Supporting Schools in Times of Disaster

Jonathan Raymond and Terry Grier

As two former urban school superintendents, we know first-hand the challenges school districts face on a daily basis, and how trying to educate children can be compounded by the stresses and challenges that emerge from natural disasters and other traumatic community events. Such is the case with recent hurricanes ravaging parts of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, and now wildfires in Northern California.

Now that we are both leading foundations supporting public education, we appreciate the role philanthropy can have in this critical public space. We also know foundations have particular areas of focus and often, as it should be, exercise discipline in sticking to these areas and funding priorities. We feel, however, that certain events necessitate different and flexible responses, irrespective of the fit with “logic models” or “strategic frameworks.”  Natural disasters and their impact on children are one of those events.

That is why both of our respective organizations, the Stuart Foundation and Pure Edge, Inc., have contributed $25,000 to the Emergency Relief Fund recently established by the Council of the Great City Schools, which enables the Council to provide resources directly to school districts impacted by disasters and events.

As background, the Council of the Great City Schools is a coalition of the nation’s 70 largest urban public school districts. It was founded in 1956 by 12 large city school districts that came together around the declining manufacturing base in eastern and upper-Midwestern cities. Given the convergence of multiple social upheavals around the same time — Brown v. Board, the interstate highway act, the Little Rock Nine, and the murder of Emmitt Till, among many other events — the Council and its membership found itself in the middle of every major education struggle that subsequently emerged, from school desegregation to school choice, curriculum reform to suburbanization, unionization to school autonomy.

The group’s main goals revolve around improved academic performance of the nation’s urban schoolchildren; strengthened governance, leadership, management, and operations of urban school systems; and bolstered public confidence in public education in the nation’s major cities. The Council has a staff of 30 that works in the areas of curriculum and instruction, management and operations, research, communications, and legislation and policy.

The establishment of the Great City Schools Emergency Relief Fund aids city school districts in recovering from major disasters of one kind or another. The Council has had extensive experience in doing this kind of work, having been heavily involved in earthquake relief in San Francisco and Los Angeles, for example, and providing technical support to schools after Hurricane Andrew, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina. The Council marshals member resources, good will, and expertise to help school districts and their parents and students get back on their feet when disasters strike.

Having a dedicated fund will enable the Council to respond more quickly and more strategically as these events happen. For example, the Council is now approaching a dozen different local foundations to support the work of relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

To learn more about and contribute to this effort, you can email the Council’s executive director, Michael Casserly, at mcasserly@cgcs.org, or visit its website here.

We invite our fellow funders to join us in supporting this crucial work. We are grateful for your timely consideration and action.

Jonathan Raymond is president of the Stuart Foundation and Terry Grier is executive director of Pure Edge, Inc.

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