A Long Island-based charter school network announced this week that it had received a surprise gift in the form of a $7 million donation from one of the nation’s most active billionaire philanthropists.
Trustees of the Hempstead-based Academy Charter School organization told Newsday they had not solicited the contribution but welcomed the support. The donor is MacKenzie Scott, an award-winning novelist who helped start the Amazon company with her husband, Jeff Bezos, before the couple divorced in 2019.
“We are thrilled, honored and humbled to be recognized for such an award,” said Bishop Barrington Goldson, CEO of the charter school group. He described the donation as recognition of his organization’s success in providing quality education to students from “underserved” communities.
The Academy operates charter schools in Hempstead, Uniondale and Wyandanch.
Wayne Haughton, the executive director, said the bulk of Scott’s $7 million contribution will be used to provide additional student services at the Wyandanch site, which operates in a converted hardware store.
“This extraordinary grant will allow us to renew and expand our commitment to lifelong learning,” Haughton said.
Scott, in a post via the Medium platform, said she had donated nearly $2 billion over the past seven months to 343 organizations “supporting the voices and opportunities of people in underserved communities.” Recipients included dozens of similar academies, as well as Girl Scout groups, health centers and other non-profit organizations.
Scott said the latest grantee group was chosen by his staff, as were more than 1,200 grantee groups funded in previous rounds. His announcement came Monday, the same day Bezos told a CNN interviewer he would give away most of his fortune during his lifetime.
Scott’s divorce from Bezos left him with billions of dollars in Amazon stock. Forbes magazine describes her as one of the five most generous philanthropists in the country.
In New York State, charter schools are operated by independent boards, with local school district reimbursements based on the number of students drawn from the districts.
Academy Charter School in Hempstead serves nearly 1,800 students from kindergarten to grade 12. More than three-quarters of those students are economically disadvantaged, according to the latest available data compiled by the state Department of Education.
Income disparities haven’t stopped Academy students from earning high marks. For example, state math test results, released last month, show above-average results among students at the Hempstead campus and also at the Academy School in Uniondale.
School officials say they foster high performance through extended daily hours that run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and include enriched study in math and technology.
In September, the Academy organization opened the third campus, in Wyandanch, with 164 students in kindergarten through second grade. Plans are to expand this school to grade six within five years.
The Academy Group’s total operating and support expenses were $50.9 million for the fiscal year ending June 2021, according to the latest available state figures.