Jennifer Stewart‘s commitment to Napa Valley education is in her bones. She’s a fifth-generation Napa Valley resident who went through the Napa public school system, and today, her son is in elementary school. Now, as Executive Director of the Napa Valley Education Foundation (NVEF), she works tirelessly to meet the valley’s education needs in ordinary and extraordinary times.
NVEF is the foundation for the future. Their programs focus on mental health, teacher innovation, career exploration, and music education. “With state and federal funding spread thin, we aim to fill the gaps,” Jennifer explained. “Every dollar that we raise is focused on improving outcomes for Napa County’s public-school students.”
Since her start with NVEF in 2014, Jennifer has increased the organization’s yearly fundraising efforts, growing NVEF’s program budget from $400,000 a year to $2 million a year. Today NVEF is the largest K-12 serving education nonprofit in Napa County.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, Napa Valley Education Foundation made the strategic decision to merge with NapaLearns, a complementary education nonprofit. The boards of the nonprofits came together upon learning that the Executive Director of NapaLearns, Peg Maddocks, was ready to retire and decided to consolidate the two as one integrated organization with Jennifer at the helm. Some of their programs overlapped, and each was branching out into new initiatives like career readiness. Jennifer explained, “Career readiness was a new focus for both of us, and that’s where we saw great synergy.”
The merger allows NVEF to expand its role to the entire county of Napa. NVEF had already serviced 87 percent of the students through their work with the county’s largest school district, NVUSD. “Now, with the merger, we are serving all schools in Napa County, that’s 20,000 students and more than 1,000 teachers. We worked with 28 schools before, and now we will reach all 38 public schools.”
Students and teachers countywide will benefit from NVEF programs. The Napa Virtual Career Academy will ensure that students have access to technical certifications, the Music Connection program will provide 900 music instruments for free or low cost, and students will have expanded access to mental health services at their school sites through the NVUSD Wellness Initiative. In addition, NVEF will continue the NapaLearns Fellows, a program offering Napa County educators the opportunity to earn master’s degrees in Innovative Learning at the Touro University of California. The Digital Innovator Program will continue under NVEF too. Working in partnership with the Napa County Office of Education, the program focuses on training teachers and giving them tools and strategies to engage students in an increasingly digital world.
“We are the maestro making connections to give services,” Jennifer explained. “We listen to the schools and align our investments, programs, and priorities with their needs.”
Today, Jennifer focuses on making every program stronger. Post-pandemic, there is a massive shift with virtual learning, and schools face new hurdles in dealing with the change. NVEF will do what it can to aid the transition for schools, teachers, and students.
Through the merger, expansion of programs, and changes in teaching and learning methods, Jennifer’s inspiration comes from her father. “My Dad always said, ‘When you make decisions, make them with your grandchildren in mind.’ That’s something I think about every day.”
Story By: Layne Randolph // Photo by Mario Piombo, Napa Valley Education Foundation