It’s been almost two years since Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg pledged $100 million to the improvement of Newark public schools. So what has been done with the grant money thus far? NJ Today’s Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke with Greg Taylor, President and CEO of the Foundation for Newark’s Future, to get a status report.
Foundation for Newark’s Future was created to administer the $100 million gift to Newark public schools by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The foundation is also charged with raising money in matching funds.
“Our challenge at the Foundation for Newark’s Future is to raise the full $100 million so we can leverage and have as many resources as available to really dramatically improve outcomes for kids in Newark.”
Taylor says that larger donors like the Pershing Square Foundation and Goldman Sachs Gives, along with high wealth individuals and local foundations, have helped to raise a little over $50 million. While the foundation has a ways to go in reaching its goal, Taylor says he is very excited about the progress to date.
“I want to be clear that while we are in the process of raising money, we are, in addition, investing those dollars as we move forward. And we’ve been investing those dollars. We’ve invested about $16 million to date.”
The foundation, he says, has identified several areas for administering the funds: early childhood education, stemming the tide of dropouts, community engagement, teacher-principal leadership and providing school choice.
“Those strategies are the ways in which we invest the resources moving forward and the direction that we want to go is clear. As it is at this point, we go out and try to find programs that are already in Newark with a proven track record into those areas and try to invest in a way that grows their capacity and increase their impact.”
Taylor was unequivocal in his support of Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson whose decisions, among them to close several Newark public schools, have been controversial.
“We are emphatically supportive of the superintendent’s direction and her leadership. We have a real partnership with the Newark public schools.”
Despite its autonomy, Taylor says the foundation would not invest in a school without the cooperation of the superintendent’s office.
“We are absolutely supportive of the direction that the superintendent is taking the school system. So we work in partnership. It’s not about whether we can, it’s about whether we would. And in many ways, we want to work in partnership because we realize she’s the lead educator.”
As for investments made toward actual instruction, Taylor says that significant dollars have been spent on teacher preparation and professional development.
“We have a wonderful example — it’s called ‘teacher innovation fund’ where we did put a little over $600,000 in the development of teachers in Newark … and really what it says is we know there are innovative, strong teachers in the Newark Public School system right now in addition to charter schools in Newark. We wanted to put resources in their hands to further their craft and to continue to educate kids in Newark.”
Going forward, Taylor says the organization has a five-year plan to get students college and career ready, but cautions against unrealistic expectations.
“We do fundamentally think we can increase the number of high quality teachers that are in classrooms in Newark public schools. We do think we can grow the number of school options, meaning high quality school options for kids in Newark. We do think we can help to grow the number of early childhood slots that are helpful and high quality. So we have, certainly, markers of success but I want to be realistic about what we want to accomplish over the five years.”