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Jill Kafka Announces Retirement

by Partnership Staff
3 minute read

After 26 years of transformational leadership on behalf of children and Catholic schools, Jill Kafka has announced that she will step down as the Executive Director of Partnership Schools at the end of 2023.

Jill began volunteering in 1997 for a small “adopt a school” program for Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of New York, little realizing that it would be the start of a new career. In 2011, she led the transformation of two fundraising programs, the Patrons Program and the Endowment for Inner-City Education, into Partnership Schools.

Since the network began with Jill at the helm, the number of students Partnership Schools serves has grown from a low of 1,969 to almost 3,600 today. As Jill noted in a message to Partnership community members, “What started as an experiment in independent Catholic school management, with six schools in the South Bronx and Harlem, is now a nationally recognized model with eleven schools in NYC and Cleveland and a proven approach to urban Catholic school turnaround.”

She also shared:

Our students are now graduating and being recruited by top Catholic, private, public and boarding high schools, earning record amounts of scholarship and financial aid. Our enrollment is up 28% in the last three years and demand remains high. Covid showed us what we already knew—that Catholic schools can weather the greatest storms because they have foundational strength and enormous value serving low-income students in urban areas. And Partnership Schools tapped that value and showed this country why Catholic schools are worth saving.

I’m particularly proud of what we have accomplished together. Under my leadership over the last thirteen years, our wonderful donors have contributed $127 million to support our eleven schools. That combined with the $100 million that was raised at the Patrons Program means I’ve been part of an unprecedented investment to further the work of Catholic education. What a privilege it has been. You all have supported me in countless ways and are an amazing group of generous and deeply caring people who have made this progress possible. Our success is a direct result of those who believed in us and took a chance on my leadership and our groundbreaking idea to try a new approach to supporting and managing Catholic schools…

…Over the next three months I will be working with the team, with the Board, and with our supporters to ensure a smooth transition. I leave the Partnership knowing that our collective efforts have impacted thousands of lives and provided countless opportunities and bright futures for underserved students. I couldn’t be more optimistic about the future of Catholic education and more heartened by the momentum at Partnership Schools.

My gratitude is immense. I have had the privilege of leading a team of bold, smart, talented, and passionate individuals. They have taught me so much. The teams at our schools have my deepest appreciation for doing the slow, steady, and difficult work every day. They are my heroes.

Partnership Board Chair Russ Carson also shared a message with the Partnership community, noting:

I met Jill years ago when my wife and I became interested in the Patrons Program and have had a wonderful working relationship with her ever since. When we formed Partnership Schools in 2013, she was the logical person to be CEO of the new organization. She has poured her heart and soul into this effort and the results speak for themselves.

From a standing start, Partnership Schools has grown from six schools in New York City to seven in NYC and four in Cleveland. In NYC we went from less than 20% of our students performing at or above grade level to over 50% doing so by 2019. Currently, 3,500 students in the two cities are getting a first-class education while being exposed to the values that will make them good citizens throughout their lives. None of this could have happened without Jill’s tireless efforts.

Russ also shared that last spring, Jill “brought on Kristen Gengaro as Deputy Director and a potential successor which has set the stage for a very smooth transition of leadership. Over the next three months Jill will transfer authority and leadership responsibility to Kristen. By the start of 2024 we will have put in place a solid plan and management team for the future.”