Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, will donate $120 million to Bay Area schools serving needy students over the next five years.
Zuckerberg and Chan made the announcement Thursday in an opinion piece published by the San Jose Mercury News. While the couple did not detail how all the money would be spent, they did write that an initial $5 million donation would support the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto, the Redwood City School District and other “high need communities” in San Francisco.
In her first-ever television interview, Chan, a pediatric resident at the University of California at San Francisco and a former teacher, told the Today Show: “We’ve seen firsthand that the quality of education, it really varies in our area – from the highest-performing schools to the most underserved of schools.”
Those first grants, which will be administered through the couple’s nonprofit, Startup: Education, will pay for computers and connectivity at schools along with technology training for teachers and parents. The donation also will pay for the development of “leadership opportunities” for students; middle school to high school student transition programs; and leadership training for principals.
Zuckerberg and Chan also wrote that they plan on forming partnerships to create new district and charter schools that give families more “high quality choices” for their children’s education. Ultimately, the pair said they hope to “understand the needs of students that others miss,” and provide financial support to spur innovation in the classrooms of so-called underserved communities.
“Education is incredibly expensive and this is a drop in the bucket,” Chan told the Associated Press. “What we are trying to do is catalyze change by exploring and promoting the development of new interventions and new models.”
This latest gift to help struggling schools comes as criticism mounts regarding Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to the Newark Public School District in New Jersey in 2010. An article in the New Yorker this month detailed how the funds, which were apparently used primarily to pay contractors and consultants, have seemingly done little to shore up the chronically low-performing Newark schools.
Chan responded to that criticism during the Today Show interview by saying the couple has made “long term bets” that will need many years to “pan out.”
For his part, Zuckerberg told the Associated Press that he and Newark leaders should have spent more time talking with the community about how to use the money.
“I think one of the things that we took away from this is that we wanted to do our next set of work in a place where we can engage more directly with the community and a place that we care about a lot. The Bay Area just fit that well,” Zuckerberg said.