Schwarzman Center donor and CEO of the Blackstone Group Stephen Schwarzman ’69 stunned the superintendents gathered in Nashville at the annual American Association of School Administrators conference on Feb. 15 with the announcement of a landmark $25 million donation to his alma mater, Abington Senior High School, in suburban Philadelphia.
The gift is the largest-ever to a single public high school and will support the expansion and renovation of the Abington high school building, including the addition of a new science and technology center, gymnasium, cafeteria and career guidance center. The school’s current facilities date back to 1956 and do not have the capacity to house the ninth grade, according to a fact sheet released by the school on Feb.14.
The three-year coeducational school serves a population of nearly 1,800 students out of 8,100 total students in the Abington Township and Rockledge Borough district. It is not yet clear whether Schwarzman will imprint his name on any of the new facilities that the school will develop using the $25 million gift. The names of those facilities remain undecided, according to the district’s superintendent, Amy Sichel.
“It couldn’t have been a better day for Abington School District,” Sichel told the News. “The donation gives us the ability to build exactly what we envisioned and not just a part of what we want.”
The district’s Superintendent’s Committee to Study Alternatives to Accommodate Increases in Student Enrollment allocated $75 million for the expansion of Abington Senior High School in April 2014. Sichel then reached out to Schwarzman requesting a $25 million donation, because a total of $100 million would be needed to successfully “expand the building and reimagine the curriculum,” Schwarzman said in his announcement.
According to Sichel, the school board was initially prepared to begin renovations with the aim of adding nearly 1,000 students in grades 9 through 12. But with the donation, she said, the school can now extend its plans to include state-of-the-art virtual reality and technology facilities, among other improvements. These facilities, will give students access to computer science and coding resources as early as the seventh grade, Sichel added, and will also allow them to avail new counseling services to explore career interests.
In return for the donation, the school district committed to following through on Schwarzman’s request that Abington’s curriculum be reimagined to give students the skills needed to succeed in a rapidly evolving workforce.
In 2015, Schwarzman donated $150 million, the second-largest gift in University history, toward turning Commons into the Schwarzman Center, which Yale hopes will become a student hub on campus.
Schwarzman has also donated to his high school in the past. In 2005, he donated funds toward a new athletic stadium for the school, which was named in his honor. The Stephen A. Schwarzman Stadium seats 3,500 people.
While higher education institutions and private secondary schools are often able to raise money through established alumni networks and endowment functions, public schools nationwide are chronically underfunded. According to Forbes, Abington’s neighbor, the Philadelphia School District, expects a budget shortfall of nearly $1 billion by 2022.
In his speech to educators in Nashville, Schwarzman called for a “paradigm shift in how public schools are funded.”
“It’s extremely foreign for public school educators to ask for money,” Sichel told the News. “We aren’t fundraisers. We don’t have a big development office, so we had to decide to do this ourselves and include it as part of our responsibilities.”
The Blackstone Group founder has a long record of charitable giving. In 2008, Schwarzman donated $100 million to the New York Public Library, which renamed its flagship building in his honor. And more recently, in 2013, he established the Schwarzman Scholarship — an elite international program, modeled on the Rhodes Scholarship, that takes students to Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Julianna Lai | firstname.lastname@example.org