Tag Archives: Impact

Award Season

Monday, October 17, 2016

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

Recently I shared news that Rich and Deb had been honored with the Lifetime Achievement in Philanthropy Award from the UVM Foundation. It was a wonderful honor, and a great opportunity for me to reflect on the many things accomplished through the Tarrants’ generosity to our communities.

Rich would be the first to tell you that we can’t do any of this on our own. Our work is only as good as the many incredible people out there who turn our investments into action at the community level.

Top of that list in our minds is Dr. Penny Bishop, Associate Dean and Professor in UVM’s College of Education and Social Services, and Director of the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at UVM. For the past decade, Penny has contributed outstanding leadership, vision, wisdom, and hard work to manage our investments in middle-level education throughout the state. Her partnership has turned that investment into something far more meaningful and far more effective than could ever have been achieved without her.

But don’t take our word for it.

amle-penny-award

Last week at the Association of Middle Level Education’s (AMLE) national conference in Austin, Penny received the John H. Lounsbury Award for Distinguished Achievement. This prestigious award is the association’s highest honor, given only in those years when a sufficiently meritorious candidate emerges.

It was a great pleasure to see Penny honored for her many important contributions to the field of middle level education, and for the groundbreaking work she undertakes here in Vermont. Our board and staff are incredibly lucky to benefit from her leadership of the Tarrant Institute, and from her friendship as well.

Congratulations, Penny! You earned it.

amle-student

Penny’s award wasn’t the only highlight of this year’s AMLE conference. Members of the Tarrant Institute team made a record 14 presentations at AMLE, featuring stories, strategies, and research from their many partnerships with Vermont educators. Attendees even got to visit directly with some Vermont students (above) to learn about how personalization through technology is working for them!

For more information on the AMLE sessions or about the Tarrant Institute, check out their blog here.

                                                                                                                                                               

Lauren A. Curry has served as Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

#AdvanceVT

Friday, March 4, 2016

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

Last week right around now I was sitting in the big room at the Capitol Plaza listening to panelists talk about the importance of – and barriers to – postsecondary education in Vermont. Jessica was a late addition to the panel. Her work schedule, like those of many of her peers, made it difficult for her to carve out the time. She’s a recent grad juggling multiple jobs and other responsibilities.

Plus there was a late concert the night before. Oh to be 25 again!

Jessica delivered an important message about what it really takes for a young person with limited financial resources and no family tradition of postsecondary attainment to persist through higher ed. She made many good points about the long and difficult journey, points all too effectively backed up by the numbers:

  • Only 60% of VT’s high school graduates enroll in postsecondary education – lowest in New England.
  • Low-income students here fare by far the worst – just 37% persist beyond high school.
  • Fully ¼ of Vermont’s Class of 2012 high school graduates aspired to go to college but never made it.

And at what cost?

National estimates suggest that in just the next few years 2/3 of all jobs will require some amount of postsecondary education or training. In Vermont, if current trends continue, our failure to meet that demand is expected to result in tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue and increased Medicaid and corrections spending. I hesitate to imagine the impact on the non-profit and human services safety nets – already dramatically over-stressed and under-funded.

People in Vermont and elsewhere across the country have decided bold action is required. The Lumina Foundation, one of our nation’s largest education funders, is underwriting state-level teams undertaking important goal setting and strategy development work to that end.

The folks gathered at the Capitol Plaza last week were there as part of an exciting new phase in that effort. We witnessed the launch of the appropriately-named Advance Vermont initiative, calling for a shared commitment to ensure that by 2025, 70% of working-age Vermonters have a quality postsecondary credential.

Meeting this goal will require effectively doubling the number of Vermonters earning diplomas and certificates each year. It will mean re-engaging the nearly 60,000 Vermonters who now have some postsecondary education but no degree. It will also mean significantly upping our postsecondary preparation game, by strengthening PK-12 pathways, investing in supportive community-based programs, and helping families envision and pay for higher education with their kids.

Crucially, it will also mean we beat New Hampshire’s goal by 5%.

[I’m allowed to pick on New Hampshire. I grew up there and recognize Vermont’s superiority in all things. Except grandmothers. I do think NH claims the best of those. Hi mom!]

This brings me back to one of the things Jessica talked about in her remarks last week. After describing the kinds of barriers she faced on her journey in education, and the kinds of challenges she continues to deal with even now on the far side of her degree, she cautioned the room not to see postsecondary enrollment as any kind of finish line.

“Just because someone makes it to college and gets a degree doesn’t mean factors [related to being low-income] disappear.” She articulately described the ongoing struggle, and argued that low-income students, wherever they are on the educational continuum, need support.

They need support.

So let’s give it to them. In all kinds of forms from all kinds of people and at all the different waypoints along the road.

