December 11, 2015
Donna Frisby-Greenwood was appointed in March to lead as president and CEO of The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, a nonprofit independent of the District that raises funds in support of strategic programming for its students.
Frisby-Greenwood, raised in Cheltenham and Willingboro, N.J., previously worked as a teacher, founded the youth nonprofit Children First, served as executive director of After-School All-Stars Philadelphia and, most recently, was program director for the Knight Foundation.
Below, Frisby-Greenwood explains her long-running interest in youth development, how getting the "right" book in the hands of kids in the District can turn their lives around and, of course, what she's up to this weekend.
You have a pretty extensive background working with kids. What is it about children and adolescents that sparks your interest, particularly in Philadelphia?
I had an amazing childhood, thanks to my loving and supportive parents. It was not until after college that I realized everyone didn't grow up in loving homes like my cousins, friends and me. However, I didn't want that to be a barrier for smart and talented young people, so I got involved with helping them realize their potential, providing them access to opportunity and helping them find and express their voices.
How do you think working as program director for Knight helped prepare you for the job at The Fund?
Now that I've been a grant maker, I have a much better sense of what donors look for when deciding to make an investment. I also learned the importance of taking risks on new people and approaches to solving problems.
What kind of innovative programming are you interested in supporting through The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia?
Oh, I'm glad you asked. We are currently raising money for "The Right Books Campaign." Half of 8-year-olds attending Philadelphia public schools are not reading at or above grade level. To ensure our children reach this level by the time they enter fourth grade, the District is providing every K-3 teacher comprehensive literacy training, hiring coaches to support the teachers in the first year after they've received the training and providing specially curated libraries that address the 26 different reading levels and four different learning styles that might exist in a K-3 classroom. The worst thing you can do to a child struggling to read is [to] give them the wrong book and turn them off from reading. Each of these classroom libraries costs $5,000, and we are trying to raise $3.5 million to ensure that every K-3 classroom has the right books.
Poverty has a lot to do with children not reading on grade level, but public schools are designed to be the great equalizer; we cannot give up on our children or our public schools. Putting the right books in the right hands by the right grade can change a child's life. We ask everyone to give what you can to support "The Right Books."
Where do you like to spend your leisure time in Philadelphia?
At home. I'm out so much, it's great when I get to chill at home and read, watch a movie, walk and play with my dog, swim or entertain friends. I also spend a lot of leisure time at theater performances and museum exhibits, and a good deal of leisure time playing games with my family – we love Scrabble, Wii and board games.
I also just saw the Norman Lewis Exhibit at PAFA; it's incredible.
What are you up to this weekend?
One of my cousins is visiting from the West Coast and we are hanging out Friday night with our mothers. I have a new member's class at the new church I joined. I'll likely spend a few hours getting a little work in and take a couple of long walks with my dog, Ashford. He's an almost 9-year-old Akita. I'll also go to church and maybe go with my husband or my son to pick out our Christmas tree.