Skip to main content

Back to School

By September 4, 2014January 28th, 2015Front Page

Issaquah Schools Foundation

Issaquah Schools Foundation  – Humble Beginnings
By Nina Milligan, Highlands Council Communication Manager, Resident Crofton Springs


The idea for ISF grew from wanting to meet the unmet needs of a single classroom to meeting the unmet needs of all the classrooms in the School District.
John Shaw, ISF Founder

Top quality schools have brought families to Issaquah for decades now. Why does the Issaquah School District rise above the rest? I would venture to say that the Issaquah Schools Foundation (ISF) makes a big difference.

Newcomers to Issaquah may take this fundraising, program-building powerhouse for granted. ISF raises well over a million dollars each year for our schools. The Foundation supports numerous unique programs such as National Board Certification scholarships for our teachers, the VOICE Mentoring program for our struggling students, and TEALS for technology literacy, just to name a few.

However, what is now a powerhouse had humble beginnings. It was simply about buying a new classroom rug.  It turns out that you can’t just do that.

The Issaquah Schools Foundation was founded in 1987 by John and Maureen Shaw. John is an important member of our Issaquah Highlands family. John worked on behalf of Port Blakely to complete the development of Issaquah Highlands, ushering in Grand Ridge Plaza, Swedish Hospital and its future expansion, Bellevue College and more.
Two years ago John’s daughter Kelly D’Ambrosio, her husband Patrick and twin daughters Lauren and Jane, were looking for a place to settle down. They chose Issaquah Highlands. Their choice exemplifies the nexus of qualities that the Issaquah Schools Foundation and Issaquah Highlands combine to make our community a top pick for so many families. Let’s find out more!

We gave a little snowball a push in the snow and it has grown to be a giant ball.
John Shaw, ISF Founder

Nina interviews Issaquah Schools Foundation Founder, John Shaw:

What triggered the creation of the Issaquah Schools Foundation?
My wife Maureen and I were visiting our son’s kindergarten class when we noticed that the children were sitting on an old and tattered rug for story time.  Besides the expected glitter and glue, there was dried stuff on it that we didn’t even want to identify. When we volunteered to replace the rug, we were told they could not accept direct gifts. We would have to make special arrangements with the District.  It was while meeting with the then District finance officer about the steps involved that we started discussing the concept of a foundation.

How did you get things started?
Maureen and I reached out to the Mercer Island Schools Foundation for information, which was freely and enthusiastically provided.  Then we presented a proposal to the Issaquah School Board. They quickly concluded that a foundation was not necessary.

That must have been discouraging!
Oh yeah! But not long after that conversation, the school district became embroiled in a financial scandal regarding an enormous budget deficit.  Under scrutiny for the scandal, the school called us (the same District finance officer we had met with) wondering if we were still willing to spearhead the creation of a school foundation.
‘Nothing like a little scandal to get things moving!

Was there always the momentum we enjoy today?
Once the school board and the district leadership embraced the idea of a foundation, they never looked back and provided enormous help and guidance.  With their help, we attracted an amazing group of well-established school volunteers to serve as the initial board of directors.  That group deserves all the credit for the success of the Foundation, along with each and every Foundation board member since.

What role did you play in the Foundation?
Maureen and I agreed that only one of us would serve on the board.  I served for one three-year term as President, intentionally serving just one term. I think it is healthy for an organization like the Foundation not to become a club but to be reinvigorated regularly with new ideas, energy and spirit.  Maureen remained very much involved and we both continued to participate in activities for many years.

Nina talks with John’s daughter, Kelly:

Why did you move to Issaquah Highlands?
We moved to the Forest Ridge neighborhood just over a year ago. Patrick and I wanted to buy a home where we could envision ourselves for a long time. I wanted a neighborhood where my children could play that was close to restaurants and shopping. Pat and I also hoped for nearby trails for walking our dog. Oh, and it had to be close to I-90, too! Bingo: Issaquah Highlands!

To what degree did the quality schools influence your decision?
Having a great school district hugely impacted our decision to move back to Issaquah! We did not want to look to private institutions for a sound academic experience. Having been a teacher myself, my biggest concerns were class size (student/teacher ratio), the curriculum being taught and parent/teacher support of the schools.

How did the Issaquah Schools Foundation directly influence your decision?
I grew up in the Issaquah School District and enjoyed the positive effects of the Foundation. Two years ago I was fortunate to attend the ISF Nourish Every Mind luncheon (prior to moving back to Issaquah) and was so impressed. The After-School Homework labs, which provides teacher-led, free tutoring for middle school and high school students especially caught my attention.

How did the early years of the Foundation impact family life at the Shaw home?
My parents were constantly volunteering in our classrooms, holding positions in the PTA, organizing walk-a-thons and other fundraisers, helping to clean up schools, coaching sports teams, and they knew all of the staff and administrators on a first name basis. In short, they were very present. They always showed up and “walked the walk”.  And they would get my brother, sister and me to help with little projects for the Foundation, like affixing ISF stickers to the items the foundation provided to the schools.

What does the future hold for you and your children?
I look forward to my daughters going to Kindergarten at Clark Elementary School in a few short years and can’t wait to follow in my parents’ footsteps as an active member of the PTSA and as a school and district volunteer. That is a gift from them that I hope to pass along to my own girls.