Meet John Spears: Longtime Supporter of Foundation Academies

John Spears (right) and the late Kirk Norris (left), a valued member of the Foundation Academies community who introduced Spears to the schools

A managing director of Tweedy Browne Company LLC, an investment management firm, John Spears is originally from Chicago, Illinois, and currently splits his time between Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania with his wife, Cookie. John, a Quaker, and Cookie, an Episcopalian, are both guided by their desire to give and support those in need.

Spears first became interested in finance as a child, watching his grandfather read the financial pages of the newspaper. Once he learned the basics, he was committed to learning more, spending hours studying investing books at the library. By high school, he’d started investing and when he was in his early 20s, he started his own investment business. By 30, he was a millionaire.

With his early success, Spears was drawn to give back and uplift those around him. His interest in education, specifically, was piqued when a partner of his, Edward Anderson, who was a director of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, began researching effective teaching methods and released a publication entitled “Education That Works: The Child Is Always Right”. 

“Ed Anderson was a University of Chicago graduate who was very interested in helping African Americans get into the University of Chicago, and that experience led to his interest in empirical studies of what works in education,” Spears explained. “Are there some techniques that work better than others? What’s the data?” 

From there, Spears became invested in understanding the most cost-effective strategies for educating students and improving outcomes for underprivileged groups. In his own words, “Education is the way out of poverty. Education is the way for greater mobility. It’s giving people agency.”

John Spears (right) and several Foundation Academies board members (Carl Seiden, Grecia Montero, Stacy Denton, Jacqueline Griffith, and Reid McCarthy) at the 2021 Commencement Ceremony of Foundation Academy Collegiate

John Spears is also no stranger to the fight for education equity in Trenton. As an advocate for school choice, Spears has been involved with several initiatives to improve schooling options in Trenton and didn’t see the results he wanted until he came across Foundation Academies.

“I was just amazed at how well the school was doing academically,” Spears described of his first interaction with FA. 

Spears was originally connected with our schools through Kirk Norris, a good friend, a fellow Quaker, and a valued member of the FA community who served as a board member of Foundation Academies and also the Friends of Foundation Academies for many years prior to his passing in 2019. 

Beyond academic performance, Spears was also drawn to the level of encouragement and support students receive from FA staff and the commitment to never giving up on a student.  “It was a school that had a “you can do it” positive attitude and I liked the idea that if someone was falling behind, [the teachers] would work with the student and keep at it, keep trying. You can do it, no excuses, and we’re going to help you.”

For Spears, that persistent belief in our students’ ability doesn’t end when a student graduates, which is why he actively contributes to the Friends of FA Knight Fund, focused on supporting our alumni “to and through” their postgraduate studies. The fund awards up to $1,000 to every college-enrolled FA grad toward the purchase of books and educational supplies in the four years following their high school graduation. 

Graig Weiss, Chief Executive Officer of Foundation Academies, says, “John Spears has been a humble and generous champion for our schools and our kids for more than a decade. He is not only the most generous donor in our organization’s history, having donated more than $800,000 to our mission, he is also a valued partner in our core belief that every child deserves a quality education.”

We are so incredibly grateful for his support and continued commitment to empowering our school community.

Krystal Cohen

Krystal Cohen is a member of the Advancement team at Foundation Academies where she aids with fundraising and community outreach efforts. Krystal holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Princeton University and is currently pursuing a Master of Public Affairs.