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An Update on Johnson Scholars

Friday, January 23, 2015

We have been trying to transition the Johnson Scholars Program from a Foundation

program to a community program. We want to reduce the annual call on our grant

budget and also to broaden community support. On January 26 we will convene

the third meeting of potential community investors and stakeholders.

We have always started from the premise that this is not an easy task. Grant

makers have their own ideas and are usually reluctant to invest in someone else’s.

Therefore our approach has been to say to participants, in effect: “We have this

program that is successful and doing great things for disadvantaged students. Let

us look at ways that this work can be supported more broadly, at the community

level. For our part, we assert no proprietary right over the program or the

discussion. Let the discussion go where it will and if, at the end of it, the Johnson

Scholars Program has a new name and a different shape we do not care, so long

as the basic goals are better served.”

From the beginning, we have been lucky to have two important allies, Keith Oswald and 

Braulio Colon. Keith is Chief Academic Officer of the District. Two jobs ago Keith was in charge of the department that managed the Johnson Scholars Program and he has seen first- hand the difference that it makes. Braulio is “Vice-President and Program Director, Postsecondary Completion” with the Helios Foundation. Helios is a big backer of “Take Stock in Children”

and Braulio believes in the Johnson Scholars program.

We had 11 people at our first meeting in October, counting Sharon, David Blaikie and me. We had almost twice that number at our second meeting on December 3rd (including the same 3 from JSF). Beyond the general, if high-minded, rhetoric that seems to characterize such meetings, the first two meetings produced some slender but promising results.

Take Stock and the School District have agreed to combine some elements of the Johnson Scholars and Take Stock programs. It has been interesting to learn what organizations want from this exercise. Take Stock wants freer access to the schools. The School district wants more control and particularly to have programs like Take Stock and JSF integrated to fit with district operations.

Our third community meeting will entertain a paper from Christine Koehn, Executive Director of the Farris Foundation of West Palm Beach. Christine has been trying to arouse community interest in forming a Local College Access Network. A good model for a local college access network can be found in Buffalo, N.Y. in an initiative known as Say Yes to Education. See http://sayyesbuffalo.org. This is a collaboration of the Buffalo Public School District, the District Parent Coordinating Council, the Buffalo Teachers Federation, the City of Buffalo, business and philanthropy. The approach is very similar to Pathways to Education, a Foundation Grantee.

There is no way to predict the direction or result of these discussions. We will press forward in the hope that broad broad community participation and action will be achieved.