Corporate Contributions to Education: Chuck Cahn
A biography listing most of Chuck Cahn’s extraordinary leadership positions concludes with this: “He also chairs the board of the Cahn Fellows Program for Distinguished New York City Principals, at Teachers College, Columbia.” That’s some “also”! Mr. Cahn heads Cahn Medical Technologies, is board chairman of TyRx Pharma, Inc., chairs MicroMRI, sits on the board of a number of other significant medical companies and is a former Senior Vice President and Senior Managing Director of Research Services of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., which was purchased by Alliance Capital Management in 2000, a move that gave rise to the founding of the Fellows Program. Not that this was Mr. Cahn’s or his wife Jane’s first involvement with educational initiatives. Indeed, he serves on the advisory board of the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co, Center on Leadership and Ethics at the Columbia Business School, from which he holds an M.B.A. His wife holds degrees in business, city planning and social work.
What Chuck and Jane Cahn have done in the six years since they established the Cahn Fellows Program is recognize, celebrate, support and further promote New York City principals, K-12, who have been nominated as outstanding leaders by various educational constituencies in the city. Chuck Cahn wants to ensure that the “outstanding” become more outstanding, and that the influence of these leaders is appreciated as the key to educational success. As the Cahn Fellows mission statement puts it, the program is committed to providing principals with “opportunities for professional, intellectual and personal growth” and thereby strengthen the entire school system by “investing in its most effective leaders.” Chuck Cahn says the program is the only one of its kind in the city specifically “designed to support the growth of exemplary school leaders.” Yes, there are other professional development programs for principals, he says, but there is “nothing” to encourage good principals to be great principals. He admiringly quotes the founder of Sanford C. Bernstein: “Don’t spend your time with those who are struggling, but with those who are great.”
Since the program was implemented in 2002, 105 exemplary principals, approximately 25 a year, coming from schools in all five boroughs, and from all educational levels, have become Cahn Fellows (the number of acceptances this year is up to 29). And have gone on to mentor Cahn Allies—principals relatively new to their positions. The program now involves approximately two percent of NYC principals; Cahn would like to extend that to 10-15%. As part of their application for a Cahn award, after being nominated, principals identify a leadership challenge, indicate why it is of special importance to them, what they think they can do to address it and how they would go about doing so in 15 months, including qualitative and quantitative evaluation of their efforts. Areas of interest turn on Professional Development, School Culture, Parental Involvement, New Principal Development, Organizational Change, and Resource Scarcity. Awardees then attend a two-week summer institute, located in the earlier years at the Gettysburg War College and more recently at West Point. What they report, says Chuck Cahn, is an extraordinary feeling of “trust”—in the colleagues they meet at these retreats and in the program, which presents them with opportunities to explore different ideas.#