Change Afoot for Organization Overseeing $100 Million Facebook Fund

John Mooney | February 19, 2013 | Education
Director to depart $382K post at helm of Foundation for Newark’s Future

The Foundation for Newark’s Future, the organization charged with administering Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark’s schools, has struggled a bit for the spotlight, if not relevance.

Now it is about to get a new start, as its director, Greg Taylor, announced yesterday that he is stepping down after just 20 months.

The foundation has had some notable yet fairly low-profile accomplishments since its 2010 launch, including a host of teacher grants, start-up money for a couple of small schools, and funding to develop improved personnel and management procedures in the district.

Even its biggest contribution to date hardly made headlines, when the bulk of its $49 million contribution to the new Newark teachers contract famous for its performance bonuses went to bankroll retroactive pay for the teachers.

Taylor, the former Kellogg Foundation executive who took the helm of FNF in May 2011, said it was his choice to leave the $382,000 position, departing at a time when he said the foundation is on firm footing.

“With the momentum and work to date, I’m very excited to have played a small part,” Taylor said yesterday. “And with the momentum being what it is, it was good time for this decision.”

Taylor would not divulge his next endeavor, other than to confirm it is a job with a large national organization. He said he would stay on at FNF through March, when he will be replaced at least on an interim basis by the foundation’s chief financial officer, Kimberly Baxter McLain.

That still leaves Taylor some time to complete at least some of his unfinished business for the foundation, starting with finalizing its match of Zuckerberg’s $100 million contribution. That has been one of FNF’s prime directives, but after saying last May that it had reached $50 million in matching funds, little news has surfaced since.

Taylor yesterday wouldn’t say a new announcement was imminent, but he suggested some major initiatives may be in the offing.

His announcement did not come as a complete surprise; rumors of his departure started in earnest late last week.

The fact that Taylor’s family in Michigan had never made the move to Newark – he flew back there on most weekends — had fueled speculation that he might not stay long, although he maintained that was mostly about his children finishing out the school year.

But Newark had not always seemed a perfect fit, either, with Taylor’s methodical ways. Even just the creation of a local advisory board, which was promised early in his tenure, took more than a year.

Taylor said yesterday a short stay in Newark had never been part of his plans, but the other career opportunity changed his mind. “There was never a predetermined timeframe and I did think I would be involved throughout, but a wonderful opportunity came up for me professionally,” he said.

The chairman of the FNF board, Paul Bernstein, said the decision was Taylor’s own and the board had intended to keep him on board.

“I’m very sad about it,” said Bernstein, chief executive officer of Pershing Square Foundation. “Greg has made a great contribution to the work we are doing in Newark.

Asked whether FNF would seek a new executive director, Bernstein said McClain would serve for the foreseeable future in an interim basis. She did not rule out the possibility that McClain could stay at the helm longer.

“We’ll see what happens, we may not (conduct a national search),” he said.

McClain previously worked for the Newark Charter School Fund, which has been in talks with FNF about a possible investment in the Newark’s charter school community.

“While Greg’s departure is a loss for Newark, Kim’s interim leadership will ensure continuity in the work of the Foundation for Newark’s Future,” said Mashea Ashton, executive director of the fund.

“Kim is an excellent leader, adviser and advocate for the 40,000 students in Newark’s public schools – charter and district,” she said. “I look forward to our continued partnership to ensure Newark is the first city in America to provide every child access to an excellent public school.”