Facebook Gift Hits Third Birthday with New Focus on Principals

John Mooney | October 22, 2013 | Education
Zuckerberg $100 million donation to Newark schools at critical turn as fundraising and spending continue

Kimberly McClain, chief executive of the Foundation for Newark’s Future (FNF).
Three years since Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg stepped onto Oprah Winfrey’s television show and announced a $100 million gift to Newark schools, a new burst of that money will be going to reward the city’s top school leaders.

The Foundation for Newark’s Future (FNF), the organization created to distribute Zuckerberg’s gift, announced yesterday in conjunction with the Newark Education Trust two new awards programs totaling $3.5 million for Newark principals and vice principals who work in high-need schools and those that show strong student achievement.

The awards could be for as much as $15,000 for principals and $7,500 for vice principals, according to the announcement.

The program is the foundation’s first public initiative since Kimberly McLain took over the as chief executive of the foundation, replacing Greg Taylor, who left in February. McLain had been the chief financial officer under Taylor, and before that worked at Newark Charter School Fund and Teach for America.

McLain yesterday said the $3.5 million total is to be distributed over three years and ultimately could go to dozens of principals. She said it is a way to help Newark superintendent Cami Anderson recruit and retain strong school leaders, one of the core missions of the foundation.

“We believe that the superintendent has put together a solid roster of leaders, and we want to be sure that they are happy and we want to be sure they are rewarded,” McLain said.

The new award program comes on the heels of the Newark Public Schools’ landmark contract with the Newark Teachers Union, which provides performance bonuses to highly effective teachers. FNF was a major contributor to implementing the contract.

Ross Danis, the head of the Newark Education Trust, an independent nonprofit, said yesterday that the new program is not meant as the principals’ version of the teacher bonuses

For one, the awards would not be decided by the district, he said. For another, candidates would have to apply for the awards, with applications opening November 15.

“This is an awards program,” Danis said yesterday. “If it helps retain and recruit strong principals, that’s great, but we are not doing this in conjunction with Newark Public Schools.”

Efforts to reach Anderson yesterday were unsuccessful, and her office did not participate in the press announcement.

McLain, the new FNF director, said the initiative is an extension of the foundation’s partnership with the district and Anderson’s work.

She said the foundation would also support the district’s planned universal enrollment system, known as One Newark, which will allow students starting next year to choose from district and charter schools. McLain would not say how much money FNF would contribute to the program.

Another focus for the FNF is early childhood, and McLain said the foundation would provide a $250,000 challenge grant to support preschool programs and those for children under three years old as well.

The initiatives raise the total committed by the foundation so far to nearly $80 million so far. The two largest investments have been more than $48 million to the implementation of the teachers contract, the bulk for retroactive raises, and another $5 million to the Newark Charter School Fund to support the city’s burgeoning charter school community.

McLain was circumspect about what will come next for FNF, saying new programs would be rolled out in subsequent announcements. She also wouldn’t give a firm update on the fundraising side to match the Zuckerberg gift, saying those totals, too, needed to be finalized before they could be announced.

The FNF’s last public accounting was in May, 2012, when it said it had raised $50 million of the match. Subsequent news reports earlier this year put the figure at over $85 million, but the foundation has refused to confirm those.

“We’re really close,” McLain said yesterday. “But until we have inked [contributors] to the dotted line, it would be premature.”

Still, she said there was no doubt the foundation would meet the $100 million match. “At the end of the five years, we will be at the full investment.,” McLain said.

One thing that could change in the meantime is the involvement of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who was the central player in luring the gift from Zuckerberg after the two met in 2010. He serves on the FNF’s board as an ex officio member, and has been its strongest cheerleader and fundraiser.

Booker’s continued involvement is uncertain since his election to the U.S. Senate last week, and McLain went out of her way to praise his contributions.

“The mayor has been the visionary for the existence of this organization,” McLain said. “We wish him well and are happy to continue to have him as a board member.”