By Susan and Steve Chamberlin,
As the 2016 election cycle gets hotter, we know that our names will come up. We wanted to take this opportunity to explain who we are, why we care so much about public education, and the reasons we choose to direct our giving the way we do.
We grew up in Hawaii and are both products of the public school system there. We were not born into wealth. We met in high school and have been together ever since, including being married for 50 years.
We were both brought up with a deep respect for the potential of all people, the importance of choice-filled lives, and the ability of an excellent education to be the key to unlock a young person’s future.
We have lived in Richmond for over 20 years. We founded the Chamberlin Family Foundation in 2006 to support excellent schools, visionary educators, and efforts to elevate and amplify the community’s voice. To that end, we have made significant ongoing investments of nearly $1 million a year in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, with a particular focus on bringing in and supporting great teachers and principals (for instance, through the New Leaders principal training program), as well as direct support for educators and schools (for instance, helping teachers build out their class libraries).
Part of our work supporting excellent schools has also been to invest — at zero profit — in high-performing public charter schools. We believe that school choice is part of a thriving public school system and that no one is better equipped to make educational decisions for their children than parents and guardians. Public charter schools are tuition-free and open to all students. Public charters are not inherently better or worse than traditional district schools; either can be fantastic with proper support, leadership, and accountability.
After many years of charitable work we began to realize that the change we wanted to see for all students would only be possible if there was a parallel effort around school board leadership. Our community deserves leaders on the school board who are qualified, ethical, and laser-focused on making educationally and fiscally sound decisions. In 2014 we started a new not-for-profit organization, Education Matters, to take the lead for us on this effort, as well as to ensure transparency and two-way communication between the school board and the community.
As many know, we were substantially involved in the 2014 school board election. We plan to continue to be active in future elections when we, in partnership with community leaders, see candidates who we believe will be amazing board members. We will also continue to oppose candidates who have not demonstrated the independence from special interests and bold leadership that our students, families and community deserve.
To state it as plainly as possible: We believe in great public schools, both traditional district schools and public charter schools. We look to support candidates who will specifically focus on improving district schools, since that is where the majority of WCC students are and will remain. We have not looked, and never will look, to help put charter school cheerleaders on the school board. We have no test for a candidate’s position on public charters other than that they will approach the issue thoughtfully and openly and follow the democratically agreed-upon laws.
We are deeply committed to this community. We are both in our 70s and have no children. We have no upside – nothing to gain at all – except to do as much good as we can for our small piece of the world.
We look forward to continuing to engage with our West County neighbors in productive conversation throughout this election cycle and beyond, knowing that we are all trying to ensure that every single student can reach his or her fullest potential.