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Salem State’s education school receives $10 million donation

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 8/15/2022 Kate Selig
The North Campus of Salem State University. © Contributed photo The North Campus of Salem State University.

Salem State University has received $10 million from the Cummings Foundation to support its School of Education, the largest cash contribution ever made to one of Massachusetts’ nine state universities, according to university officials.

The education school will use the money to further its efforts to increase equity in education and build better outcomes for the university’s students, said the education school’s dean.

John Keenan, the university president, said in a phone interview Saturday that the communities the school works with “really want students to come to Salem State, become professional teachers, and go back to their communities to help them grow and make sure that students are being taught by those with similar lived experience.”

About 1,000 students are enrolled in the education school, and more than 70 percent are pursuing licenses to teach students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12, according to a statement. Graduates frequently go on to serve as teachers in the state’s 26 “gateway cities,” including Lynn, Salem, Revere, and Peabody, the statement said.

School of Education Dean Joseph Cambone said in a phone interview Saturday that the diversity of educators in state school districts often does not match the diversity of students. In Salem, he said, about 60 percent of students are non-white, compared to about 15 percent of teachers. He said the donation could help change that.

“We want to make sure that every kid goes through school having met at least one teacher who comes from the world they come from,” he said. “We know from research that it makes a difference for kids.”

With the donation, Salem State joins five other education institutions, four of which are in New England, that have the Cummings Foundation as a major benefactor.

The foundation has also donated at least $10 million to Tufts University’s veterinary medicine school, Endicott College’s nursing and health sciences school, Roger Williams University’s architecture school, the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology, and a university in Rwanda.

Bill Cummings, the founder of the Cummings Foundation and the commercial real estate firm Cummings Properties, said in a phone interview Saturday that the state needs more people going into education, and Salem State is well positioned to help people do that. The foundation, he said, aims to donate to institutions that are “making a difference in helping people.” The region produces enough Ivy League and biotechnology graduates as it is, he said.

Unlike previous Cummings Foundation education donations of $10 million and above, Salem State’s School of Education will not bear the Cummings name. Instead, the school will be named the McKeown School of Education for James “Jamie” McKeown.

McKeown received his bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Salem State in 1977, according to the statement. He later served as president of Cummings Properties and a founding trustee of Cummings Foundation before he died of a heart attack in 1996 at the age of 41. A plaza on campus is dedicated to him, following an earlier gift from the Cummings Foundation.

Cummings said he is glad to see McKeown, his first successor as president of Cummings Properties, honored by having his name on the school.

“He was a good mentor for people,” he said. “He was somebody that really acted like a teacher. He was somebody who knew he was here for a purpose.”

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