The Tarrant Foundation is committed to supporting youth resilience and aspiration, and employment training for working-age adults in partnership with some great non-profit organizations all around the state. We’re also committed to keeping kids engaged during the pivotal middle school years through our partnership with the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at UVM.

What’s your commitment?

Together we can meet this challenge. We must, and we can.

Note: All citations are from Advance Vermont’s recent publication, “A call to action.” Contact me at lcurry@tarrantfoundation.org if you’d like a copy or more information on a specific reference.


Lauren A. Curry has been Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

 

In Honor of Allen and Bonnie Martin

Friday, October 2, 2015

Tarrant Foundation’s Gift to UVM Medical Center in Honor of Allen and Bonnie Martin from Tarrant Foundation on Vimeo.

Contributed by Richard E. Tarrant

Last night, Deb and Lauren joined me to announce a $1M grant from the Foundation to the University of Vermont Medical Center. The grant will go toward the construction of a new seven-floor inpatient facility. The building will include 128 state-of-the-art private patient rooms and other spaces critical to the growing needs of our community, and to delivery of the highest standard of care.

We have chosen to name the 5th floor of the new building, serving Oncology, Gynecology, Urology and General Surgery, in honor of two longtime friends of the hospital: Allen and Bonnie Martin.

Allen graduated from Williams College and went on to receive an honors degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University.  After Harvard law school and a prestigious clerkship, Allen ultimately became a partner at Downs Rachlin Martin, a law firm serving Vermonters and Vermont businesses for more than half a century.

In 1994, he became the driving force behind the formation of Fletcher Allen Health Care – one of the first integrated healthcare delivery systems in the country. Allen was the glue, pulling together physicians from the University Health Center, nuns from Fanny Allen, administrators at Mary Fletcher, and folks from the UVM College of Medicine. Imagine trying to bridge those many different interests, and to honor the pride of each player in the piece of that complicated puzzle that he or she represented. There was no road map, but Allen got it done.

Here’s a little story that embodies Allen.  One Sunday afternoon he was at home reviewing the pending federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1999 – because apparently that’s what lawyers do on a Sunday afternoon! He discovered a set of special provisions to increase Medicare reimbursement rates for hospitals serving rural communities by aligning them with nearby metropolitan areas.  It entailed a complicated body of work, but by the next morning Allen had drafted a provision that ultimately classified Chittenden County as part of the Greater Boston Metropolitan Statistical Area.  That alignment brought $5-$7M per year in additional reimbursements to Fletcher Allen … for more than ten years.

Because there were no additional costs related to those reimbursements, they equated to a contribution of over $50M from Allen’s Sunday afternoon bemusement.  In a way that makes Allen Martin the largest donor to the Medical Center in its history.

Allen made many other important contributions to the hospital over the years. He also served as a board member for IDX Systems Corporation, Union Mutual Insurance Company, and the Vermont Law School. Not bad for an Oxford philosophy major.

We mustn’t underestimate Bonnie’s impact on the softer side of things at the Medical Center. When the McClure building was new she helped fill it with artwork, expanding eventually to Baird and Shepardson as well. She also launched the hospital’s annual calendar of Vermont artwork, which brightens many of our walls still today.

Allen and Bonnie had an enormous impact on helping the Medical Center become what it is today. We are proud to name a floor in their honor.

I also want to take a moment to thank Jenna Page. Jenna is a multi-award-winning oncology nurse who spoke last night about the impact of the new building on patient care. She told heartbreaking stories about the added burden a lack of privacy can bring to cancer patients and their families when they are already suffering so much. Jenna had half the room in tears. We were blown away by her passion and her compassion, and are grateful for the work she and her peers do on behalf of us all.

We look forward to the day the new building is open to house medical staff, patients, and patient families.


Richard E. Tarrant is the President of the Tarrant Foundation.

An Innovative Partnership

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry.  This post originally appeared on the blog of the Council on Foundations, a national philanthropic affiliate organization in Arlington, VA.

Ten years ago this month I waddled – enormously pregnant – into a job interview with the founder of a billion dollar healthcare tech company. “I have this crazy idea about education,” he said.

Technology, he hypothesized, could make learning more interesting for students. He saw it as a platform enabling kids to learn at their own pace, pursuing courses of study according to their own curiosity. This style of self-driven, high-tech learning, he thought, would keep kids engaged, and graduate them with skills necessary in our evolving economy.

He planned to explore the idea through his foundation. “What do you think?” he asked. I thought a lot.

In my experience, philanthropy and public education had not made the most successful of bedfellows. The work is notoriously hard, and structures and nuance on both sides can hinder effective partnerships.

Even promising strategies contribute to “initiative fatigue” in schools, the result of constant new mandates, tools, and big ideas. An Education Weekly commentator recently observed of the term, “I hear it everywhere I go.

