How This Former Goldman Sachs Technologist Works to Reform Education in New York

After graduating from Trinity College in the late 1970s with a degree in history, Leslie Cooper Sillcox took evening classes to learn computer programming, and then worked as computer programmer. Armed with these skills, Sillcox joined Goldman Sachs in 1984 and became a star with the firm, making partner in 1992 and later becoming Chief Information Officer. Besides being one of the few women in the upper echelons of Goldman, she was also the first technologist to make partner. She owned a 0.65 percent stake prior to Goldman's 1999 IPO and in 2000 earned $11 million alone according to BaselineMag.com. 

Since retiring, Sillcox has turned to philanthropy. From 2004 to 2013, she served as chair and board member of Computers for Youth, a nonprofit that "helps low-income children do better in school by improving their home environment." Sillcox and her husband, Mark, have also supported her alma mater, Trinity College, and in 2006 established the Tortora Sillcox Family Scholarship at the school.

If you're sensing that education is a recurring theme of this wealthy couple's philanthropy, you'd be right. In fact, education is the priority of the couple's Tortora Sillcox Family Foundation. Their charitable vehicle flies well under the radar, unfortunately, and doesn't accept unsolicited proposals. However, unlike a lot of other outfits with minimal web presence, the Tortora Sillcox Family Foundation's 990s don't just list grants, they are also full of written descriptions of the couple's work and aims from year to year.

The foundation states that its mission is to "contribute to the steadily growing number of young people in New York City who overcome socioeconomic barriers to graduate from public high school - and then from college - prepared for meaningful employment and robust civic participation."

Sillcox and Mark were inspired in particular by the Bloomberg/Klein administration's commitment to "bring fundamental structural change to the New York City public school system." The Foundation donates $2.5 million to $3.5 million annually, primarily in the field of NYC public education, with individual grants typically on the order of few hundred thousand per year. The foundation does give out quite a few multi-year grants. In a recent fiscal year, the foundation also notes that it was particularly interested in such areas as public high schools, the CUNY and SUNY system, school support and management organizations, nonprofit college access and persistence organizations, and policy makers (namely the NY State Education Department).

A sampling of grantees includes a five year $1 million commitment to Bottom Line, a "community based nonprofit dedicated to helping low-income students get into college, graduate from college, and go far in life," Center for Economic Opportunity, which "gives people with a recent criminal history the preparation and support they need to find a job and stay connected to the labor force," CUNY at Home in College, a "transition program that works with students from NYC public high schools to graduate but who have not met tradition benchmarks of college readiness," LaGuardia Community College, Nassau Community College, Uncommon Schools, Urban Assembly, NYC Outward Bound/Expeditionary Learning Schools, and New Visions for Public Schools.

The couple also has an interest STEM learning. They've funded Posse STEM, City Polytechnic High School of Engineering, and 100Kin10, pledging $1 million to fund initiatives that increase the number of low-income New York City public school students engaged in rigorous STEM courses through the recruitment and support of effective STEM teachers.

Expect this wealthy couple to stay laser-focused on education reform, particularly at the regional level in New York.

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