Calif. family talks about donation to 2 El Cajon schools: Family donated nearly $1M to each school

Alec, Claudia Webster saw money at work on Monday

EL CAJON, Calif. - For the first time, a family from Northern California with a local connection is talking about their generous donation to two El Cajon schools.

On Monday, Alec and Claudia Webster watched their money at work.

About $800,000 a year from the Webster Family Foundation means Cajon Valley Middle School can hire extra staff, reduce class sizes and pay for extra supplies.

"I'm so proud of what I see," said Claudia Webster during a tour of Cajon Valley. "It almost brings me to tears."

It all began seven years ago. The Webster family of Santa Cruz wanted to help a needy school and chose Cajon Valley and nearby feeder school Lexington Elementary, which gets about $900,000 a year, because Claudia Webster used to teach in the district.

"It was overwhelming," she said, remembering her reaction to the list of needs the schools provided back then. "We couldn't begin to decide."

Instead of picking one need, they decided to pay for everything, including an art class and an additional newcomer class for the high percentage of immigrant children who enroll in the school.

"The real thing here is not test scores. The real thing is whole kids," said Alec Webster, who was referring to the variety of programs beyond standard subjects that would otherwise have been cut.

Test scores have improved. When Cajon Valley began receiving the grant money in 2006, the API score was 634. In 2012, it was 723, an 89 point jump.

In the last three years, truancy has dropped 55 percent and fighting has dropped 99 percent.

It's all part of Principal Don Hohimer's plan.

"It's the cultural shift, the cultural change that we're looking for," he said.

Lexington Elementary's principal, Ryan Burke, said the money means they can afford art, music and physical education for every student.

"They are essential subjects to teaching the whole learner," Burke said.

Alec Webster said he understands the frustration of people who say schools should not be in this position in the first place and that even he wishes schools did not need this kind of help.

"But we are here and the only place to go is forward," he said. "We could all sit here and do nothing and we would have the same problem and the same complaints."

Most people do not have millions, but the Websters say everyone does have something to give.

"Whether it's money or time or expertise, if every single person gave something, we wouldn't be here," said Alec Webster.

The foundation was created after his father sold his medical invention company to Johnson & Johnson and wanted to give back by improving the quality of education. This grant project ends in three years. Both principals say they are hoping the successes will inspire others to step in after that, by either donating money or time to keep the gains going.

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