The CEO and co-founder of the Blackstone Group, a global private equity firm with $434 billion in assets, told school system leaders they ought to solicit the successful graduates of their public schools for the same kind of financial support that has flowed regularly to private schools and colleges.
Addressing the 1st General Session Thursday afternoon as a late addition to the AASA conference lineup, Stephen A. Schwarzman used the example of his just-announced $25 million gift to the Abington School District in Pennsylvania, located just north of Philadelphia, from which he graduated in 1965. That landmark donation – which he contended might be the biggest single gift made to a single public school – followed a period of well-crafted soliciting by Abington’s superintendent, Amy Sichel. She is a past president of AASA.
Schwarzman recounted the superintendent’s efforts to secure his checkbook donation toward a $100 million facility overhaul at Abington High School to prepare students with the skills they will need to succeed in the 21st century. He agreed, but only if his financial support would underwrite new instructional initiatives – notably coding and computer science – to ready all middle and high schoolers for the demands of the modern workforce. He also asked that all students be equipped with school-supplied Chromebooks by 2021 and receive greater flexibility in course choices and career counseling services earlier than their final years of high school.
“Amy Sichel asked to visit,” he said during his address from the stage. “She showed up with plans and lots and lots of enthusiasm … so I agreed.”
Schwarzman, who was student government president and a member of Abington’s state championship track and field team, said he recognizes that public schools are chronically underfunded, so he used the occasion at AASA’s general session to urge superintendents everywhere to seek donations from the private sector and, in particular, from their district’s most successful graduates, whom he indicated could be found among “athletes, entertainers and movie stars.”
Calling it a paradigm shift for the support of public schooling, he said: “These people are capable of supporting your mission.”
Schwarzman left the audience with a multi-step list for going about the development work he prescribed. It called for researching and crafting a list of potential donors. And he included this advice: “Be persistent and don’t stop when the first person says no.”
He departed the Nashville stage after AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech presented him at the podium with a blue I Love Public Education t-shirt. Quipped the benefactor: “Dan may have gotten the better end of this deal.”
(Jay P. Goldman is editor of AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)