Palisades High School Hires Director of Development

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

Palisades Charter High School has hired a director of development to help bring grant and fundraising money to the school.

Michael Rawson took up the post with enthusiasm at the end of July and quickly started creating a fundraising campaign for the beginning of the school year to help bring a “culture of giving” to the school.

“I feel really passionate about this school, the leadership, and the kids,” said Rawson, who previously worked in both the educational and corporate world. “I want to make it the pre-eminent school in California, because I think it has so much to offer.”

At Back-to-School Night on Sept. 8, PaliHi unveiled a video to promote a drive for technology equity, which would provide carts and 900 additional Chromebooks to PaliHi students. The drive requests $350 (the cost of one Chromebook) from each family, and the idea is to double the number of Chromebooks available to students. Eight days later, the school had raised $19,350, or 6.5 percent of its goal of $300,000. By Oct. 13, the drive, which ends on Halloween, had raised $54,161 from 5.6 percent of Pali families. In addition, 14.5 percent of teachers had donated to the effort, and half of the school board.

Michael Rawson is Palisades High School director of development. Photo: Grace Ramsey
Michael Rawson is Palisades High School director of development. Photo: Grace Ramsey

Rawson realizes that many families can’t afford to donate $350, but if students and families give even a dollar, it helps. The school has to demonstrate that a high percentage of its stakeholders give to the school in order to qualify for various matching grants. The second phase of the campaign involves reaching out to alumni, and his idea is to enhance overall the school community’s focus on giving.

“While certainly we’d like to have a fair amount to buy more Chromebooks, to develop a culture of giving is really important,” Rawsonsaid.“We need to build to a future of more self-reliance, because you can’t count on the state to give you the same budget year after year. Fundraising has to be part of it.”

Rawson, a fifth-generation Californian from Westchester, has spent much of his adult life giving in various ways. As a student at Santa Clara University, he started volunteer coaching at a San Jose school where many students struggled with poverty. He continued to donate his time to coaching basketball and soccer, plus working with both the Boys and Girls Club in Hollywood and the Catholic Youth Organization.

For his first 17 years out of college, he also worked in the corporate world at Kingsley Machine Company, moving up through the ranks and eventually becoming CEO. When the company was purchased by Illinois Toolworks, he was able to shift from business to education and took a job at Notre Dame Academy in 1996. He worked there for 17 years, initially as the director of athletics, but later as the director of institutional advancement and the chief financial officer.

“I earned a tenth of what I made in corporate, but the level of satisfaction was incomparable,” Rawson said. After Kingsley Machine sold, “I could pick and choose where I could be of service and try to make a living at the same time.”

For the last three years, he has operated a financial consulting business and worked as a marketing director at World Financial Group, but in April he also started teaching a personal finance course at Loyola. “It really fired up my passion for that environment,” he said, and when he heard of the director of development opportunity at PaliHi, he applied.

“As we started talking, I got excited, and they got excited and I got more and more excited,” said Rawson, whose daughter’s godfather, Michael Polito, was one of the early faculty at PaliHi. “When the opportunity came, I said, ‘You know, I would love to be here.’”

Aside from the immediate annual fund- raising mission, Rawson presented a set of goals to the school board in August, including adding an auction as a major spring fundraiser, developing a better connection to alumni, investigating and applying for grants, and pursuing donations to an endowment fund. In addition, he is working to link up further with the community to find ways to enhance its existing connections with the school.

Rawson’s feeling of excitement and enthusiasm has continued to be stoked since he started at the school. “It was really obvious just from my first board meeting that the board’s constant focus is on how to improve; that’s a really healthy environment,” Rawson said. “I’m so impressed with the leadership, from the board to the administration to the faculty. The students are amazing. I’ve never had anyone be impolite or rude. They respect their teachers and the facilities. It feeds right into my passion, because I love this environment.”

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