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Laura Zimmerman knows a good story when she sees it.

The former Bay Area TV and radio reporter perceives that high among the most noteworthy things happening in Sonoma Valley is what residents are doing for one of its most consequential assets:

Its network of public schools.

“It’s like Sonoma is proud of its schools now,” said Zimmerman, a well-spoken and driven mother of three products of the valley’s 5,000-student unified school district.

As proof of that community pride, she points to the work of the charitable Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, which hosts a benefit ball on the Sonoma Plaza that supports myriad science, engineering/technology, math, reading, art, vocational, garden, preschool and other campus programs to the tune of $1.3 million a year.

Vintner Bruce Cohn, manager of the Doobie Brothers, boosts the foundation with a share of proceeds from the annual music festivals at B.R. Cohn Winery, and Gloria Ferrer winery contributes proceeds of its summer Catalan Festival. The foundation is a beneficiary also of the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, which wrapped up Sunday, and of a vast number of volunteer hours by parents and others across the valley.

Zimmerman, 58, views it all as the Sonoma region coming firmly to grip with the fact that the schools today require that the people they serve do much more than pay their property taxes. “Community support is essential to public education,” she said.

The ex-KGO, KTVU and KNTV reporter isn’t an impartial observer of the phenomenon of neighbors banding together to dramatically augment their local schools.

She’s executive director of the 21-year-old Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, and these days is up to her neck in preparations for Saturday’s sold-out Red & White Ball.

Zimmerman lived for years in Lafayette in Contra Costa County, but fell in love with Sonoma Valley on visits with family of her husband, Jeff, the owner of an architectural firm. The couple, with their two sons and a daughter, moved 14 years ago to Sonoma and to a house with vineyards that Jeff Zimmerman designed.

Having left news reporting, the only type of work she’d ever done, Laura Zimmerman volunteered at her kids’ schools and for a time worked with The Painted Turtle, a camp for seriously ill children created by late actor-philanthropist Paul Newman.

Delving deeper into education, she took a job fundraising for the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance. And three years ago the board of the education foundation hired her as the organization’s third executive director.

Zimmerman said it has been thrilling to see individuals and businesses across the valley join in a sustained mission to provide the money that allows the school district to focus on innovation and excellence — “and not just survival.”

Prior to the creation of the foundation in 1993, she said, the Sonoma Valley district, like so many others in California, was convulsing from the effects of uncertain state funding and the influx of many immigrant students challenged by their unfamiliarity with the English language.

“The problems just got more serious and the needs got greater,” she said.

She’s grateful to the valley residents who recognized the crisis in the schools and took action.

Throughout its two decades, the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation has worked to persuade people and businesses that the success of children in the public schools is essential to the success of the community.

“I think people understand that in a way they really didn’t before,” Zimmerman said.

She believes the foundation has become a model of what can happen when people throughout a community partner to bolster and finance its schools.

Major players in Sonoma Valley’s effort include winery owners and the many volunteers who contribute dollars, creativity and expertise — among them foundation board members Dr. Charles Young, chancellor emeritus of UCLA; Les Vadasz, a co-founder of Intel, and former Citigroup vice chairman Keith Hughes.

“Community support has just steadily gone up,” Zimmerman said. The impact of the foundation is growing, she said, because parents and businesses and people whose children are grown or who never had children are buying in to the mission.

“We work with everybody,” she said. “We are all about partnerships.”

In the story inside the head of the former newscaster, people settle in Sonoma Valley not primarily because of the beauty and charm of the place, but “because they want to get their children into these schools.”

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.