Philanthropist Mackenzie Scott Donates $16M to Escondido Schools

Not only did the donation come as a surprise, it is also the largest the district has ever received. 

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What would you do with $16 million?

Escondido Union School District officials are asking themselves — and their students — the same thing.

At Orange Glen Elementary School on Tuesday, EUSD superintendent Luis Rankins-Ibarra announced an unexpected donation, which not only came as a surprise but was also the largest gift the district ever received.

“When I heard the number, I was speechless,” Rankins-Ibarra said. “They said, ‘16 million.’ I said, ‘Sixteen million DOLLARS?' ”

Rankins-Ibarra said someone representing philanthropist Mackenzie Scott, who is the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, reached out to the district. Shortly after they divorced in 2019, Scott pledged to donate a significant amount of her wealth to various organizations.

Once Rankins-Ibarra connected with Scott's representative, he explained some of the work EUSD had been doing to learn more about the needs of the roughly 14,000 students in the district and how to best serve them, but he didn’t think much would come of the conversation.

Then he got a phone call. It was good news. They secured the donation and instead of trying to figure out what to do with it all, district officials were already working toward improvements that the money could be applied.

“We have a partnership with the Learner-Centered Collaborative, and they’re guiding us through the strategic planning process,” Rankins-Ibarra said. “The first step was, ‘Let’s listen to our students,’ and so we assembled some focus groups of all students — various grade levels, from elementary all the way through middle-school grades — and some of the preliminary data that is coming out of this is connectivity to the real world.”

Rankins-Ibarra said students want to acquire the skills that will help them once they leave the classroom. He mentioned tasks like writing a check, applying for a loan and learning how to cook a meal.

“It’s quite intriguing to hear from our students," Rankins-Ibarra said. "We always hear from parents, and we’re hearing from our educators, but these are the students who are the recipients of all of our work."

While the students at Orange Glen Elementary might be too young to understand the concept of a mortgage, they were quick to chime in with ideas on what to do with the new funds.

“I would love to see kids doing a lot of things around the school like planting,” said Emma Rodriguez, a fourth-grader who wants people to "see how beautiful our school is.”

Eliezer Olea Dionicio, a fifth-grader at Orange Glen, chimed in with a request that was equally wholesome.

“More books — then we can also learn more if we have read a lot of them,” Dionicio said, specifying that his wish includes non-fiction books, specifically.

The district's students are on 24 campuses, from preschool and eighth-grade. The superintendent said the district, which has a total budget of roughly $253 million, is working to create a strategic plan before spending a cent of the $16 million. They expect changes to be visible across EUSD in the 2023-24 school year.

Scott has donated to other local organizations in the past few years, including Meals on Wheels San Diego, the San Diego Foundation, the David's Harp Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Carlsbad, among others.

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