Bill and Joyce Cummings at SSU

Bill and Joyce Cummings, with the Cummings Foundation, standing in McKeown Plaza at Salem State University on Monday, Aug. 15, the day the Foundation announced a $10 million gift to the university’s School of Education.

SALEM — Salem State University is getting a huge cash infusion, in the amount of $10 million, to its teacher training pipeline.

The Cummings Foundation and Salem State jointly announced a $10 million gift from Cummings to the public university on Monday. The donation targets Salem State’s School of Education and will see the school renamed to the McKeown School of Education, honoring a past Viking who quickly climbed the ranks of leadership at Cummings Properties, later this year. It also represents the largest cash gift ever to a state university in Massachusetts.

The gift isn’t just about how it’ll boost Salem State’s teaching program, those who discussed the matter on Monday explained. Rather, it’s about all the educators-to-be sitting in classrooms as either paraprofessionals or unlicensed teachers who are teaching with emergency licenses granted during the pandemic.

“We have well over 400 people who are on emergency licenses, who are teaching right now, and these are folks who want to be in the schools,” said Nicole Harris, Salem State’s associate dean of education. “They need to be licensed. They need to pursue a degree that fits into their life and helps them gain what they need in order to be licensed.”

The award, announced early Monday morning, comes through the Cummings Foundation’s Affiliated College philanthropic initiative. Salem State joins five other colleges to receive gifts of at least $10 million from Cummings, including Endicott College in Beverly and a health sciences school in Rwanda.

A battered pipeline

Schools throughout the region are dealing with a pipeline of talented educators battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Where there are enough teachers, school staffs often don’t reflect the diversity of the students they teach. and that’s where there are actually enough teachers.

“This is, no question, a historic investment in Salem State at a very critical time, where you see newspaper stories time and time again about the burnout teachers are going through, and the learning gaps in our diverse gateway communities,” said Salem State President John Keenan. “This investment is going to supercharge a lot of investments in place within the School of Education already to diversify the teacher pipeline.”

The connection to students of color isn’t one to be ignored, as Salem State serves many communities with their own multicultural populations. That includes gateway cities like Lynn, Peabody and Salem, which all border each other, represent many SSU students, and each have their own demographic differences.

Carlos Santiago, the state’s commissioner of higher education, “in the last couple months approved the 10-year plan in racial equity,” Keenan said. “This was one of the goals, that students are taught by teachers — at least some teachers — who have shared perspectives, look like them and can relate to them.”

Improving the pipeline gets the region there, according to Harris.

“For many districts, there’s a really acute need to diversify the teacher pipeline,” said Harris, herself an administrator of color. “It’s important that we consider this from a historical perspective, for why there are so few teachers of color in the field. That dates back to Brown v. Board of Education.

“There’s a context here on the North Shore,” continued Harris. “Many folks are moving to the North Shore. Many folks are new Americans joining our communities here, and you have a convergence, if you will, of various things happening at the same time. We have to think about how we prepare teachers and administrators to use strategies for inclusion and equity. That’ll encourage the mentoring of teachers to be able to be culturally responsive to the pupils they have.”

McKeown’s legacy

The $10 million gift also honors the late James “Jamie” McKeown, a legend at Cummings Properties and a Salem State College alum.

McKeown is already namesake to the James L. McKeown Memorial Plaza on North Campus, made possible by a prior $1 million gift to the Salem State’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The school of education will now be renamed for him as well, as part of a ceremony later this year.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1977, and went on to become Cummings’ president in 1990, at the time only in his mid-thirties. McKeown became a celebrated community leader before dying unexpectedly in 1996, at the age of 41. His name also decorates the McKeown School building on Balch Street, built on the corner of Cummings’ Beverly campus using land donated to the Garden City.

“We’re really proud of our work with the Affiliated Colleges program,” said Andrew Bishop, Cummings Foundation’s grant manager. “Given the track record they have for serving first-time college students, students from diverse backgrounds... it’s something we’re so proud to be part of.”

In this instance, Bishop said, a $10 million gift from Cummings will help the teachers who will transform education on the North Shore, if not throughout the country, in the coming years and decades.

“We certainly knew that Salem State was being very thoughtful and very innovative in their School of Education,” Bishop said. “As we did our due diligence on what we believe is making a transformative investment in the School of Education, those are many of the things they were doing that was attracting our attention.”

Contact Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

Contact Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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