Ed Equity Talks Series: School Funding Amidst COVID-19

Join Nellie Mae on March 31, 2021, at 3 p.m., ET for the next in our virtual Ed Equity Talks series, featuring Marie-Frances Rivera, President of MassBudget

In late 2019, Massachusetts lawmakers passed the Student Opportunity Act, a major school finance reform law aimed at steering an additional $1.5B to the state’s public schools over seven years. As we move to implement a 2022 state budget amidst the height of a global pandemic, we must consider the immense needs of our Commonwealth’s young people, especially young people of color who have been disproportionally affected by the crisis. Join us as Nellie Mae Director of Engagement and Partnerships Delia Arellano-Weddleton sits down with Marie-Frances Rivera, President of MassBudget, to discuss how a state faced with economic uncertainty should seek to implement equitable school funding to meet the immense needs of young people, their families and communities, and how philanthropy can play a role in supporting this work.

Register Now! Webinar Registration — Zoom


Ed Equity Talks Series: School Funding Amidst COVID-19 was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation Welcomes United We Dream Co-Founder Cristina Jiménez Moreta to…

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation Welcomes United We Dream Co-Founder Cristina Jiménez Moreta to Board of Directors

Today, we are thrilled to announce the appointment of Cristina Jiménez Moreta, co-founder and former executive director of United We Dream, the country’s largest immigrant-youth-led network, to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation Board of Directors. As a new member of the board, Cristina’s leadership and extensive experience in community organizing will aid the Foundation in advancing racial equity in public education.

“We are honored to welcome her to our Board of Directors as we continue to fight for racial equity and equal access to excellent public education for all students in New England.” — Nick Donohue

“Cristina has been a powerful force in the immigrant justice movement, empowering and organizing young people and communities of color across the country for over a decade,” Nick Donohue, President and CEO of Nellie Mae said. “We are honored to welcome her to our Board of Directors as we continue to fight for racial equity and equal access to excellent public education for all students in New England.”

“The Nellie Mae Board of Directors is thrilled to have Cristina joining us,” said Greg Gunn, chair of the Nellie Mae Board. “Cristina brings unmatched experience in movement and coalition building, community organizing, and public policy that will support the foundation in moving its agenda forward.”

Cristina is a nationally recognized organizer and movement strategist who has been instrumental in building a sustained and influential youth-led immigrant movement. In recognition of her work as a social justice organizer, Cristina received a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship, the Four Freedoms Award, and a spot on the 2018 TIME 100 List. She has been celebrated in various lists including “Forbes 30 under 30 in Law and Policy” and the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “40 under 40 Young Leaders Who are Solving Problems of Today and Tomorrow.”

“In communities across New England, courageous young people are driving the change they want to see. I am thrilled to support them and continue the fight for a more just future for all young people with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.” — Cristina Jiménez Moreta

“Young people of color are facing unprecedented challenges, and the work of advancing racial equity in public education has never been more critical,” said Cristina Jiménez Moreta. “In communities across New England, courageous young people are driving the change they want to see. I am thrilled to support them and continue the fight for a more just future for all young people with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.”

Cristina co-founded United We Dream (UWD), the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country. Under Cristina’s leadership as Executive Director, UWD has grown into a powerful network of nearly one million members and has played a pivotal role in shifting the policy conversation and narrative about immigrants and immigration, ultimately influencing policy. Cristina was instrumental in UWD’s successful campaign for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. She migrated to the U.S from Ecuador with her family at the age of 13, growing up undocumented.

In recognition of her work as a social justice organizer, Cristina received a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship, the Four Freedoms Award, and a spot on the 2018 TIME 100 List. Cristina has appeared in hundreds of national and local media outlets including USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, HBO, The New York Times, the LA Times, ABC, NPR, The Huffington Post, Univision, Telemundo, and La Opinion. Her writing has been published in the New York Times, CNN, USA Today, Huffington Post, and El Diario.

Cristina proudly serves on the Board of Directors of the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy (NCRP), Hazen Foundation, and Make the Road Action Fund. Cristina also co-founded the New York State Youth Leadership Council, the Dream Mentorship Program at Queens College, was an immigration policy analyst for the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy and an immigrant rights organizer at Make the Road New York.

