Paige Harris Bobby de la Garza

Cleburne Education Foundation Executive Director Paige Harris, left, visits with Cleburne Ford owner Bobby de la Garza during Friday’s Pinnacle Club 50 meeting.



Cleburne’s new high school and the renovation of the former high school into a career and technology center are just two of the exciting developments and attributes of Cleburne ISD, Cleburne Education Foundation past board President Amber Witte said.

“There are so many amazing things going on at CISD,” Witte said. “And CEF is glad to be a part of it.”

CEF, which operates separately and independently of CISD, assists the districts and its students in numerous ways, CEF officials said during Friday’s monthly Pinnacle Club 50 breakfast.

Cleburne businessman Vance Castles played a pivotal role in establishing CEF in 2009.

“I met with [then CISD Superintendent Tim Miller] and we formulated details for the foundation,” Castles said. “These are not that old. They’ve only been in Texas since 1988. So we started from scratch with a dream, a prayer and with God in the center.”

Castles credited the foundation’s success to its volunteers and generous donors.

CEF supports CISD teachers, students and campuses through several grant programs administered by the foundation. The foundation exists to supply funding for programs, equipment, materials and other needs CISD would not otherwise be able to pay for.

CEF Executive Director Paige Harris explained the benefits and operations model of the foundation.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth since we began,” Harris said. “We partner with CISD but, like Vance said, are a separate entity from it. We receive no tax money and we’re always looking for volunteers.”

Since its inception the foundation has awarded $347,000 in grants. Those include innovative, campus, rookie and other grants.

“We awarded $39,000 in innovative grants last year,” Harris said. “Those are grants, which can be up to $5,000, that CISD teachers apply for and they address ways to enhance the classroom and teaching experience. The 10-member grant committee don’t know the names of the teachers or campuses when considering applications in order to eliminate any hint of favoritism. Teachers, or a principal, can win the grant two years in a row then they have to take a year off.”

A pre-kindergarten class in Irving Elementary School, for example, recently received a $5,000 grant for Learning Alive, an interactive program, which assists in teaching children letters, numbers, phonics and other basics.

CEF funded purchase of a 3-D printer for Wheat Middle School teacher Gwenda Davis’ robotics class, Harris said, one of four 3-D printers CEF grants have funded for the district.

Davis employs the printer in encouraging her students to plan out, draw, figure the applicable science and math and create, Harris said. 

“The goal is to expand the students’ horizons,” Harris said. “This applies whether they’re interested in pursuing an engineering degree in college or going into a manufacturing job out of high school.”

A Cleburne High School government and economics teacher applied for and received a grant for a stock ticker. In addition to teaching the workings of the stock market, the teacher uses the ticker to teach students how current events on the national and global stage affect stock markets.

The fruits of the grants result in measurable, and positive, change, Harris said.

A campus grant awarded to Adams Elementary School funded the Reflex Math program for students in grades third through fifth. Passage rates on math tests improved from about 40 percent at the beginning of the school year to about 90 percent by the end, bolstering skills that should help those students as they move on to algebra and other advanced mathematics courses later on, Harris said.

The hope now is to expand the Reflex program to all the district’s elementary campuses.

The annual Nashville Lights concert provides much of the foundation’s funding. The concerts, which stages Oct. 17 at the Cleburne Conference Center this year, brings notable Texas and Nashville singer/songwriters to the Cleburne stage. The performers, many of whom have penned hits for major country/western artists, both perform and share the stories behind their songs.

Although this year’s show is sold out, Castles joked that he will happily arrange for a small table on the end of the stage for anyone wishing to make a $20,000 donation to the foundation.

CISD employees contribute the second largest donation source.

“Last year, 470 CISD employees donated through payroll deductions totalling about $24,000,” Harris said. “So that shows they believe in the foundation and our commitment to education in Cleburne. This year we have the same number of contributors but who have committed more. So were expecting donations to total about $27,000 this year.”

Donations otherwise come from businesses and individuals, Harris said. 

Castles touted the district’s new career/technology center as a hidden gem that offers students training in a number of vocations.

“A student can leave high school and go right into the workplace with a good paying job,” Castles said. “With more people moving into our community we need to get word out that this is something that will enhance our local businesses and quality of life.”

For information on the foundation, visit


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