Latest gift to Newark schools marks beginning of end for $100M Facebook fund

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on September 02, 2015

Kimberly Baxter McClain, the president and CEO of the Foundation for Newark's Future, and Newark Superintendent of Schools Christopher Cerf announce a $700,000 donation to help public school principals and teachers fund new programming and school supplies on Wednesday at First Avenue School.

 

NEWARK – The Foundation for Newark's Future announced a gift to district teachers and principals Wednesday morning, an act that kicks off the final year of its often controversial plan to transform the city's schools.

Announced at First Avenue School in the North Ward, the $700,000 donation will provide every public school principal in the district with $7,500 to buy new supplies or expand programming, and $100 to every teacher.

FNF President and CEO Kimberly Baxter McClain said it was evidence of its mission to provide tangible support to district employees working directly with students, in addition to its work to create more a system of school choice for parents and further merit-based compensation for teachers.

"At the foundation, we do focus a lot on systemic change. We also focus on efforts on the ground. We believe it takes a combination to really move the district in the right direction," she said.

McClain said the foundation has approximately $30 million left in its coffers, which it intends to expend by June 2016, in accordance with Zuckerberg and other donor's original five-year plan.

"It's a finite initiative. The idea was to be kind of a philanthropic shot in the arm," she said.

Much of the talk surrounding Zuckerberg's donation, which was later matched by other donors such as the philanthropic arms of corporate giants such as Goldman Sachs and Ford, has been focused on the introduction of the "One Newark" open enrollment system, the growth of charter schools and other changes to Newark's historically underachieving schools.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) said its impact on the city had yet to fully take shape, as students prepare to return to class for a second year under the open enrollment plan on Thursday.

Its rollout last year drew various complaints about student placement, transportation and other confusion. While Ruiz said she remains fundamentally opposed to the system, she reported hearing far fewer problems thus far in 2015.

"The moral intent of the 'One Newark' plan, where you want to give every parent and student the opportunity to select the school is something every human being can understand and support," she said.

"The focus should be making sure that our schools that are in need of improvement have the wraparound services and resources to make every school in the district successful."

More recent announcements, however, have largely focused on assisting teachers and other employees as they adapt to the new landscape, including a program to provide tuition money and a stipend to recent layoff victims.

On Wednesday, First Avenue School Principal Kathy Duke-Jackson said she intended to use her $7,500 gift, accessed through an online platform called ClassWallet, on professional development programs aimed at helping teachers process PARCC assessments and other data.

"We want to make sure that our teachers know how to look at those numbers, and know how to work with those numbers to ensure student success," she said.

Newark Teachers Union President John M. Abeigon said he was thankful for what he viewed as an acknowledgement that a $90 fund for supplies the district provides teachers was "nowhere near enough." However, he suggested the outside dollars might be better utilized to restore many of the jobs lost to layoffs in recent years.

"If someone truly wants to help the students of Newark, they would insist that any funding be used to restore these positions, many of which belonged to Newark citizens," he said in a statement.

The foundation's sunset comes during an uncertain time for city schools, as officials wrangle over how to best navigate a long-awaited path out of state oversight.

Baxter McClain acknowledged that FNF dollars would no longer be on hand when that transition is complete.

Some programs, such as those aimed at improving student literacy, will continue in the district with help from outside donors, while others will undoubtedly expire without proper funding. However, she remained hopeful that the organization's impact might still be felt in the schools for years to come.

"Some of them may be one-time, that's the reality. But our hope is that even if some of the programs aren't continued, the conditions that are created and the culture shift will remain in effect beyond our watch," she said.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment