Week Four and Spring Break: An Update from the CEO

Dear FAmily,

I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy as we close out Week 4 of online instruction and move into Spring Break.

The beginning of Spring Break means we will temporarily pause online instruction and meal pickup services, resuming both on Monday, April 20.* Until then, I hope everyone has an opportunity to pause, reflect, and recharge during this break.

This week, I want to begin my update by reflecting on all the incredible work done by our school staff in the past month. Successfully moving our 1,000+ students to online instruction, as well as providing laptops and hotspots to all who expressed a need – in a matter of days – is no small feat.

In a recent email, our Chief Academic Officer Sheria McRae shared a quote that to me, perfectly encapsulates how our staff has responded during this time:

“First times are stressful for people in so many different ways – from small things to global pandemics {to moving to online learning}… When we have no relevant experience or expertise, the vulnerability, uncertainty, and fear of these firsts can be overwhelming. Yet, showing up and pushing ourselves past the awkward, learner stage is how we get braver. This pandemic experience is a massive experiment in collective vulnerability. We can be our worst selves when we’re afraid, or our very best, bravest selves.” 

– Brené Brown PhD, LMSW, professor, lecturer, author

Throughout this crisis, I have been continually impressed as our staff and students have shown up as their very best and bravest selves, quickly and repeatedly adapting their plans in order to continue to learn. In these uncharted waters, we, too, are figuring all of this out as we go, just like everyone else on the planet, but we have prioritized remaining flexible to adapt to the needs of our students.   

Our core belief of being “Growth-Focused,” has also reminded me of the critical importance for all of our leaders – myself included – to learn to balance empathy with execution in times of crisis. 

When we are stressed, it’s easy to set aside our purpose in the interest of short-term survival. The important thing we have to remember is that our purpose IS the very thing that will take us from just surviving to thriving. Getting there requires us to slow down and carefully examine our processes to make sure we’re getting it right. Our path through this hasn’t been perfect, but it has been purposeful. Our “WHY” remains strong, and we continue to put our students first above all. I couldn’t be prouder of our entire school FAmily and again want to commend them all on a job well done. 

As we mark the completion of a month of online instruction, I find myself reflecting on a number of topics, but the ones that frankly, keep me up at night, are these: 

  • Accountability and transparency
  • Collaboration over competition  

In many ways, Foundation Academies is just like any other k-12 free public school. We have our challenges and we certainly have our budget limitations. On average, our students receive approximately $7,317 LESS per pupil than Trenton traditional district schools. Every day, we have to do more with less.

And yet, we do it. We make it work. Even with less funding, I am proud to say that we were able to supply every scholar who expressed the need with a laptop and internet hotspot in time for the beginning of online instruction back on Monday, March 16, 2020. We were able to achieve this not by some feat of magic… certainly not. It happened because it is what we were supposed to do.

That being said, it has been upsetting to read recent headlines about schools in our region having only just announced plans to begin online instruction. It makes me wonder about the causes that led to this four-week gap of time, how it will impact students in our state, especially our most vulnerable, and how we can work together at all levels to avoid having such gaps in the future. Frankly, I’m disinterested in the typical “traditional public district vs. public charter school” arguments. This is about doing what is best for ALL kids. Period. 

Foundation Academies’ students continue to give me hope, especially as I witness them discovering ways that they can connect, communicate, and collaborate using technology in creative ways. For example, check out a video we shared earlier this week using clips of videos shared by members of our school FAmily, below. 

Their ability to adapt and innovate truly serve to inspire me when thinking about the possibilities for the future, and in learning what we can do to move forward, together, to make sure ALL of our children receive the high-quality public education they deserve.  

As we see our daily lives transformed as a result of this pandemic, it is my sincere hope that we can continue to focus on collaboration rather than competition, so that we can lead by example for our children, who are now watching us more closely than ever (especially since so many of us are all together at home right now). 

One thing is for sure: I alone don’t have all the answers in this rapidly changing environment, but in the weeks and months ahead, I am confident that we will continue to adapt, adjust and improve. We have a responsibility to do so for our children.

Have a great Spring Break, everyone, and I look forward to the start of Week 5 of online instruction on Monday, April 20.

Yours in community,

Graig Weiss
Foundation Academies

*For details, please see our COVID-19 page, which is where we post all the latest updates. If you haven’t already, please bookmark it for easy access. 

P.S. If you’d like to help support our students as they face the many unforeseen challenges of this crisis, please consider making a donation online today.

P.P.S. Want to get these updates and others like it sent to you directly via email? Join the Foundation Academies Newsletter Email List right here!

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Graig Weiss

Graig Weiss served as the Chief Executive Officer of Foundation Academies from 2014-2022. He began 5 years before as Middle School Principal. A 2003 Teach for America corps member, Mr. Weiss taught Math and Science in the Bronx and the Dominican Republic prior to becoming an administrator and was selected as Teacher of the Year in 2007. Prior to entering the education field, Mr. Weiss worked in the financial services sector with Cambridge Associates, LLC in Boston, MA. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Finance and Accounting from the University of Pittsburgh, a Master of Science in Teaching from Fordham University, and a Master of Science in Educational Leadership from the University of Scranton.