Why We’re Leading with Optimism, Imagination, and Ambition in 2023

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By Frances Messano, Chief Executive Officer

It’s an exciting and challenging time to step into the CEO role at NewSchools. For the past eight years, I’ve been an executive leader in the organization and I’ve had the opportunity to design and implement new ways of funding and supporting education entrepreneurs. In 2023, we are celebrating our 25th anniversary and embarking on the final year of our current strategy. Thanks to the incredible generosity and sustained support of institutional and individual partners, NewSchools is positioned to deliver on the promises we made and chart a path for the future. 

As we deepen our understanding of the pandemic’s impact on students across the country, we are confronting the brutal facts on unfinished learning, chronic absenteeism and the increased need for mental health support. Despite the collective fatigue many teachers and school and systems leaders are feeling after three years of the pandemic, we still see their commitment to creating supportive learning environments for students. They are working urgently to help schools rebuild from the pandemic, searching for evidence of what works. All of these efforts are grounded in the belief that every young person in this country deserves an excellent and equitable education. 

The negative education trends we are steeped in aren’t the whole story. It’s true that we are still navigating a difficult time. Being a leader in venture philanthropy and education innovation, however,  has taught me that we can absolutely solve tough problems if we follow the lead of students, educators, and entrepreneurs. There are many bright spots pointing to new lessons and providing fresh evidence of what works. Centering the voices and perspectives of students, while also listening to leaders and innovators across our portfolio is helping my organization meaningfully address current challenges and identify ways to have even greater impact in the future. We are committed to leading with optimism, ambition, and imagination in 2023. Here’s what we’ll be up to in the months ahead: 

Investing $45M across our strategy in partnership with community members

We exist to put dollars to work for educators and students and we plan to invest $45 million in 2023 in early-stage innovations that have the greatest potential for driving change in public education. We will continue to invest in our four investment areas – Innovative Public Schools, Learning Solutions, Diverse Leaders and Racial Equitywhile also reinvesting in ventures best positioned for impact. In addition, we will continue to support areas of need, such as mental health support, innovative talent solutions and supporting students with learning differences, this year. While we do this, we won’t operate in silos. Across all our investment areas, we engage students, parents, educators and researchers in our funding decisions to broaden our perspectives. 

Elevating the bright spots from our portfolio as a roadmap for recovery

The NewSchools portfolio has many bright spots and examples that can provide a roadmap on how to navigate Covid recovery, and we are committed to more regularly sharing examples and promising practices from our work. For example, looking across our schools portfolio, we find evidence of resilience and recovery tied to a commitment to positive school culture and social-emotional learning. Our data suggest that with early and targeted interventions focused on creating supportive learning environments for students, it is possible to interrupt and recover from Covid-era academic backsliding. We look forward to sharing impact results from 2022, which point to reasons for optimism in the months ahead. 

Designing our next strategy

During the year, we will be creating our strategy for 2024 and beyond. We are rethinking our current investment strategies and priorities, as well as how we make funding decisions. For example, we wonder if we should adopt new or retire existing investment areas, if we should stay with entrepreneurs longer to support their sustainability, and if we should implement participatory grantmaking across more aspects of our strategy. The core question we’ll be asking is, how should NewSchools lead in this next chapter? And we want your feedback to help us chart the course. During my first 100 days as CEO, I’ll be meeting with education leaders and innovators from across the NewSchools portfolio, as well as with our partners across the nation who are working alongside us to advance a shared vision for equity and excellence in education. 

In the meantime, NewSchools will continue to expand access to who gets to be an education entrepreneur and whose ideas get listened to, while recruiting more philanthropies to join us. I want to assemble the most diverse and dedicated group of innovators, community leaders, and philanthropists to reimagine public education for good. 

I look forward to partnering with you all in the year ahead.