Have you ever wondered how Special Education Foundation (SEF) got its start? Joan Kaltenbach was a vice president of SSD’s board of education and an instructor at University of Missouri St. Louis. UMSL had a foundation, and Kaltenbach thought SSD would benefit from one as well. She approached SSD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sam Scarnato with the idea. He appointed Director of Instructional Resources Betty Walls to develop a committee to investigate the establishment of a foundation, leading to the creation of SEF, the first public school foundation in the state of Missouri on March 30, 1984.

The founding members and first board of directors were: Morris Atkinson, Loren Conrad, William Hildebrandt, Leona Macklemore, Mark Zellmer, Jerry Ponder, Scarnato and Kaltenbach.

The Foundation held a fashion show at the Sheraton Westport in August 1985. More than 175 attended, and the event generated $3,000. This was the first of several fundraisers that allowed the group to provide scholarships and summer camps to students with disabilities. In 1997, the Foundation reorganized and expanded its board of directors to include a more community-oriented membership. In 2003, the Foundation hired its first employee, former Executive Director Diane Buhr Engelsmann. Expanding the board and hiring an executive director was in response to a great need. More than 16 percent of St. Louis County students receive special education services. The breadth of SEF’s programs increased dramatically over the next years to add teacher mini-grants, specialized equipment, and arts, leadership and critical needs programs. Current Executive Director David M. Diener continues to lead SEF in its mission to provide services to students with disabilities beyond those provided by tax dollars.

SEF works with SSD and 22 school district partners to help students achieve success beyond the classroom. All of us focus on student achievement. Together we create an environment where students of all abilities can succeed.