Compounding that weariness is an understandable frustration among some educators that their work is disproportionately subjected to the opinions, advice, and occasional interference of outsiders. Teacher and writer Trent Kays declares,

Politicians, business magnates and venture capitalists have become the educational experts now.

Some of Kays’ generalizations are unfair, but his tone strikes me. He’s speaking out for those who are in the education system every day and have made it – and its evolution – their life’s work. He continues:

Perhaps most frustrating is that there are dedicated educators and researchers who are actively trying to change and improve education. But, their voices become minimized because they’re not millionaires, billionaires or have started a company in Silicon Valley.

Ten years and $12 million into our foundation’s journey in education, we’ve attempted to draw strength both from our board’s entrepreneurial experience and from within the education community. We’re not alone in that attempt – many of those Kays criticizes have done the same, engaging scores of experienced educators to ensure respect for school cultures, professionals and daily realities as they seek to influence systems change.

For us, though, how we’ve done it is unquestionably key to our success.

In 2009, we established the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont. There, an independent team of researchers and educators is now on track to partner with half the middle schools in Vermont, supporting technology-rich learning and innovative school cultures.

I disagree with Kays’ argument that educator voices are subjugated to those of wealthy philanthropists. It’s been useful for us to consider, though, how the establishment of an independent entity grounded in the education community itself supports our goal of authentic, effective, peer-driven innovation.

And what have we achieved? A longitudinal study is now underway, but discreet pilot results are compelling. Researchers observed a 21.2% decrease in male absenteeism after just one year. Students, teachers and parents have further reported improved engagement, participation, behavior, and core academic outcomes – all harbingers of later academic and earnings success.

To put a finer point on it, my venture capitalist boss declares simply: “it’s a home run.”

                                                                                                                                   

Lauren A. Curry has been the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

 

A Great Day

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

Most days in this job are pretty great. Today was extra great.

This morning I watched as Rich and Deb Tarrant announced a second $5 million investment in Vermont kids. The funds will go to the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont to support up to 60 new partnerships with middle schools statewide over the next five years. The Institute works with schools and teachers to create learning that is technology-rich, personalized, relevant and – most of all – engaging for today’s youth.

As a professional, that’s a pretty exciting moment. It’s as a parent, though, that I find myself most grateful for this extraordinary investment.

More than 9 years ago I sat down for a conversation with Rich and Deb Tarrant. I was meeting them for the first time, and was interviewing for a position with their new foundation. I was also 8 ½ months pregnant with my first child.

Rich asked me during that conversation what I thought of an idea he had to use technology to modernize education and improve learning opportunities for kids. Our discussion was exciting and, while I confess to focusing a bit much on the challenges involved, Rich’s passion and determination were compelling.

Not long after, I had a job offer … and a baby. And the Foundation had a new partner: Dr. Penny Bishop and her remarkable team at UVM’s College of Education and Social Services.

In 2006, after a long hot summer spent huddled around desks with a gifted group of teachers from Milton Middle School, we piloted our first student cohort. In 2009, with both Edmunds and Manchester Middle Schools on board, we formally launched the Tarrant Institute.

The Foundation’s gift to create the Institute was the largest in our history – by a lot. It marked a major turning point for us as an organization. Today marks an even bigger one. Rich told the audience gathered at the press conference this morning that we are “doubling down”, investing a further $5 million in a strategy that works.

Which brings me back to my perspective as a parent.

That beautiful baby boy born those many summers ago is now a 4th grader. He is smart, creative, and sometimes a handful in class. He thrives on technology. He is one of many kids who I think would chafe in a traditional middle level classroom. And he – along with every kid – deserves to learn in a setting that values his individuality, challenges his intellect, puts relevant tools in his hands, and positions him for success in his life ahead.

I am grateful that my son’s school and so many other middle schools in Vermont now have the opportunity to draw on the expertise, resources, and supportive partnership of the Tarrant Institute. Thank you Rich and Deb.  Thank you Penny.  Thank you to all of the wonderful, committed educators who bring this work to life.  As Rich said, “writing the check is the easy part … without these people we would be nowhere.”

You can listen to the complete press conference here, including remarks from a remarkable young 7th grader at People’s Academy in Morrisville. Educators can learn more about partnership with the Tarrant Institute at joinus.tarrantinstitute.org.

                                                                                                                                               

Lauren A. Curry has been the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

Crunching Numbers

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

 

I love data.

More accurately, I love stories.  And to me, data tell some of the most compelling and important stories out there.

For instance:

These and other statistics about poverty, education, aging, and strong communities have informed our grantmaking over the past ten years.  In that time, we’ve engaged with partner organizations all over the state, working to turn around the bad statistics and build on the good ones … one grant at a time.

We’ve also tried to be good neighbors.  Knowing that we are one on a very short list of Vermont foundations, and recognizing the many, many people out there working hard on behalf of causes they believe in, we’ve made an effort to keep our doors wide open.  We’ve awarded grants to all kinds of different organizations supporting all kinds of different programs, all lumped under the large umbrella of improving the quality of life for people in Vermont.

Very large umbrella.  Perhaps overly large.

Since 2006, we’ve made grants to more than 350 different organizations.  In the last five years alone, we’ve issued upwards of 370 separate grant checks.  That’s a lot for a foundation our size.  Maybe too many.

We all know how the saying goes.  You can’t be all things to all people.  Much as we might like to try to be, no one is well served by that approach in the end.

Data stories matter.  And our data story tells us it’s time for a change.  It’s time to narrow our focus, and put more money into the grants that have proven to make the greatest difference in the work we most care about.

You can read more about our new strategy in the Community Grants section of our website.  In short, from here forward our Community Grants will focus on the following distinct populations and goals:

  • Youth: Resilience and Aspiration
  • Working-Age Adults: Employment and Financial Independence
  • Seniors: Comfort and Dignity in Aging
  • Communities: Local Resources and Investments

Under each of these headings, you will find that we have identified specific strategies as the focus for our investments.  We have done so based on our interests, and your data stories … on what our non-profit partners have taught us over the years are the most meaningful and cost-effective interventions.  We will concentrate our funds in these areas, and as ever will make grants with minimal restrictions to give organizations the flexibility and control they need to run the very best and most efficient programs.

The tradeoff here, of course, is that we’ve made some cuts.  Extremely valuable work is being done in areas that did not make our list, and we are grateful to other foundations, businesses and individuals that continue to invest in those areas.  We are committed, though, to funding programs that best fit our values and theory of change, and that demonstrate the kind of impact and cost efficiency we seek.

We have heard many times over the years that we “don’t act like a typical foundation”.  It has always been meant as a compliment, and frankly, we’ll take it.  We – and many of our peer foundations serving this state – approach this work with a deep sense of gratitude, a keen interest in true partnership, and a binding commitment to make the greatest impact we possibly can with the dollars we have.

While I understand not everyone out there will be happy with these changes, I trust that those who know us will see the thought, care, and discipline that went into them.

I’m thinking as I write about Deb’s belief that our Foundation can make a difference, and Rich’s powerful statement on being good stewards.  With these changes, I think we are doing just that.

                                                                                                                                               

Lauren A. Curry has been the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

Ben’s Story

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry.

Last Thanksgiving I struck up a conversation with a young man at a neighbor’s cocktail party. I had met him a few times over the summer while he worked taking care of the neighbors’ kids. I knew him as personable and funny, with a seemingly endless well of patience when it came to managing the munchkins (mine included).

I asked Ben how college was going, and he was eager to tell me about his classes and how he’d been selected to participate in a highly competitive study abroad program next year. It was easy to see that he is both enjoying and excelling in the college environment.

“Where did you grow up, Ben?” I asked. “Milton,” he replied, prompting my immediate next question: “when?”

It turns out Ben was a student at Milton Junior High School (now Milton Middle School) at the same time the Tarrant Foundation was piloting our very first technology integration program there. Ben wasn’t part of the main cohort of students involved, but a couple of his classes were in the pilot. In those classes, he’d gotten to experience first-hand what, at the time, was considered a risky new strategy.

While platters of tasty hors d’oeuvres circled the room, I got to listen to Ben talk about what a difference it had made for him and his peers to have access to technology throughout their learning day. He described feeling lucky, because technology made school more interesting for him. He used words like freedom and flexibility and creativity. And he talked about using the skills and thought processes developed back then in doing his college coursework now.

My kingdom for a tape recorder!

Er, digital recorder … but you get my point. The most powerful advocates for any intervention are those who experience it. While I’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk with scores of kids about their experiences at our partner schools as they go through them, this was the first time I ever spoke to a student after the fact—to someone who was looking back on how our work did (or didn’t) affect his path forward in life. It was powerful testimony.

One of our board members suggested we reach out to Ben and see if we could capture his story on video. Happily for us, he was excited by the prospect. And so on a snowy, gray day during his winter break, we met at RetroMotion Media and Ben told his story again, this time to cameras and a boom mic. You can watch it here.

When I watched Ben in the studio—and as I watch this video now—I think about that tiny first cohort of kids. I think, too, about the many that have followed in its footsteps. There’s no doubt that the scale of our impact and outreach now would have been difficult to imagine then. Hundreds of Vermont teachers draw on the Tarrant Institute for professional development, support and encouragement as they move forward in tech-integrated learning environments. Thousands of their students experience learning that is more personalized, more relevant, and more successful as a result.

For me, though, the moral of Ben’s story is that even if we had never gotten beyond our pilot phase … even if we had never touched more than that very first handful of kids, it still would have been worth it. It would have been worth every penny.

                                                                                                                                               

Lauren A. Curry has been the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.