Cristina holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration & Public Policy from the School of Public of Affairs at Baruch College, CUNY and graduated Cum Laude with a B.A. in Political Science and Business from Queens College, CUNY. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Letters & Humanities by Wesleyan University.


The Nellie Mae Education Foundation Welcomes United We Dream Co-Founder Cristina Jiménez Moreta to… was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Nick Donohue Announces Plans to Step Down as President & CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Will support search for new leader after more than a decade of leadership

QUINCY, MA — February 5, 2021 — The Nellie Mae Education Foundation today announced that Nick Donohue will be stepping down as the organization’s President and CEO at the end of 2021 after 14 years of leadership at the organization. During his time at the Foundation, Nick was responsible for shepherding in student-centered approaches to learning as a national education reform strategy and shifting the organization to its current grantmaking strategy focused on advancing racial equity in public education.

Nick has worked throughout his career to expand access to high quality, innovative learning opportunities for students. His leadership in education reform has challenged traditional notions of schooling to respond to our changing world and the systemic inequities inherent in our systems of education, with the goal of preparing learners to contribute to a thriving democracy. Nick’s leadership helped build a community of districts committed to rethinking how they supported students based on individual need, incorporating student voice into the learning process, expanding opportunities for learning outside of the classroom, and tailoring learning to each young person.

Donohue will continue to serve in an active role as the Foundation’s leader through the end of the calendar year, while the Board of Directors — chaired by Greg Gunn — begins a search in the coming weeks for Donohue’s successor.

“The past 14 years at Nellie Mae have been tremendously rewarding for me, both personally and professionally. It has been the honor of my career to work at a Foundation so fiercely committed to rethinking what public education looks like to meet the needs of all learners, especially through the lens of racial equity,” said Donohue. “I look forward to leading the organization during this important transition and through the end of the year. Living into the values we have come to embrace as an organization — and that guide my own actions so much today — means it is time for me to help the Foundation find a new leader whose experience and expertise will support the organization’s new work even more fully moving forward.”

“During his time at Nellie Mae, Nick has led the organization through growth and challenges, always seeking to deepen the positive impact the organization made on young people in the region,” said Nellie Mae Education Foundation Board Chair Greg Gunn. “Several years ago, we embarked on a journey to lean into the racial equity barriers in our field. While Nick is the first to say his journey is ongoing, it was his leadership — and his commitment to Board and staff working together — which in turn helped us be more responsive to communities during the challenges of this past year. We wouldn’t be on this path today without Nick’s values-driven, reflective leadership. I look forward to his support in our search for his successor, a process that is grounded in our racial equity principles, inclusive of the voices of staff, grantees, and community partners.”

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Nick Donohue with Nellie Mae staff and community advisors in 2019

The transition comes at a time when the Foundation has entered the second year of implementation of its grantmaking strategy focused on advancing racial equity in public education, supporting efforts to advance excellent, student-centered public education for all New England youth. In addition, just last year, Donohue led an effort to distribute an additional $20M in grantmaking towards combatting COVID-19 and anti-Black racism in the New England region and nationally, acknowledging that needs exacerbated by the dual pandemics have an impact on youth educational experiences and outcomes, especially in communities of color.

“I am proud of what Nellie Mae has contributed in the New England region — and nationally — to ensure that all young people have access to an excellent and equitable public education. I am proud of our commitment to do our part in the work of dismantling structural racism, and am grateful to those who have helped me learn and ‘unlearn’ so much. I am thankful for the relationships I have built over my tenure here with Board, staff, grantees, and external partners and am heartened by the good work that will continue beyond my time here,” said Donohue.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Nick served as the New Hampshire State Commissioner of Education where he led systemic reform efforts to innovative teaching and learning. Additionally, he oversaw the implementation of the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education’s order to reconstitute Hope High School in Providence. During his time at Nellie Mae, Nick has also served in a number of leadership roles, including as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Aurora Institute (formerly iNACOL), and previous board affiliations including serving as Vice-Chair of the board of Grantmakers for Education, and serving as a trustee for both the University System of New Hampshire and Community Technical College System.

Nick and his family are looking forward to the next chapter of his life both professionally and personally.

