Our Promise and Plan of Action for the Year Ahead

Frances Messano, President 

This is a tough time to be in education. For teachers and school leaders navigating a third wave of the pandemic and fighting to deliver an excellent education, there are no “time outs.” Education philanthropy has a shared responsibility to support educators who are responding to unrelenting demands every day. Here at NewSchools, we are actively engaging, listening, and evaluating where our support is needed most right now. We are also identifying the biggest opportunities for future investment. 

We promise to be a different kind of funder. To us, this means being responsive to the field and addressing real-time needs, being flexible about where we deploy resources to get better results, and being reasonable about what we expect from applicants and grantees. We have a plan to help us get there. Here’s a preview of what we’ll focus on in the year ahead. 

Increase opportunistic and responsive funding: 

Over the next year, NewSchools will invest nearly $40 million in early-stage innovations, schools, and organizations. NewSchools is well-positioned to support students through the Covid-19 crisis and beyond, by providing what school and school system leaders need most right now: Schools and solutions that accelerate student learning, provide students with social-emotional support, and put equity at the center, which includes ensuring that students see themselves reflected in what they are learning and who they are learning from. 

Our organization will continue to fund new ideas through our Innovative Public Schools, Learning Solutions and Diverse Leaders investment areas. In addition, we will deepen our focus on participatory grantmaking through our Racial Equity strategy. Alongside that, we will invest more than $5 million through our EDge Fund, which is how we deploy resources to meet pressing needs in the sector in responsive ways. Through this fund in 2022, we will invest in solutions that extend beyond any single investment area, with a focus on innovations that empower students with learning differences, specifically those who are also facing the impacts of poverty and racism, as well as innovations emerging in response to the pandemic. 

We are interested in hearing your best ideas for how schools can recover and rebuild from the pandemic and chart new paths for students to realize their full potential. There is a need to focus on addressing human capital shortages and rethinking the role of teachers, providing stronger mental health support for educators and students, engaging parents as full partners in their children’s education and helping students successfully navigate the transition to college and careers. These are some of our observations, but we are open to ideas that address other pressing issues too.

Expand access to capital:

Whether it’s by expanding our approaches to participatory grantmaking, creating advisory groups or partnering with other funders, we will continue to push ourselves and our peers to think differently about how we expand access to capital. One of the most important ways we do this is by investing in racially diverse innovators. When we include all leaders of color who have received NewSchools funding since 2015, the total tops $89 million. These leaders are launching innovative and affirming schools and developing breakthrough learning and talent solutions. 

We also want to ensure that we are listening to our grantees and partners, and improving our approaches based on what we learn. Over the years we’ve heard feedback from applicants that it can be hard navigating our different funding opportunities. Applicants are eager to share their ideas with us but don’t always know how to do it. To make our processes more accessible and equitable for applicants, we have decided to launch a new, centralized funding opportunity for our Learning Solutions, Diverse Leaders and Racial Equity investment areas, as well as the EDge Fund. 

Lay a foundation for the future: 

NewSchools turns 25 next year. Everything we learn together over the coming months will help us clarify our vision for the future and define the next strategy phase. We are embarking on a brand refresh effort to help us tell the bigger impact story and spotlight the innovators across our portfolio who are leading the way toward a more equitable and excellent education system. 

If we have learned anything from the past two years, it’s that change is constant. We are stepping into this year with hope and humility, ready to make adjustments and respond as events unfold. We are looking forward to working with you and learning alongside you this year. 

This post was originally published in Medium.