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California and the West

A Graduate Course in Philanthropy

Gift: Orange County couple's $20-million donation to USC School of Education is the largest of its kind.

September 15, 1998|KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

A pair of Orange County educators, who "worked hard and invested well" while running a private school and other enterprises, has pledged to give $20 million to USC's School of Education.

The gift, to be officially announced today, is the largest ever made to an education school in the United States.

In recognition of the couple's generosity, USC is renaming the education school after Barbara and Roger Rossier, who both earned doctoral degrees at USC before going on to open the Rossier School for emotionally and developmentally disabled students.

In another major gift for education, inventor and entrepreneur Arnold Beckman gave $14.4 million Monday to improve science education in Orange County's elementary schools. The gift, described as the second-largest private donation to a public school system in California, will be used to improve curriculum and train teachers in science instruction.

Besides expressing their fondness for USC, Barbara Rossier said she and her husband want their gift to support the university's efforts to improve the performance of urban schools in educating the poor as well as the rich, slow learners as well as the gifted.

"The future of our nation rests with the education of all of our youth," said Barbara Rossier, a Tustin resident. "We think it's important to support public and private education, and also the place that trains educators."

USC's School of Education, which has 1,100 undergraduate and graduate students, will stash the money in its endowment and use the earnings for educational programs.

The Rossiers, who have already transferred $4.5 million with the rest to come in installments, have placed no restrictions on how the school can use the money.

USC officials are considering an array of options, including hiring additional professors and providing scholarships to teaching aides who want to enroll at USC to become full-fledged schoolteachers.

The money also may help USC set up a charter school, which would be run by the university as the educational equivalent of a teaching hospital for its medical students.

No matter how the Rossiers' gift is used, education school Dean Guilbert C. Hentschke said its sheer size will give an immediate boost to the faculty's spirits and the school's reputation.

"It will become one of the best-endowed schools of education in the country," Hentschke said.

Although the gift is huge for an education school, it is dwarfed by the donations that have been bestowed on colleges in recent years.

USC has landed some enormous gifts: $120 million from publishing magnate Walter Annenberg for communications programs; $100 million from biomedical entrepreneur Alfred Mann for a medical device research institute; and $35 million from El Monte entrepreneur Gordon S. Marshall for its business school.

One reason that education schools don't often attract large donations is that their graduates are rarely as financially successful as the Rossiers.

Barbara Rossier, 63, and Roger, 66, both earned their master's and doctoral degrees in education at USC while they were guidance counselors in Orange County public schools during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In 1980, they purchased a small private school that taught emotionally and learning-disabled children. They have built it into one of the largest special-education schools in California, handling 190 students referred from Los Angeles and Orange County public school districts.

The school has two campuses, one teaching kindergarten through 6th grade in Garden Grove and another teaching middle and high school students in Fountain Valley.

But this is not the Rossiers' only enterprise. They have substantial commercial and residential real estate holdings which they lease to schools, churches and other tenants.

They used to operate an infant preschool program and an educational travel agency that brought Asian businessmen to America, and had a private practice counseling students with special vocational or educational needs.

In addition, Roger Rossier was a counselor at Cypress College and taught courses at USC, Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Long Beach. Barbara Rossier has taught at USC and Cal State Long Beach as well as Cal State L.A. and UC Irvine.

"We've worked hard and invested well," Roger Rossier said, summing up the couple's success.

"We feel fortunate to have nice returns on our investment," Barbara Rossier added, "and pleased we can give back to the school."

It's not the first time that the Rossiers have donated to USC. Among other contributions, they established an endowment--now at $108,000--that provides scholarships for teachers in Orange County schools who want to complete graduate programs in educational counseling.

Their larger gift comes as educators across the state are trying to figure out how to fix the state's public schools, in particular the low-performing ones in urban areas such as Los Angeles.

USC's School of Education has adopted five schools in its urban neighborhood and has a score of programs to help improve them, including a tutoring program that involves hundreds of university students.

As the longtime chairwoman of the education school's advisory council, Barbara Rossier has been very active in shaping the education school's mission.

Now, she said, she hopes her donation will further USC's classroom projects and other efforts to answer questions fundamental to school reform: "How do we teach kids better? How do we create a better learning environment? How do we help with the social and emotional development of children, and increase the role of the family to support learning?"

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