By Robert F. Smith
Editor’s note: Robert F. Smith is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners. Recently, he and the team at Vista Equity Partners joined with PowerSchool to give more than $1.25 million to support over 1,800 teachers who work in schools where a majority of students are Black. In this post, he shares his thoughts on what it will take to address inequity in education.
We tend to think about the challenges of our nation’s education system in broad strokes. The need for billions of dollars in capital improvements, sweeping modernizations to curricula and technology, and fundamental policy changes.
These big-ticket reforms are critical, yet they can have the adverse outcome of making people feel a little less empowered to be change agents themselves.
I still remember watching my mom write a $25 check to the United Negro College Fund every month. Our family’s means were modest, but she knew that each of us has an opportunity and an obligation to be a changemaker. I’ve kept that lesson in my heart, and it rings true today.
The truth is that seemingly small things can make a world of difference – and technology can bring people of goodwill together to scale up all this change.
DonorsChoose is one of the best vehicles I’ve found for doing this. This platform allows anyone to see the funding needs at local schools and make small-dollar contributions to help solve them. It’s a simple, tangible way to create positive change in a community, one project at a time.
My colleagues at Vista Equity Partners and I recently partnered with PowerSchool to fulfill more than 1,800 teacher funding requests worth about $1.25 million through DonorsChoose. These requests came from schools that serve predominately Black students in and around Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Houston, Memphis, and New Orleans. We specifically set out to help lift up communities of color and chip away at systemic racial inequities by investing in school districts that have historically received less state and local funding than majority-white districts.
This has been a wonderful way of experiencing the power of modest things. We bought one teacher cleaning supplies for her classroom; another received a set of bookshelves so their students could finally have a real library. Small though they may seem, they help teachers feel supported. They help students feel seen and cared for.
Browse DonorsChoose and you’ll see that many projects only need a few hundred dollars to get off the ground, yet they have the potential to make a profound impact. Buying that lab equipment or those art supplies could legitimately change a young person’s life.
That’s the power of education. That’s what my parents – both educators – believed in. That’s what they taught me to believe in.