At the urging of the Will Rogers High School and Tulsa Public Schools administrations, the Will Rogers High School Community Foundation was formed in 2010 as a “not for profit” corporation. It has received a Letter of Determination from the Internal Revenue Service that it qualifies under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3) as a tax-exempt public charity, meaning contributions are tax deductible by the donor.

The school doors opened in the fall of 1939 and, in the 70 years following, Will Rogers High School had been without an existing organization to work in coordination with the school administration to draw direct financial support from the private sector. The Will Rogers High School Community Foundation has distinguished itself from a previous organization that had been formed several years earlier in two ways: (1) the school administration was invited to be part of the leadership, and (2) participation is not limited to alumni.

Oklahoma Statutes, title 70, section 5-145, recognizes the benefits of local foundations and encourages their formation. Employees of the school district may not by law serve as voting directors, but they may serve in ex officio capacity. The bylaws provide for two non-voting directors, the school principal and the school district superintendent’s appointee. Additionally, some employees of the Education Service Center and school faculty members participate as advisors and committee members.

The directors and advisors provide experience from their own personal achievements and community leadership. Most are alumni; some are not. While the foundation is not an alumni association, the alumni base has established a most important constituency.

In 2011, Tulsa Public Schools faced what had been a growing challenge of a shrinking student enrollment since its peak in the ‘60s by consolidating several schools and closing others. The school building, an Art Deco masterpiece built during the Great Depression, had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. “Will on the Hill” was saved from closure, designated as a lottery magnet school, and renamed Will Rogers College Junior High and High School. It transferred out existing students who would have been juniors and seniors and added grades 7 and 8. Incoming students, who must meet certain entrance requirements, are offered the opportunity during 11th and 12th grades to take courses through Tulsa Community College, on campus as part of their high school enrollment, that count dually toward high school graduation and for college credit.

The foundation responded by adapting to the change in mission, but without changing theirs. It’s still about the kids. The foundation actively seek ways to support the school, its staff and faculty, such as mentoring the students, providing scholarships and funding classroom projects, so that Will Rogers offers the highest quality high school education available anywhere. There is now a waiting list to enroll in Will Rogers, and the Foundation wants to continue to promote it as the school of choice.

Dick Risk
Founder and Past-President, Will Rogers High School Community Foundation