*Read Nick’s letter announcing his plans to step down here


Nick Donohue Announces Plans to Step Down as President & CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Protecting Our Democracy

Today, runoff races in Georgia reminded us of what is possible when the extraordinary power of organizing and voting is exercised. However, those outcomes were met by the sobering reminder of the fragile state of democracy in our country. We want to acknowledge the pain and distress many of us are feeling today as White Nationalists sought to undermine our country’s democratic system through a violent insurrection. These actions are a result of the racist rhetoric of our current administration and an attempt to deny the voices of millions of Americans, especially Black Americans and other people of color. We at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation believe that public education is a cornerstone in upholding our democracy, and tonight, that democracy was threatened.

We also believe that today’s events are a reminder of the work we must continue to do, including changes to champion racial equity and social justice within our public education system. We condemn the violent actions of the mob that sought to undermine our democratic system and go against our nation’s shared value of allowing the American people to choose their leaders and ensure a peaceful transition of power.


Protecting Our Democracy was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Reflections and Hope

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

2020: a year unlike any other, plagued by a pandemic, death, job loss, evictions, and the continued murders of Black people at the hands of law enforcement. And at the same time, we have seen communities come together, respond with strength and love to demand and move forward through these momentous times.

This year, we’ve been reminded of just how fragile our social structures are — folding at the hands of a virus, disproportionally causing harm and suffering to Black, Brown and Indigenous people across our nation.

Educators have been thrust into crisis schooling, forced to completely change the way they engage and interact with young people.

With the closure, disruption, and under-resourcing of the country’s schools, more people woke up to what many have known for so long — that schools indeed are hubs for social supports: not only places to learn, but places where young people receive healthcare, nutrition, mental health supports, and allow caregivers to participate in the workforce. Educators have been thrust into crisis schooling, forced to completely change the way they engage and interact with young people.

At yet, despite the enormous challenges, so many educators have risen to the occasion — organizing and strategizing to creatively deliver content and learning experiences to their students, in spite of personal sacrifices they often have had to make. While we see many young people suffering from isolation, Zoom fatigue, hunger and much more, and we are also seeing accounts of young people who are finding comfort in home learning environments with less rigidity and the comfort to be themselves.

Returning to normal is not good enough, because normal was never enough.

It’s been a challenging year for so many reasons, but we know that returning to normal is not good enough. Because normal was never enough. But, we have hope: and here’s why. Our grantee partners across the region, coupled with so many others, remain hopeful, determined and set on ensuring that we leave this region — and this nation — better than we found it.

In Chelsea, Massachusetts, a city devastated by COVID-19, Gladys Vega and her team at La Collaborativa have worked tirelessly to ensure community members have the supports they need to get by. Young people at Connecticut groups Hearing Youth Voices, Students for Educational Justice, CT Students for a Dream and Citywide Youth Coalition were instrumental in pushing the state to become the first in the nation to require high schools provide courses on Black and Latinx studies. The Equity Institute in Rhode Island took a step further in diversifying the teaching pipeline in the state by launching their inaugural class of “EduLead Fellows” — teacher assistants and support professionals committed to obtaining a bachelor’s degree and teacher certification. The Movement for Black Lives has spearheaded protests and action that have led to police reforms across the nation, and prompted corporations to take time to examine the structural racism within their organizations. And so many other partners have led important work around the region and nation to uproot structural racism in our education system and ensure equitable access to excellent, student-centered public education for all young people.

As we move into 2021, we look forward to continuing to work hand in hand with our grantee partners to ensure that all young people, especially young people of color, have access to an equitable and excellent public education. We know it won’t be easy; but because of so many of our partners — we have hope.


Reflections and Hope was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Are The Kids Really Alright?

Reopening Our Region’s Public Schools Amidst a Pandemic and Racial Reckoning

A year unlike any other, we’ve witnessed the deep inequities in our society laid bare by the two pandemics of COVID and systemic racism. During this session, Nick Donohue, President and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, will speak with community and school leaders from across the New England region about how school reopening is going, and what working towards a more equitable and just future for schooling in our region looks like. Join us for a conversation on November 5, 2020 at 10:OO AM with The Boston Globe.

Register Here.


