, raising funds each year to pay the salaries of additional teachers in classrooms throughout the district. The Foundation, which is currently in the midst of a $2 million campaign, has raised $1.37 million toward its goal this year — and donations are still welcome.

“There is a lot of work to be done, but I’ve never shied away from hard work, especially when it’s something I feel this passionately about,” Larson says. "I plan to help the Foundation develop stronger ties with various members of the community to expand and deepen donor opportunities."

Members of the hiring committee for the executive directorship included the Foundation board president and other board members, two of the three 2015-16 Foundation campaign chairwomen and Beck.

“Mary Kay’s background and expertise in communications and public relations were evident in the interview process, and her experiences as a parent and active volunteer in our schools have allowed her to cultivate strong relationships throughout the community,” Beck says. She also told The Review that Larson's reputation is stellar, and she's "looking forward to having her as part of our team at LOSD."

There were 11 applicants, and the committee felt the most important skills for a candidate to possess were leadership, communication, donor management, operations management, problem solving and overall fundraising experience, Foundation board President Tony Brauner says.

“We interviewed several exceptional candidates,” Brauner says. “Throughout the interview process, we felt Mary Kay had the strongest background relative to the skills we were looking for.”

Larson’s volunteerism also has included serving as PTO president at Hallinan Elementary, chairwoman of the Hallinan Elementary Art Literacy program and vice president and preschool forum chairwoman of the Lake Oswego Mothers Club.

Her public relations career included eight years with Porter Novelli in the Bay area, where she led large teams in handling corporate communications for high-tech clients such as McAfee and Hewlett-Packard.

Larson grew up in Sunnyvale, Calif., where her father worked for IBM for 30 years. Her mother was an elementary school librarian and instructional aide who served as a Parent Teacher Organization president three times.

“I come by my love of schools honestly,” Larson says.

The new Foundation executive director earned a Bachelor of Science in journalism from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and recently worked in content management for two neighborhood news magazines.

She has two children and a dog — Lakeridge Junior High sixth-grader Zachary, Hallinan Elementary fourth-grader Megan and Murphy the Labradoodle — with husband Kevin Larson. He is in supply chain management for Maxim Integrated, which designs and manufactures circuits. The family moved to Lake Oswego 10 years ago, and one of the biggest reasons they chose to settle here, Larson says, was the schools.

She says she is impressed with the desire local people have to give back to their community to make it “even better.”

“That’s one of the reason we love Lake Oswego so much and the community," Larson says, "and I think Lake Oswego Schools Foundation exemplifies that.”

YOU CAN HELP

For more information about the Foundation or to donate, visit http://www.losfoundation.org or call 503-534-2106.

SUBMITTED PHOTO: KATE FIRMIN - Elizabeth Hills is a star volunteer for the Lake Oswego Schools Foundation.

VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT: ELIZABETH HILLS

The Lake Oswego Schools Foundation has raised $1.37 million so far in its latest campaign, thanks not only to generous donors but also to a team of dedicated volunteers.

The campaign, which kicked off in February and ends June 30, has received support from more than 100 volunteers this year. All of them offer a crucial service, including Elizabeth Hills, who serves as Lake Grove Elementary School’s captain. The captain is responsible for contacting other families at the school and rallying them around the Foundation.

“Elizabeth is a rock star captain, and the Lake Oswego Schools Foundation is so fortunate to have her on its team,” says Kate Firmin, a campaign chairwoman for the nonprofit organization.

Hills says volunteering is an important part of her life. This is her second year as a school captain, but she says she’s not doing it alone.

“I’ve rallied quite a little army of volunteers to help me out,” she says. “It makes my work light to be able to inspire others to jump in and be a part of it. When you have a really fun, energetic group of parents working together, it just makes everything a lot more fun.”

Hills has managed to inspire 59 percent of Lake Grove families so far to contribute to the Foundation. Last school year, she spearheaded the Apples for Teachers fundraiser at her school. A paper tree sits outside each teacher’s classroom, and families donate to the Foundation in order to be able to hang paper apples on those trees with special messages for teachers.

“Usually it ends up being a super fun thing; the kids get really into it,” Hills says.

Hills says her fundraiser is growing; it raised $5,500 this year, $1,000 more than last year. The program also has spread to other elementary schools, including Forest Hills and Oak Creek.

Hills, who also serves as membership vice president for the Lake Grove Parent Teacher Association, says when she and her husband Jason came to Lake Oswego in 2009, their first-born child was just 1 year old. Yet, they still felt an urgency to give to the Foundation, even though their child wasn’t in school.

“The community supported the schools so much and we wanted to be a part of that,” Hills says. “We wanted to do our part.”

She now is a proud mother of two kids — a second-grader at Lake Grove and another who will enter kindergarten in the fall. Hills has just launched a career as a personal trainer, although fitness isn’t what she studied in school. After studying communications with a business minor at the University of Puget Sound, she became a real estate broker in the Portland metro area. She says her current job gives her the flexible schedule she needs to watch over her little ones, and she’s always prioritized fitness — she even spent two years on her high school soccer team.

“It just felt like a natural fit to work in the (fitness) industry,” Hills says.


By Jillian Daley
Reporter
503-636-1281, ext. 109
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