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MacKenzie Scott donates $133 million for in-school support services

The donation to Communities in Schools will help train and provide staff members who work out of about 2,900 high-poverty schools in 517 districts across the country. (iStock)

Another money bomb has fallen from the bank account of MacKenzie Scott, this time a large donation to support a group that provides services inside schools for at-risk students, aimed at helping them thrive and graduate.

Communities In Schools, a network of nonprofit groups that work in K-12 schools across the country, said Thursday that the national office and its affiliates had been given $133.5 million from Scott, the billionaire philanthropist who has been doling out her fortune at an astounding rate. Since divorcing from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Scott has made donations of more than $8 billion. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Scott has also given significant gifts to colleges, including more than $800 million to historically Black colleges and universities. She no longer discloses grant recipients, leaving it to the organizations to make information about the gifts public if they so choose. As with other Scott donations, Communities In Schools got a call out of the blue from her staff with the news that she wanted to make the contribution, according to its president and CEO, Rey Saldaña.

Communities in Schools trains and provides staff members who work out of about 2,900 high-poverty schools in 517 districts across the country. These staff provide a range of academic and other support services meant to help students succeed and graduate.

It’s a version of the community school model, which considers academic success linked to many other factors that affect children’s lives and works to offer wraparound services. Counselors might help a family submit an application for public housing, access a food bank, provide emergency financial assistance to a family or arrange health care — in addition to providing tutoring or other academic supports.

“We think in order for students to be turned on to learning, they have to be turned onto living. The living is sometimes the most important,” Saldaña said.

Absent a program like his, he said, teachers often fill the gaps — helping a student figure out where to get affordable eyeglasses or locate college scholarships. But overloaded teachers are burned out, and he said having someone dedicated to this task makes the services more consistent. He said even school counselors, who do some of the same work, are sometimes pulled into other tasks needed to keep the school running.

“It’s relationships,” he said. “Is there someone in a school building who is going beyond the point of, ‘Are you doing okay?’ And the answer is ‘fine,’ ” to understand that a student may not being doing fine. Addressing family and other issues “helps turn a student back onto learning.”

Communities In Schools offers different levels of support, from programming offered to the entire school to more targeted, intensive supports for small groups or individual students. The programming is funded through a combination of payments from the schools and private fundraising by the Communities In Schools affiliates.

Saldaña said the Scott donation would allow affiliates to expand their services into more schools, knowing that they have money in the bank to support it. “Our ability to grow really depends on our ability to fundraise,” he said. He said the program typically costs $80,000 to $100,000 per staffer.

The national office received $20 million of Scott’s gift, Saldaña said. He said 40 individual sites, each of which serve multiple schools, got grants of about $2.5 million to $3 million. That compares to annual budgets that range from as little as $1 million for a small rural group to as much as $12 million for a large urban program. Local branches receiving direct donations include those in Washington state, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Atlanta.