Are The Kids Really Alright? was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Statement from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation on “Patriotic Education”

Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation condemns any efforts by the federal government to silence curriculum and frameworks that explicitly address the centrality of enslavement in the historical narrative of our country. As an education funder, we believe that nurturing a democracy means committing courageous attention to our nation’s history in order to prepare for the future. Continuing to whitewash our public institutions perpetuates violence and injustices, and will only harm our future prosperity as a country. Actions by the federal government to develop commissions to promote “patriotic education,” and threats to defund schools that utilize projects such as the New York Time’s 1619 Project continue to harm and erase the histories and experiences of entire groups of people. This poses danger to our young people, and the future of our nation. It is not until we are able to confront our original sin as a nation founded on a bedrock of white supremacy culture that we will truly be able to “make America great.”


Statement from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation on “Patriotic Education” was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Continuing to whitewash our public institutions will only harm our future prosperity as a nation

Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This past week, Donald Trump directed federal agencies to eliminate anti-racism trainings examining white privilege and critical race theory, calling them “a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue.” And just last month, he shared a two-point education platform for a potential second term. Half of it consisted of “Teach American Exceptionalism.” He briefly touched on the idea during his speech at the Republican National Convention, pledging to “fully restore patriotic education to our schools.” Just this past weekend, in a Sunday morning tweet, Trump claimed he’d be investigating and withdrawing funding from California schools that were using the Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project— which explores how enslavement has shaped American political, social and economic institutions.

Continuing to whitewash our public institutions will only harm our future prosperity as a nation. In his direction to federal officials to ban anti-racism training, Trump is preventing us from achieving the ideals on which our democracy depends. Critical race theory, a framework developed by Derrick Bell and other notable scholars that examines how race and racism is perpetuated through existing legal and cultural systems, is a fundamental frame for examining how white supremacy has become dominant culture in our society. Anti-racism trainings are not “un-American” as Trump touts — but deciding not to engage with our nation’s deep history of white supremacy certainly is.

As a white man who holds positions of power and privilege both in my personal life and in my career, I have firsthand experience diving into examinations of racism and the dominance of white culture. Engaging in anti-racism trainings has at times felt unpleasant, tedious, and tiresome. But that discomfort is unmatched to the pain that people of color in this nation experience on a daily basis.

In urging public schools to “teach American exceptionalism,” Trump paints an incomplete and misleading picture of history. This ideology harms our children and society. Many believe that our education system can transform people’s lives, with the potential to open doors of opportunity that were previously shut. But American exceptionalism, coded in language and policies that sustain a culture organized to maintain the dominance of white people, is the reason why public education has not lived up to its promise.

Through these cowardly actions, Trump is blatantly ignoring how systemic racism undergirds all of our public institutions. Distortions of liberty put forward in his vows to protect suburbs invoke policies like the G.I. bill and redlining, which barred Black Americans from homeownership. It brings us to our current moment — where law enforcement will murder Black people in their homes or on the street, but white killers draped in weapons are peacefully taken into custody— or even handed water.

This is not the time to back away from exploring our nation’s true history and confronting white supremacy culture — one that falsely espouses a value of equality while persistently privileging those already so advantaged and oppressing Black people and others. This is not only about the activities of abhorrent fringe groups. It is about ignoring the unchecked assumptions that shape every aspect of our society.

And rather than retreat from facing these insidious pieces of our past and present, it’s time to ramp things up. Resistance to this work means there is a new level of consciousness about its impact — let’s take advantage of this opportunity!

At the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, we are directing our grantmaking to efforts such as a fund dedicated to supporting nonprofits led by people of color, and another to Black educators leading conversations about race in their schools and communities. And we are looking ahead to supporting deeper attention by all of us — and white people in particular — to what is corrupting our collective spirit as a nation.

We must stay the course. Effective tools and resources that the President is trying to shelve only make this important work easier. It is not until we are able to confront our original sin as a nation founded on a bedrock of white supremacy culture that we will truly be able to “make America great.”


Continuing to whitewash our public institutions will only harm our future prosperity as a nation was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Rest as Revolution

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” — Audre Lorde

Rest is an integral but often neglected aspect of any movement — sufficient rest rejuvenates our minds and bodies and allows us to bring our best selves to our work. We recognize that for many Black people, present, past, and intergenerational trauma is compounded as they are forced every day to deal with the hardships from systems that were built to oppress and marginalize them — from our education system to our housing system to our healthcare system and beyond.

