By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Keokuk Catholic/St. Vincent’s School is one of just nine schools in Iowa to receive a $250,000 grant from the Yass Foundation for Education. The award recognizes the Keokuk school for its capacity to ramp up quickly to serve more students. Gov. Kim Reynolds nominated the school for the inaugural Yass Award for Education Freedom, awarded to 21 private schools in states with recently enacted school choice legislation.
Head of School Shari Bozorgzad said she was “absolutely thrilled” to be among the recipients of the award. “I believe Keokuk Catholic was chosen because of our passion and commitment to growing our enrollment and our vision for building an early learning center with a child-centered approach.”
The Yass Foundation launched the new initiative earlier this year, inviting three states with recently enacted school choice legislation — Arkansas, Iowa, and Oklahoma — to nominate private schools. Foundation representatives announced the winners in a livestream event Sept. 14. “The insight at the heart of school choice is simple, but powerful,” Gov. Reynolds said in a recorded message to the nine Iowa winners. “Students are individuals who deserve an education tailored to their unique needs and goals, regardless of income or zip code.”
Iowa legislators passed the Students First Education Savings Account in January, providing qualifying students $7,598 to attend an accredited private school of their choice. The three-year rollout will eventually allow all full-time Iowa residents the opportunity to benefit from ESA funds.
“The ESA was a huge boost for us,” Bozorgzad said. “Our enrollment last year was 55 students, and this year we welcomed 76 students. We feel that we will grow even more next year as the requirements for the ESA will include more families.” St. Vincent’s School offers education to youths in preschool through fifth grade.
Following Gov. Reynolds’ nomination, Keokuk Catholic completed an application explaining how it meets the four core principles that guide the Yass Prize movement: Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding and Permissionless. The Yass Foundation invited governors to nominate up to 10 schools.
“In my application, I said ‘Our work significantly impacts students by empowering them to reach their full potential,’” Bozorgzad said. “We instill confidence, critical thinking skills and a solid moral compass, preparing them for academic and lifelong success. Our students emerge as compassionate, resilient and socially conscious individuals, ready to contribute positively to society.”
After finishing their applications, nominees completed peer reviews of other schools competing for the prize. Next, a team of judges from education and business, previous Yass winners and other community leaders reviewed applications. A Blue Ribbon Panel made the final selections.
Bozorgzad said she expects to receive a grant agreement letter via email within the next month. Yass executives will give advice on how they would like to see the money spent and she is looking forward to hearing their ideas.
“On the application, I stated that we would invest in upgrading our facilities, creating dedicated spaces for specialized activities, and procuring developmentally appropriate educational materials, equipment and technology to enhance the learning experience.” The school would also “allocate funds to recruit and train additional qualified educators to maintain small class sizes and provide personalized attention to each student.”
About Yass Foundation for Education
The Yass Foundation is powered by the Center for Education Reform in partnership with Forbes. The foundation supports dozens of organizations, building a growing network of providers that demonstrate sustainable, transformational, outstanding and permissionless education in their commitment to new ideas, technologies and approaches. “We know a good education is the key to a happy life,” said co-founder Janine Yass.