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Fellowship awarded to build community-centered change for public school systems

The Rochester Education Fellowship, led by a coalition of local child and family advocates, has named Shanai Lee as the recipient of its two-year fellowship to co-create and build a new community-centered vision for bold, transformational change for Rochester’s public school systems.

Lee brings 15 years of experience working in Rochester schools to address the long-standing, dynamic challenges presently facing Rochester’s students in the pursuit of a quality education — many of which were amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, officials noted.

Shanai Lee

“Growing up in Rochester and being educated in the Rochester City School District, my personal experiences have shaped how I will approach this unique opportunity to secure a brighter future for Rochester’s children,” Lee said. “I am committed to my community and I know the importance of having a high-quality education. I look forward to working with families and stakeholders to create real change in our education system that will have a lasting effect on our current students and parents as well as future generations.”

Lee brings to the role extensive experience working in urban education and local government and has held leadership positions in the Rochester City School District as well as a local charter network. She most recently worked as regional senior director of Uncommon Schools and previously held several positions within RCSD for more than 13 years including district clerk, assistant to the CFO and director of minority and women-owned business enterprises program.

Lee received an Ed.D. in educational leadership and administration, a Master’s Degree in educational policy and an MBA in finance and public accounting from the University of Rochester and a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Cornell University.

The Rochester Education Fellowship Selection Committee, co-chaired by Jerome Underwood, president and CEO of Action for a Better Community (ABC) and Holli Budd, executive director of the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation (Farash Foundation), led the extensive search and selection process for the Fellow beginning in January and will provide support for the duration of the two-year Fellowship.

In January 2021, the Farash Foundation, in collaboration with the selection committee, partnered with the Mind Trust, an education nonprofit organization, to lead the recruitment and selection process for the Rochester Education Fellowship. The goal of the process was to identify candidates with a thorough understanding of the needs of the Rochester community, experience navigating existing political systems and structures and the ability to build momentum and a coalition for a partnership with the local community. The committee received robust feedback from the Rochester community around the key qualities and experiences to take into account during the search.

“After a rigorous community-focused search, we’re excited to announce Shanai as Rochester’s Education Fellow and believe she has the ideal background to bring transformational change to our educational systems in the city of Rochester,” Underwood said. “The challenges that students and families in Rochester face are both unique and reflective of the inequities present in our nation, many of which were exacerbated by the pandemic. This is an opportune time to start this community-centered effort.”

Through her Fellowship, Lee will have access to a wide variety of support from both local and national partners, including leadership development, personalized executive coaching and a commitment of support and collaboration from anchor Rochester organizations.

“The Farash Foundation is committed to the long-term health and wellbeing of Rochester’s children and catalyzing a city-wide effort to transform Rochester’s education system through this two-year fellowship,” Budd said. “We’re extremely happy to continue partnering with local leaders and organizations in support of Shanai as she begins the Rochester Education Fellowship.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Farash Foundation director to retire

The Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation executive director plans to retire from her position at the end of 2021.

Holli Budd
Holli Budd

Holli Budd has served the foundation for more than 14 years, first as a trustee for four years and then as the inaugural executive director since 2011.

Under Budd’s leadership, the foundation has launched some of its most innovative and impactful programs including:
• The First in Family Scholarship, which enables first-generation college students attending local institutions of higher education to graduate debt-free.
• The Rochester One Happy Camper Program, which introduces children to the magic of Jewish overnight camp by providing grants to first-time attendees.
• The Rochester Education Fellowship, a two-year fellowship partnering with community stakeholders to co-develop a shared vision, strategy, and solutions to improve educational outcomes for Rochester children.

“All of us at the foundation are more than grateful for Holli’s dedication to our organization, our grantees and the Greater Rochester and Jewish communities that meant so much to Max and Marian Farash. Holli’s exemplary and enthusiastic leadership will be missed,” said foundation Chairman Thomas Jackson.

Prior to joining the Farash Foundation, Budd enjoyed a thirty-one-year career at the University of Rochester. She served as the university’s first female vice president prior to her role as associate dean for MBA Administration and External Relations at the Simon Business School.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve as the foundation’s executive director,” Budd said. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to partner with our communities’ extraordinary people and nonprofit organizations to confront the needs at hand and endeavor to make a difference. The foundation has a wonderful staff and board, and with new leadership, it will continue to serve the communities that Max and Marian Farash held so dearly.”

