Schools as Community Infrastructure
A Window of Opportunity
Infrastructure influences everything. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we at Siegel Family Endowment had started to formulate a concept for infrastructure that encompassed more than just traditional physical structures, focusing instead on the ways that physical, digital, and social dimensions play an equally important role in creating a just foundation for all people in society to thrive. Since then, we’ve seen both the devastating impacts of a global pandemic that hit hardest in the places where infrastructure is weakest, and heartening examples of the ways that a multidimensional approach can inspire new thinking and strengthen work happening in communities across the country.
We have seen some of the most extreme, and extraordinary examples of this in the realm of K-12 public education, which is why we’ve decided to further explore applications of this multidimensional framework to education in this whitepaper. In many places, physical, digital, and social infrastructure in education are vulnerable, especially for historically under-resourced communities. Despite the immense challenges, there are people, schools, and organizations that are leveraging their teaching and learning infrastructure for the benefit of entire communities. At a moment of deep polarization and challenge, human connection is more important than ever. Schools can center these place-based transformations if we give communities the resources they need to leverage their own assets for the benefit of all.
We believe that philanthropy, which has shaped educational change for centuries, for better and sometimes for worse, has a critical role to play in advancing community-led change in our education infrastructure. By focusing on the infrastructure of learning, we believe it is clear who the most important stakeholders are and should be: the people who comprise the school community—learners, teachers and other staff, parents and guardians, and members of the surrounding community. Philanthropy can support all of these stakeholders by providing technical assistance, offering risk capital to try new things, and by connecting and amplifying great ideas in the right places. We recognize that this is not a new challenge, and that many concepts and frameworks for how to change education already exist.
We offer a vision of schools as more than buildings. We want to think of schools (and all the extensions of schools, the many places where teaching and learning happen) as pieces of community infrastructure. The implications for how we might then define, design, govern, and fund this infrastructure will allow us to think beyond traditional silos and invent new ways to serve students and communities, now and in the future.
We at Siegel Family Endowment hope that this white paper can act as an invitation to learn, share, partner, and chart how far a multidimensional lens can take us in creating change in education. We hope you will join us.
President and Executive Director of Siegel Family Endowment