Washington-area Native Joel Smilow Makes $4.2M Gift to KIPP DC

Joel Smilow, a 1950 graduate of DCPS’s Woodrow Wilson High School, has donated $4.2 million to KIPP DC to support the renovation and expansion of our campus at 5300 Blaine Street NE. This gift is the single largest contribution from an individual that KIPP DC has ever received in our 14-year history.

This contribution provides the necessary equity for us to expand the campus that currently houses 685 students at Arts and Technology Academy, Quest Academy, and Valor Academy to serve 1,100 students in PreK through eighth grade. To honor his contribution, the campus will be re-named the Joel E. Smilow Campus of KIPP DC.

Though he currently lives in Westport, Connecticut, Smilow was inspired to give back to his hometown community so that more students can access the type of high-quality public education that he received.

“We are so fortunate to have had the opportunity to grow KIPP DC to meet the demand of our students and families across the city and particularly here in Ward 7,” said Allison Fansler, president and chief operating officer of KIPP DC. “This exceptionally generous gift from Mr. Smilow will enable us to nearly double the number of students receiving an outstanding education at this campus in the years ahead.”

Construction began on the campus in late August. Aside from a complete overhaul of the existing building, KIPP DC will add a new middle school wing and an expanded early childhood wing, bringing the facility to 11,000 square feet, in addition to revitalized play and athletic spaces.

Though Smilow has been an active philanthropist throughout his life, particularly in education and youth services, this is his first gift to the public charter school sector.

“This is my first major gift, in direct support of attacking one of our nation’s most important problems: quality K-12 education for all,” said Smilow. “As a 1950 graduate of Washington’s Woodrow Wilson High School, I’m doubly pleased to do it in our nation’s capital.”

A former national board member of Teach For America, he also funded the organization’s expansion into Connecticut. Smilow is the largest living donor to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America movement, and during his 40-year involvement, he has been vice chairman of the national organization’s board, has financed ten clubhouses that have been named after him, and received the Herbert Hoover Award, the highest recognition bestowed by the national organization.

Smilow’s largest and most transformational gifts have been in the medical area. He has funded: The Smilow Cancer Hospital in the Yale-New Haven Hospital Health System, the New York University Medical Center medical research building, and the Smilow Translational Research Building at the country’s first medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. He has also made major gifts to the Eisenhower Medical Center in California, the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Center in New York City. Beyond the medical field, he is also a director emeritus and major donor of the New York Philharmonic and is one Yale University’s largest donors, to the hospital and athletics programs.

After graduating from DCPS’s Woodrow Wilson High School, Smilow left Washington for Yale University, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree. He then served as an officer in the U.S. Navy, followed by attending the Harvard Business School to earn his MBA in 1958. At HBS, he was elected a George Fisher Baker Scholar in his first year. Smilow started his career with Procter & Gamble (1958 to 1965), worked for Glendinning Associates, a marketing consulting firm (1965 to 1969). At age 36, he became the president of International Playtex Inc. He later led a leveraged buy-out of this company and led it until his retirement from the CEO position in 1995.

KIPP DC could not be more grateful for Mr. Smilow’s support and his commitment to the students of Washington, D.C.!

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