Public education got a boost, and a Buckhead-based national leader in improving public education got an honor at the Riverwood Foundation Leadership Luncheon on Nov. 14.

About 150 people attended the $100-a-plate luncheon at Riverwood International Charter School, where culinary arts students under the guidance of Riverwood alumni Nikko Karatassos (Class of 1990) and Pano Karatassos Jr. (Class of ’89) of the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group prepared and served a Mediterranean menu featuring stuffed grape leaves, Greek country salad, lemon chicken and baklava with pistachio ice cream.

Joel Shapiro (Class of ’81) announced that his family was increasing its financial commitment to the Riverwood Foundation to $100,000, and the leaders of the Class of ’88 revealed that they decided at their recent 20th reunion to make a donation to the foundation as well. The foundation will use the money for technology upgrades at the Sandy Springs charter high school, which accepts students outside the city and beyond the Fulton County school system.

“At Riverwood, every child is expected to succeed and is given the support to succeed. … We want to help you, work with you, grow with you so you reach your potential,” said Ann Cramer, who was given the Riverwood Leadership Award at the luncheon.

“It’s just such a special honor. I mean, I just feel so humble, especially when I see here the people that I know who are just so incredible and give so much every day,” said Cramer, a leader in educational innovation.

Cramer is IBM’s director of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs for North America and is based at the company’s Northside Parkway complex in Buckhead. She moved to Atlanta in 1968, and although she has lived in Little Five Points since 1972, she has been involved in supporting public education in Sandy Springs and elsewhere around metro Atlanta for three decades. As she told one well-wisher after the luncheon, “Eva (Galambos, Sandy Springs’ mayor) and I were laughing about how long we’ve all worked together.”

Cramer said her job is to apply the resources of IBM to find innovative solutions for critical societal needs, a mission the company takes seriously enough to post a report on its social responsibility at the day before the luncheon. “I really feel like literally from the day we opened our doors, we understood that mutual responsibility with our community.”

She leads IBM’s Reinventing Education initiative, which aims to make dramatic improvements in public education, especially in setting high standards for all children.

Cramer called Riverwood “an amazing place” that fulfills public education’s promise to help every student achieve his or her potential. “It really does for me provide that extraordinary crucible where you really do learn — learn, live, love and then can be launched from there. … I think that the public school gives you the best launch pad. And Riverwood is just an extraordinary school.”

She praised the school for preparing students for the real world in all its diversity. “I think it always surprises people because it has such an excellent academic reputation that they must think it’s all just wealthy children, and it’s a much more diverse group than that.”

Cramer said she and the keynote speaker, Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education President Stephen Dolinger, usually use doom and gloom to rally business support for public schools, but that approach wouldn’t work at Riverwood because it’s so successful.

They instead emphasized the value of great schools in preparing the business leaders of the future.

“It is apparent through research that we must do everything we can to improve our education system,” Dolinger said. “Globalization is reshaping our work force and placing a premium on education and skills. We are all education stakeholders sharing in the investment called public education. We have a responsibility to get involved — now.”

— Michael Jacobs