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New foundation director sees ‘so much possibility’ for GRPS

EGR native begins leadership of Student Advancement Foundation


When Sally Andreatta talks about returning to West Michigan after a 20-year absence, it’s with excitement about the growth she sees happening in Grand Rapids and its public schools – and about her desire to help it along.

“I love to grow things,” said Andreatta, who was born and raised in East Grand Rapids and returns to the area after two decades in California.

She aims to aid the growth of programs and support for Grand Rapids Public Schools as new executive director of the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation. She says she’s excited to be working with Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal and the more than 16,300 students of GRPS.

A Helping Hand for GRPS Students

  • Now in its 25th year, the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation is the strategic fundraising partner of Grand Rapids Public Schools. It makes grants to GRPS or partnering agencies from unrestricted gifts to the foundation.
  • SAF was created in 1993 to funnel funds from the Gus Macker basketball tournaments to support GRPS athletics. It continues to provide funding for middle school and elementary sports through its GR8 Sports, Great Kids program.
  • The GRSAF focuses its grants on five “areas of impact”: arts education; environmental education; literacy; math, science and technology; and physical wellness.
  • It also provides “named funds” for long-term support of specific needs, such as the Joan P. Secchia Breaking Barriers Endowment Fund, which helps students develop their interests by removing economic barriers.
  • The GRSAF’s main fundraising event is MindShare, which next year will be held April 24 at the JW Marriott Hotel.

“There is such dynamic leadership right now at Grand Rapids Public Schools, but there’s a lot of change,” said Andreatta, who began work the first week of December. “I embrace that. There are so many good things coming.”

The change includes a new superintendent to succeed Neal, who retires in June, but who has set a “solid foundation” for the future as part of a “nationally recognized” leadership team, Andreatta said.

“SAF has been such a huge part of that in their support and their partnership,” she added. “Looking ahead, I think we’re right on the precipice of this even greater movement forward. I think we’re going to be more than known just in Michigan, more than nationally.

“Grand Rapids Public Schools is going to be it. It’s what people are going to look to and say, ‘This is the model we want to follow.’”

As head of an independent nonprofit that facilitated private investment of more than $1.9 million in GRPS in the 2017-18 school year, Andreatta plans to do even more to support the schools, with a new strategic plan, greater fundraising and more ambitious programming.

Working Her Way Up

Andreatta returned to West Michigan in August from Orange County, California, where she worked in the nonprofit world on behalf of children’s services, low-income residents and started an arts school.

She was a board member of the McKinley Children’s Center, a program offering a range of helping services, where she met her husband, Walter, who was a behavioral supervisor. Ten years ago she founded Curtain Call Performing Arts Academy of Corona, a theater school where she also taught. Although it folded after two years, the experience was “really fun” and “made me very fiscally responsible for everything I do.”

For the past 10 years she held leadership posts at Community Action Partnership of Orange County, a nonprofit that works to prevent and alleviate the causes and effects of poverty. She initially trained workers to install home weatherization upgrades to low-income households, moved up to programs manager and then to director of energy and environmental services.

It was there she learned the most about running a nonprofit, Andreatta said.

“I’ve done a lot of little things to get where I am now,” she said. “I learned from working my way up.”

That includes her work in West Michigan, where she began her career as an assistant buyer at Herpolsheimer’s department store after graduating from Principia College with a degree in business administration (she is nearing a master’s at Southern New Hampshire University). She had attended boarding schools at Principia high school in St. Louis, The Leelanau School in Glen Arbor and Daycroft School in Greenwich, Connecticut, following her childhood years at Woodcliff Elementary in East Grand Rapids.

‘Grand Rapids Public Schools is going to be it. It’s what people are going to look to and say, ‘This is the model we want to follow.’’
– Sally Andreatta, executive director, Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation

She also worked for West Michigan Magazine, as marketing director for the Wondergem-Lukens PR firm and helped her parents run their golf course and gift shop in Northport before moving to California in 1998.

An annual book giveaway to GRPS students, such as this one at Congress Elementary, has been managed by GRSAF

‘Blown Away’ by GRPS

After two decades on the coast and raising four now-grown children – Katherine, Emma, Vanessa and Gianni – Andreatta felt the urge to return to Michigan, where her mom still lives in Northport. Neither she nor her husband had jobs here but took the risk.

After being hired at GRSAF, she figures it was “meant to be.” She succeeds former Executive Director Michele Suchovsky, who departed in June.

Chairman Charles Ash said they were looking for a director to carry forward the foundation’s mission of ensuring all GRPS children have the opportunity to learn and grow.

“Sally is the right person,” Ash said. “Her passion for children’s education is infectious. … Sally has our full confidence.”

Andreatta said she was struck by how far GRPS has come, with innovations such as middle college, the International Baccalaureate program and close community partnerships. One of her first meetings was with representatives of Amway.

“I wasn’t just surprised, I was blown away,” she said. “The thing that impressed me the most is how advanced this school system is, and everything they’ve done in the last 20 years to service the kids of this community.”

She looks forward to being part of the “invaluable village” supporting GRPS, and building on the foundation’s core values: possibility, people, potential, partnership and public education.

“There is so much possibility,” she said. “If we just operate from what our values are already, we’re in a great place.”

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Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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