The Nellie Mae Education Foundation (NMEF), the largest charitable organization in New England focused exclusively on education, announced today that it has awarded a total of $16.4 Million in grants over three years to support student-centered approaches to learning among four New England school districts: Burlington-Winooski, VT; Pittsfield, NH; Portland, ME; and Sanford, ME.

The grants will support the ongoing efforts of the districts and their communities to implement long term plans to reshape their systems to help all students succeed at a higher level in an increasingly changing world.

Student-centered approaches aim to remodel education and turn learning on its head by moving away from the current system’s “one-size-fits-all” methodology. By building around the fact that different students learn in different ways, student-centered means: being flexible about how time is used for both students and educators, including learning opportunities outside the traditional school calendar; harnessing the broader community to support and deepen learning experiences; using curriculum, instruction and assessment that promotes the skills and knowledge needed for success in college, work and life; basing advancement on demonstration of proficiency in skills and knowledge.

“The combined challenges of more learners needing to succeed and succeed at a higher level, led us to this approach,” said Nicholas C. Donohue, President and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. “Student-centered learning prepares students to master both the academic knowledge and the critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills they need to thrive beyond high school. Through our strategic investments in innovative and effective student-centered approaches across New England, we are committed to helping districts and communities effectively prepare all learners for success in work and life.”

Grants are being made under NMEFs District-Level Systems Change (DLSC) initiative, one of four long-term strategic initiatives that the Foundation is using to promote the implementation of student-centered approaches. Other initiatives include: State Level Systems Change, which focuses on promoting state and federal education policies that support student-centered learning at scale; Research and Development, which informs the work of NMEF as well as that of practitioners in the fields of education and philanthropy; and Public Understanding, which aims to increase both awareness of student-centered learning experiences and the public will to implement them.

“These bold and innovative grants to four New England school districts demonstrate again that the Nellie Mae Education Foundation is leading the way to redesign public education in New England,” says Ron Wolk, founder of Education Week. “The grants will help to create schools that are personalized for students and teachers, anchored in the real world and the surrounding community, and continuously renewing in the face of a changing world.”

The districts and organizations selected for the DLSC initiative are: Burlington/Winooski School Districts, Burlington, VT; Job for Maine’s Graduates – Portland, ME; Pittsfield School District, Pittsfield, NH; and the Sanford School Department – Sanford, ME. Four additional Lead Community Partner grants were also made to organizations in each community. The following are the Lead Community Partners: Voices for Vermont’s Children (Burlington & Winooski, VT.); The Pittsfield Youth Workshop (Pittsfield, NH); The Refugee Services Program (Portland, ME); and  Safe and Healthy Sanford Coalition (Sanford ME).


The Nellie Mae Education Foundation is the largest charitable organization in New England that focuses exclusively on education. The Foundation supports the promotion and integration of student-centered approaches to learning at the middle and high school levels across New England. To elevate student-centered approaches, the Foundation utilizes a three-part strategy that focuses on: developing and enhancing models of practice; reshaping education policies; and increasing public understanding and demand for high quality educational experiences. The Foundation’s initiative areas are: District Level Systems Change; State Level Systems Change; Research and Development; and Public Understanding. Since 1998, the Foundation has distributed over $123 million in grants. For more information, visit

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