A formal search will be conducted to identify the next CEO of the foundation. The Board Search Committee will be chaired by trustee Daan Braveman. Patty Phillips, president of Clarity Recruiting and Career Management Inc. has been retained as a search consultant to assist with the process.

The Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation is a private charitable foundation established in 1988 by Max and Marian Farash. The foundation is dedicated to the civic and religious communities of its founders who believed in the importance of education and knew the power of entrepreneurial creativity. It strives to make long-term and meaningful contributions in Monroe and Ontario Counties and in Israel.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Coalition develops fellowship to address local education

A local coalition of child and family advocates has developed the Rochester Education Fellowship, which will enable a leader to co-create and build a new, community-centered vision for bold, transformation change for Rochester’s public school systems.

The coalition is looking for candidates who are entrepreneurial, have experience in executive-level leadership, deep knowledge of local needs and a focus on equitable outcomes for all Rochester students and families. Applications for the two-year fellowship will be accepted until March 26 and the selected fellow will be announced in July.

“The current challenges facing marginalized students and families are deeply embedded in the design of the systems of our nation and the city of Rochester,” said Jerome Underwood, president and CEO of Action for a Better Community and selection committee co-chair. “However, systems designed to produce inequitable outcomes can be redesigned to produce a greater quality of life for all in our community. The members of the Rochester Education Fellow Selection Committee believe there is great promise for aligned community members and leaders to reimagine Rochester’s public school systems with the needs of Black, Brown and economically marginalized families and students at the center.”

Students in Rochester face a number of obstacles to successful academic and life outcomes, officials noted. Some 44 percent of students under the age of 18 in Rochester are living in poverty and student achievement is among the lowest of any urban district in the country, with just 8 percent of students in grades 3-8 mastering math and reading on grade level.

The arrival of COVID-19 intensified the challenges of educating Rochester’s most vulnerable families, with the digital divide heightening inequities, officials said. The Rochester Education Fellowship Selection Committee believes transformative leadership is needed now to create a movement of bold, systemic change for Rochester students.

“I served in the Rochester school system for many years, and as a longtime educator, I view the challenges facing our children’s education through the lens of a hands-on teacher. With this insight, I believe that the Rochester Education Fellowship is a very thoughtfully designed solution to a complex challenge. Nothing is more important than ensuring our children have access to the best education possible, and I believe this initiative will dramatically improve outcomes for underserved students in Rochester,” said Rita Gaither, retired Rochester educator and founder of Pearl Resources Inc.

The fellow will have access to a wide variety of support from local and national partners, including leadership development, personalized executive coaching and a commitment of support and collaboration from anchor Rochester organizations to ensure they and the organization they launch have a lasting impact.

“I was born and raised in Rochester and know the struggles children here face. I couldn’t be a bigger believer in the importance of ensuring all children have equitable access to a well-rounded education that includes the arts, culture and social justice,” said Avenue Blackbox Theatre Founder Reenah Golden. “I am proud to serve on the selection committee with these established local leaders as we work together to push the needle forward creating opportunities for Rochester’s youth.”

The Rochester Education Fellowship Selection Committee is co-chaired by Underwood and Holli Budd, executive director of the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, two organizations with a strong history of supporting the city’s youth and families.

Additional selection committee members include:

• Angelica Perez-Delgado, the Ibero American Action League
• LaShunda Leslie-Smith, Connected Communities
• Dirk Hightower, the Children’s Institute
• Mellanye Nesmith, ABC’s Policy Council and local parent
• Rick DeJesus-Rueff, community member
• Reenah Golden, Avenue Blackbox Theatre
• Dr. Rita Gaither, retired Rochester educator, founder Pearl Resources Inc.
• Sekou Biddle, UNCF
• David Harris, the City Fund

The committee will lead the search and selection process for the fellow, and will also provide support during the two-year fellowship.

“There are many deep and interconnected challenges in the way of providing equitable and quality education to Rochester’s children, including poverty, segregation and high leadership turnover. There is an urgent and deep need for transformational, systemic change that is in alignment with the community,” Budd said. “We are intensely aware of the challenges Rochester children and families face and are committed to the long-lasting work needed to turn the tide.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer