January 17, 2017; Austin Business Journal
Capping two years of work with school officials, leaders of private and public industry, and high-ranking elected and appointed officials from across the nation, Charles Butt, CEO of Texas’s HEB Grocery Co., announced he would make a $100 million investment in the future of Texas education. His donation, which will come from his personal fortune, will create and establish The Holdsworth Center in Austin as a training academy for public school administrators.
That’s right. This mega-philanthropic donation to education is actually investing in public schools rather than market-based alternatives! What could have created such an aberration? Maybe it is the family’s long experience in public education. The Butt family has long been an advocate of education and public schools, annually granting thousands of dollars in prizes to outstanding teachers, principals and school districts through H-E-B’s Excellence in Education Awards. The mission of the institute, named for Butt’s mother, herself an educator and lifelong Texas philanthropist, is to support current principals and superintendents while preparing the next generation of leadership in public education.
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The focus of the center—training the leadership of public schools—and the magnitude of the gift, which one presumes makes the center self-funded, might allow it to sidestep some issues that made success elusive in other educational reform collaborations tried across the country by the likes of the Annenberg Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Pew Charitable Trusts. NPQ readers won’t be surprised to learn that Mr. Butt’s gift follows the trends we discussed last year in “What Big (and not-so-big) Donors Can Learn from Philanthropy, Bloomberg-style.”
- The large gift comes after smaller investments in education. This follows the Bloomberg advice of “pick one thing and go for it”.
- Donors want in on the ground floor of change, as this illustrates. They don’t want their name on a boardroom; they want viral change that can be tested and replicated throughout a system. Mr. Butt is starting small with Austin and Round Rock districts and then scaling up statewide.
- Established brands don’t matter. Donors will start their own foundations or nonprofits to enact the change they are looking to champion.
And wasting time they are not. The Austin American-Statesman reports that the Holdsworth Center’s first program will begin in the summer of 2017 with six school districts already selected. Though a permanent location for the center has not been revealed, the program will rotate among conference centers and hotels. The public school administrators chosen for the program are expected to go abroad for inspiration and a hands-on look at what is working in other countries for public education during the training.—Carrie Collins-Fadell