Rest, and healing justice, are important parts of any movement, and we believe they are a critical part of racial justice work. As Prentis Hemphill, Director of Healing Justice at Black Lives Matter notes, “Healing justice means that we begin to value care, emotional labor and resilience, not as add-ons but as central components of sustainability that restore us to life.”

Rest is revolution. It can restore, empower, heal, and cultivate joy.

That is why we are teaming up with Getaway and anti-racist educator Rachel Cargle, to lead “A Year of Rest” campaign, which will offer in total 365 nights of rest to Black people working for change, and those fighting for the Black community in combating racism.

Getaway will provide their tiny cabin outposts as spaces to isolate, disconnect from work, and truly rest for those selected. Learn more about the “A Year of Rest” campaign and nominate someone today!


Rest as Revolution was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Educators for Black Lives

Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

I vividly recall the first time I led a conversation on race in my classroom. The conversation happened on Monday, February 27th, the day after Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman. At the time, I was a 22-year old resident in the Boston Teacher Residency program.

The conversation with my sixth-grade scholars happened just as schools were reopening from February vacation week. I had been in the program for seven months and had recently become the lead teacher for two classes of students.

Having this conversation with sixth graders was not something I had been trained to do. In fact, I had never imagined having this conversation. We discussed race in my teacher residency program, but facilitating a conversation centered on race with sixth graders stemming from an incident involving police brutality aren’t one and the same.

At the time, my sixth graders and I were reading Maniac Magee, a fictional novel that explores the topic of racial segregation. In the week leading to February vacation, we had created a visual representation of the West and East Ends in this fictional town the protagonist frequently crossed and that separated the Black and White communities.

While we discussed racial segregation in the context of the novel and looked at the New York Times’ Mapping Segregation map in Boston, the discussion my mentor and I had prepared to have quickly made the themes of the novel so much more real.

As my enthusiastic sixth graders all clad in school uniform entered the classroom, we gathered in a circle, which was a contrast from the usual rows in the classroom. My mentor teacher and I both took deep breaths preparing to discuss the elephant in the room, and in many classrooms and communities across this country.

This was my first conversation with my students about Black lives being murdered. I was not okay, but I needed to make sure they were. It was my duty to make sure they were okay, not only because of my identity as an educator, but also because of my identity as a Black woman.

We first asked students to jot down what they heard on the news and at home. They provided so many different tidbits and details of the story: “Black boy”, “iced tea”, “Skittles”, “murder”, “Florida”, “going home”, “hoodie”, “fight”, “gun”, “going to jail.”

From this initial entry point, we then discussed how they felt about the murder of Trayvon Martin. Some students shared they felt great sadness. Others expressed anger and fear. Many voiced worries for Trayvon’s family and friends. Lastly, students asserted a need for justice and fairness.

From this conversation, we were able to explore the themes in the text more fully. Without prompting, students rapidly connected the novel to the real world. They openly challenged the racism both in the text and in the real world. This first conversation was a defining moment in my teaching career; it transformed my teaching practice and strengthened my rapport with students. This conversation let my students know that I saw them, fully.

Unfortunately, I would go on to facilitate many similar conversations year after year — with the murders of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland. And while I became more skilled at leading these conversations, they were never easy. The emotional weight, from my students and myself, of it all, always lingered.

I learned to center conversations about race and anti-Blackness into my school’s core texts through the use of questions like, “What does the reference of Othello to a “black sheep” or “Moor” reveal about racism and inclusion in Venice, Italy?” After all, how can you teach the themes in Othello without discussing race and anti-Blackness?

Still reflecting on this experience years later, I realize that although this conversation brought great fear and anxiety, it was absolutely necessary in the classroom. Students, like their educators, are watching the news and using social media. They are having these conversations at home. I am reminded that we need to have these conversations in classrooms regardless of how uncomfortable, afraid and emotionally naked we may feel. Not talking about race in classrooms further invalidates the real-world experiences of the Black community and Black youth.

As a former Black educator, I am incredibly proud and overjoyed to announce today that the Nellie Mae Education Foundation is launching a Rapid Response RFP that centers Black educators and those in service of Black lives inside and outside of their classrooms. I invite you to read more about the opportunity here.


Educators for Black Lives was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.