When Sari McConnell first moved to Burlingame from New York almost 10 years ago as a full-time working mom, she never envisioned she would one day step away from her career for a full-time role as an unpaid volunteer.
The president of BCE oversees a 16-person board, a 3-person staff, and manages over $2 million in revenues, not to mention a devoted army of passionate public school-oriented parent volunteers. It’s a job that involves being visible in the community, inspiring crowds, and evangelizing the importance of BCE to Burlingame schools.
So how did Sari end up as the new president of BCE?
“Having grown up going to public schools in NY, it took some time for me to figure out that California school funding was so out of whack. New York receives twice the amount of per pupil state funding as California. And education foundations were a brand new idea for me. But once I understood the math, I was all in! Money takes care of a lot of solvable issues in our schools. As a parent, it’s quite a powerful feeling knowing that you can do something about it… for my own kids and my own community. Our public schools educate the next generation of leaders, and our kids – who learn side by side and come from all walks of life – deserve a great, inspiring education.” she says.
Sari started out volunteering through the PTA Executive Board at her kids’ elementary school and then took on the role of Vice President of Marketing for BCE. Inspired by her volunteer experiences, she was ready to do more.
Like many parents, she discovered that having children bound her more deeply into the community. “Becoming a parent felt like joining a club that I didn’t even know existed,” she says. Seeing other parents give to their schools inspired her passion to do more for the community. She describes their first experience with Burlingame public school: “When [we] moved to Burlingame in November, our oldest was entering Kindergarten. As we arrived nervously on Roosevelt’s campus for the first time with our son, two parents approached us. They said, ‘You must be Jacob’s parents. Welcome to Roosevelt!’ And when we asked how they could possibly know who we were, they said, ‘well, we were expecting a new kinder today and since we know everyone else here, we’ve been waiting for you to show up.’ That story pretty much sums up our attachment to Burlingame’s schools. I can hardly tell it without getting a lump in my throat…Still.”
Her volunteer experience paired with her previous work experience and education prepared her well for her new role in fundraising. With a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, Sari began a career in brand management and product development working for Hallmark Cards, Clorox and Leapfrog. This evolved into business development as she founded a company called Conformer Products. Her volunteer management skills developed as she became more involved in her children’s schools.
Our school district was the perfect training ground for what she views as the most valuable experience on her resume. Although she eventually left full-time work, the passion for our schools burned even brighter and she saw a real opportunity in BCE. “We have a five-year strategic plan in place that we initiated this year that is based off of three strategic pillars — sustain our programs, strengthen our operational continuity, and seek growth opportunities. We are well prepared to hit the ground running for this fiscal year,” she says.
As president of BCE, Sari is in contact with all reaches of the Burlingame community: parents, the school district, local businesses, and community organizations. With so many stakeholders in the organization, Sari walks a fine line between making sure everyone feels heard while also making sure BCE strategy stays on target. Walking that line while protecting BCE’s dedicated volunteers is what she predicts may be the hardest part of the position. “As president, I encourage our board and our volunteers to take risks and try new things to engage and inspire our donors. We don’t always get it right 100% of the time, even when we try to anticipate all the angles. I feel protective of the volunteers who are out there trying to do their best to raise as much money for our schools as possible. It’s very hard asking for money…especially when they’re your neighbors!”
But it’s connecting all these parts of the community together to help make our schools great that inspires Sari the most as the new president. “The fact that we raise as much as we do every year — as a band of volunteers, as a community of parents and local businesses — is nothing short of a miracle. I want our hard-working parents to feel a part of this miracle, and the gift we’re giving our children.”
Sari lives in Burlingame with her husband Blake and three children ages 5, 11, and 14 who attend Roosevelt Elementary School (and previously TK at McKinley), Burlingame Intermediate School (BIS) and Burlingame High School (BHS). The role of BCE President is a 2 year term.
-Written by Elisa Lee