Home > Tony Fountain Sr.: Pittsburgh's Native Son Supports America's Teachers

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TONY FOUNTAIN SR:

PITTSBURGH’S NATIVE SON SUPPORTS AMERICA’S TEACHERS

 

               Tony Fountain Sr. graduated from Schenley High School in 1966, and then enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh where he earned his Bachelors of Arts in Communication in 1970. Subsequently, he earned his Masters of Business Administration in 1991 from Loyola.  He has served as the President of the University of Pittsburgh’s African American Alumni Association 2011-2013.  He is the son of the late Morris Fountain, Sr. and Miriam Fountain; brother of Morris Jr. and the late Charles Fountain; and married to Lark Fountain.  Presently he serves as the founder and President for Support America’s Teachers, a non-profit organization.

                    “…Tony Fountain is a retired CFO and Project Business Manager. Most recently he served as CFO and Business Manager for URS|CH2M Oak Ridge LLC, the Dept. of Energy Prime Contractor for the K-25 Decontamination-Demolition Project. Tony has 38 years of leadership experience in finance, accounting, procurement, human resources, pension, benefit administration, business systems, project support, and EVMS certification for major nuclear projects. He has worked on Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and commercial projects serving in transitions, startups, and closures. Before becoming UCOR Business Manager, Tony managed all business services for the $2.5 billion Yucca Mountain Project. As part of the Yucca Mountain team, Tony provided human resources, procurement, contracts, finance, information technology, and property management services to 1,100 workers and subcontractors. … Tony also served as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of the URS Power Business Unit in Princeton, NJ. He led finance, accounting, project business management, reporting and internal controls for the annual billion dollar plus commercial operation…” https://www.alumni.pitt.edu/media/134156/fountain-bio.pdf

 

JLDTony, I’ve known you since you enrolled at Pitt and, throughout the subsequent years, you have always been an activist who focused on helping the underprivileged.  Indeed, I’ve often heard you speak about “paying it forward.”  What do you mean by “paying it forward?”

TF: “Paying it forward” simply means taking some of the success, experience and, yes, money I have been blessed to realize and using it to help others.  Growing up in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, I watched both of my parents engage in civic, educational, church and social organizations. My brothers and I were often recruited to help our parents with various civic engagement projects, e.g. raising funds for the Centre Avenue YMCA, helping with Goodwill drives at school, and shoveling snow for elderly neighbors.

JLD:  You often make a distinction between a mentor and a sponsor.  Please explain what a mentor as compared to a sponsor would do.

TF:  Anyone with varying degrees of experience can be a mentor.  Mentors are important for students to have, especially African American students who often enter college with less experience with the independence, self-responsibility and self- assertiveness required to compete for the success higher education should offer. A mentor gives his or her time to the student.  A sponsor goes well beyond the role of mentor, although mentoring can be part of the sponsor’s function. But a sponsor brings investment in the student, or, as in my experience, investment in the junior employee. The sponsor not only invests his/her time but also their career capital. The sponsor must be in a position with the company or institution to provide a clear path for career advancement and growth for the young person. 

Sponsors are almost always in a management position, usually senior management positions. They will find opportunities such as challenging work assignments, attendance at professional workshops, and even business travel to expose the young person to other managers in the company and clientele. The obvious consideration with investing is the reward/risk involved for the sponsor, putting their judgment on the line. I learned early in my career that the first and most important role of leaders is to develop new leaders.

JLD:  Since 2015, you have been the key to Support America’s Teachers.  I was reminded of the comprehensive support teachers need when I recently read that the Baltimore County School District announced a “…$8 million public school safety package that would pay for more school resources officers (19), social workers (22) and counselors (23) throughout the school district.”  Also included was funding for 18 school psychologists (The Baltimore Sun, April 6, 2018).  What were the motivating factors that led to your development of Support America’s Teachers?

TF: My parents did not share much of their personal history while I was a child.  I did know that my mother and father completed undergraduate degrees at HBCU’s, Hampton and Lincoln (Jefferson City, MO) respectively. But it wasn’t until after they passed in the 1970’s that I began to uncover family history where many of my ancestors were educators, dating back to my maternal great great grandmother, born into slavery in 1836, and was authorized by the State of South Carolina to teach other former slaves.

Most recently, our older daughter Alissa Fountain Burse has been teaching high school science courses for about 25 years. Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve had continuing discussions with her on the challenges public school teachers face, including low pay, going years without raises, underappreciated, underfunding for schools in general resulting in out dated textbooks and teachers coming out of their pockets for basic school supplies.  Then there is the increasing issue of student conduct where many parents are assigning teachers the parental responsibilities of teaching respect, courtesy, responsibility and integrity. It was a no brainer for me as to what area of civic engagement I would focus on in retirement.

JLD:  The Alissa Fountain Burse Scholarship, named in honor of a Charlotte Mecklenburg, NC outstanding high school teacher, is awarded each year to outstanding students who have expressed a career interest in teaching K – 12 grades, have already completed at least 60 college credits toward a major in education, and have compiled an outstanding GPA.  How many students have you helped so far and why did you use the POISE Foundation for the implementation of this Scholarship?    

TF:  We began in 2015 awarding 3 scholarships each year.  To date we have awarded a total of 9 scholarships.  We will award another 3 scholarships in June 2018.  Having the means to establish a scholarship fund, we wanted the ability to exercise maximum discretion to help future African American public school teachers.  The POISE Foundation is a certified 501(c)(3) Community Foundation that administers a variety of philanthropic efforts.  Since the fund we established is privately funded, we have the discretion to target our scholarship awards to qualified African Americans. While our stated preference is for African Americans, we will support the best qualified applicants regardless to race or ethnicity.

JLD:  We have seen teacher strikes in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia.  As an advocate for teachers, what rationale would you offer for significantly increasing teacher salaries?

TF:  Simply put, investing in public education is not only the best investment we can make in our children, it is the most important investment we can make in our communities. There is ample evidence that where you have a high performing, well-funded school system, you have lower unemployment, lower crime, better mental and physical health, more stable real estate values, and a better sustainable business environment. Having properly trained, dedicated full time teachers who serve on the frontline in education is essential. Why should a community be willing to pay bus drivers more than teachers? Teachers don’t get paid overtime. Every highly compensated professional including doctors, lawyers, engineers were rooted in a primary and secondary school education.  If communities don’t do better in attracting, compensating and supporting public school teachers, then the social fiber of that community will deteriorate.

JLD:  You spend a considerable amount of time hiking in the Nevada area.  In addition to the personal benefits of hiking, how have you used hiking to contribute to others such as grade school children?

 

TF: I have been volunteering with an outreach organization of the Sierra Club known as Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO). ICO targets Title I students, providing underserved urban youth with positive outdoor experiences. Through the ICO program, wilderness areas become accessible to youth of varied economic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.  Many of these young people have never traveled outside of the city, have never experienced the mountains, the fresh air, the views, the vegetation and wildlife. Just having the opportunity the climb up and over sandstone hills leaves a lasting impression that will hopefully open doors of possibilities in young people’s minds, possibilities that they otherwise could not imagine.

JLD:  Tony, a mutual friend (George VanHook) brought to my attention the statement, “Each generation owes the next a well.  Wells give water and water gives life.”  Thanks so much for being a digger of wells.

TF: Forgive me for leaning on a pun, but it’s also said we should be fountains, not drains. Thank you Jack. You have been a friend, a mentor, a sponsor and consistent example of service for more than 50 years.  Let’s continue.

 

Jack L. Daniel

Co-Founder, Freed Panther Society

Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media

April 27, 2018

 

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