Monday, May 3, 2010

Donnell-Kay Foundation - an Interview with Amy Anderson

Amy Anderson is the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Donnell-Kay Foundation. Her career has shown a commitment to promoting and expanding high performing public schools around the nation from the very beginning. Her work at the foundation includes new school development, social science research, and education policy analysis. Amy and I shared breakfast and our passion for education recently, and she told me about the work that takes place at the Donnell-Kay Foundation.

How did the Donnell-Kay Foundation get started?
The foundation was incorporated in 1965 through a trust by the Kay family. The board of trustees is led by Allen Dines, a former Colorado state legislator, who has an abiding interest in improving public education. The Executive Director is Tony Lewis.

What are the goals of the organization?
The mission of the Donnell-Kay Foundation is to improve public education and drive systemic school reform in Colorado through solid research, creative dialogue and critical thinking. The Foundation focuses on funding systemic reform and state level policy in the areas of early childhood, K-12, and higher education. The Foundation also provides operating and program funding to school districts and non-profit organizations statewide - with a focus on urban schools in metro-Denver.

What kind of education reform does the foundation support and how does it do it?

A major area of focus is increasing the supply of high performing public schools, especially in areas where a lack of such schools exist. We also have invested considerable resources in efforts to reduce Colorado’s drop-out rate. We are also exploring business models to link more Early Childhood Education (ECE) to charters, having them co-located, and recently held a Summit on Blended Learning that introduced leading ideas and approaches for integrating online and innovative technologies into brick and mortar schools and classrooms.

It seems that if a school has a waiting list to get into it, there should be more schools of that ilk that enable more students access to that kind of education. Why aren’t there more expeditionary learning schools or more schools like Denver School of the Arts? Why is the supply not keeping up with the demand?
Some schools cannot keep up with the demand, while others, especially new schools, struggle for enrollment. It takes efforts on the district part to close underperforming schools in order to make room for new, higher performing options. And, it takes more marketing and education to help families to understand what their choices are.

One reason why there are not more of the schools you listed above is because it is a lot of work to start a new school. It takes leadership to get a school like this up and running and it is a task that is overwhelming for many people. Some schools are replicating, like DSST, while others are growing to meet increased demand, such as Odyssey will do if it is able to raise the necessary funds to build a new building and grow. As for Expeditionary Learning (EL), that organization is planning on creating a regional center that will foster the creation of more EL schools, develop teacher and leadership pipelines to work in these schools, and provide ongoing support for existing EL schools in the area.

I love how the Donnell-Kay Foundation looks at nearly every aspect of a student’s education and where improvements can be made based on research. Tell me about some of the projects that are not academic, but greatly impact student’s lives.
Yes, this is largely a function of what our interests are. We are interested in improving the lives of students in a holistic way. We’ve worked with health foundations and health care providers to expand school-based health initiatives and have spend considerable time over the past couple of years to bring healthier school lunch options to Colorado.

We went to Revolutionary Foods in California and recruited them to come here to improve the school lunches in Denver. This was the easy part. It’s the policy negotiation, the district hurdles, and the state statutes that are still ongoing that are the difficult part of reforming food service programs. Initially, some of the school districts we met with were resistant to working with a group like Rev Foods and/or revamping their lunch programs in order to serve freshly prepared, non-processed meals. That said, a handful of districts have agreed to release charter schools from their school lunch programs, allowing them to use Revolutionary Foods. We launched and funded this initiative, and much of the work now is being handled by the Colorado League of Charter Schools. Interestingly, this year DPS unveiled a healthier lunch program as a means of trying to attract back some charters that had left, provide different options for non-charter schools, and keep others from opting out in the future. This new optional lunch program will roll-out in selected DPS schools next Fall.

Looking through your website, I see a lot more effort to improve education and very little about accountability/standardized testing. This is a refreshing break from much of the government’s focus on education. Tell me about the foundation’s general view on the accountability movement.
The testing is necessary to monitor teacher effectiveness and student growth over time, but the success of a school is more than just doing well on a test.

For more information on the Donnell-Kay Foundation, go to the website at:

1 comment:

  1. "the success of a school is more than just doing well on a test."
    I love this comment!