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Our History

Turnaround was founded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to address the impact of trauma on New York City public school students.


In the wake of September 11

Dr. Pamela Cantor helps lead a team commissioned by the New York City Board of Education to assess the impact of the terrorist attacks on city's public schoolchildren. Surprisingly, while 68% of the children they observe have experienced trauma sufficient to impair their functioning in school, it is from their ongoing experience of growing up in poverty, not from what they witnessed that terrifying September day. What's more, Dr. Cantor and her researchers find schools in high-poverty communities in a state of chaos, woefully ill-equipped to meet the intense psychological and academic needs of their students.

The search for a solution

With support from the 9/11 fund, the Robin Hood Foundation, the Tiger Foundation and the New York Times Foundation, Dr. Cantor and educator Greg Greicius, working as the Children’s Mental Health Alliance, seek to address the recurring, predictable challenges that plague chronically underperforming public schools. As a child psychiatrist, Dr. Cantor knows how to help each patient who enters her office get well, but designing a program to serve hundreds of students at once is a new challenge.

The Children's Mental Health Alliance is renamed Turnaround for Children


First school partner

At P.S. 132 in Washington Heights, one of the lowest performing elementary schools in New York City, a pilot program begins. The approach: pair on-site student support capacity (a novel idea at the time) with community mental health providers. The goal: make sure high-needs students receive the care necessary to get on track emotionally and academically. The school experiences rapid, measurable improvements in school climate.
Where We Work - Newark, New Jersey

Collaboration with United Way of New York City

United Way asks Turnaround to be managing partner of a public/private collaboration called the Safe Schools Successful Students Initiative, in six high-need Bronx middle schools. The hypothesis: increasing access to mental health services for high-needs students would positively impact school culture and climate, reducing, for example, suspensions and calls to 911.

American Institutes for Research Evaluation

American Institutes for Research publishes an evaluation on the effectiveness of Turnaround's model. The report states: "At the school level, results for schools that participated in the Safe Schools Initiative were overwhelmingly positive. Both quantitative and qualitative data showed that schools that had been in states of profound crisis were functioning better across multiple outcomes."

New Profit Gathering of Leaders

Dr. Cantor meets Katherine Bradley, President of CityBridge Foundation which seeks to transform public education in Washington, D.C.; and Jim Shelton, who would become Deputy Secretary of Education for the United States. Both become key advisors and friends to Turnaround.

Inaugural Impact Awards Dinner

Turnaround for Children holds its first gala, raising $1.1 million and honors New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, and journalist Perri Peltz. The event is chaired by Judi and Joseph Flom and Simone and David Levinson, with honorary chairs Trey Beck, Dr. Pamela Cantor and Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber, Ph.D.

Expansion to Washington, D.C.

Turnaround launches partnerships with three schools in Washington D.C., complementing efforts by the Office of the Deputy Mayor and D.C. Public Schools to address students’ social-emotional needs.

Turnaround 2.0

Despite improvements in school culture and climate, teachers at Turnaround partner schools continue to struggle with disruption and lack of engagement in their classrooms. In response, Turnaround revises its program to provide teachers the tools to establish productive and highly engaged classroom environments. It provides weekly professional development sessions for teachers, supplemented by in-class coaching and support. This helps create a professional learning community for teachers and opportunities for collaboration.

Expansion to Newark, New Jersey

Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson’s emphasis on social and emotional learning gives Turnaround the opportunity to partner with three renew schools and to share knowledge with the district too. Financial support comes primarily from the district and the Foundation for Newark’s Future.

Dr. Pamela Cantor named Ashoka Fellow

The Ashoka Institute describes its fellows as “leading social entrepreneurs with innovative solutions to social problems that have the potential to change patterns across society. They demonstrate unrivaled commitment to bold new ideas and prove that compassion, creativity and collaboration are tremendous forces for change".

Poverty, Stress, Schools

Turnaround releases a research-based paper that explains the connection, grounded in science, between poverty-related adversity and student performance.

NoVo Foundation Gift

Novo Foundation announces a $10 million gift to Turnaround in support of its efforts to deliberately design learning environments that address the challenges for children growing up in poverty. This is the largest gift the organization has received.

Dr. Cantor awarded The Purpose Prize for Intergenerational Impact, sponsored by the Eisner Foundation

The Purpose Prize celebrates innovators in the second half of life who are combining their passion and experience to create new ways to solve tough social problems.

Every Student Succeeds Act

Turnaround engages in reauthorization process of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, advocating for inclusion of and attention to language on nonacademic skills and learning environments focused on student development.

Thought Leadership

Turnaround wins opportunity to present at SXSWedu. The panel discussion, Transforming Schools Using Brain Science, was moderated by Katherine Bradley, President, CityBridge Foundation, and featured Dr. Pamela Cantor, President & CEO, Turnaround for Children; Dwight Davis, Assistant Principal, Wheatley Education Campus and Sheila Ohlsson Walker, Ph.D., Research Associate, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dubbed a “rockstar panel,” it leads to additional speaking engagements, including NewSchools Summit, Aspen Ideas Festival and S & R Foundation Illuminate Series.

Building Blocks for Learning white paper

Turnaround releases framework for the development of evidence-based skills and mindsets proven by research to predict academic achievement.
Building Blocks