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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, and later president of the Chan Zuckerberg Education Initiative. 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 offersTurnaround 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."

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.

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.

Turnaround wins opportunity to present at SXSWedu

The panel discussion, Transforming Schools Using Brain Science, is moderated by Katherine Bradley, President, CityBridge Foundation, and features Dr. Pamela Cantor,; 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 the S & R Foundation’s Illuminate Series.
Building Blocks

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.

Big year for media

Turnaround for Children's work is recognized in print, broadcast and online including The Atlantic, Forbes and The Economist. In May, Paul Tough publishes Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why, highlighting Turnaround for Children's work of creating safe, supportive school environments. In June, Turnaround's work with Washington, D.C. partner, Houston Elementary School, is highlighted in The Washington Post. In September, PBS airs NOVA's School of the Future. This two-hour documentary features Dr. Pamela Cantor and New York partner Fairmont Neighborhood School and explores the science of learning, including research and insights from neuroscientists, psychologists and educators working to reimagine the future of education.

The Science of Learning and Development (SoLD)

The Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) initiative is a collaborative effort focused on elevating and translating a diverse but increasingly convergent body of scientific literature to support the transformation of the systems that educate children from birth to adulthood. It is funded by several organizations, including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Ford Foundation and the Raikes Foundation, and includes 6 partner organizations: the American Institute for Research (AIR), the Center for Individual Opportunity, EducationCounsel, the Learning Policy Institute, The Opportunity Institute and Turnaround for Children. SoLD's goal is to synthesize, integrate and translate scientific research into educational practice in order to dramatically improve outcomes for students, regardless of their start in life.

Shift to scale knowledge and practice expertise

Shifting from its traditional embedded program, Turnaround offers a suite of services to broaden its reach and better address the needs of a diverse set of educators – from teachers to system leaders. Turnaround expands its relationship with District of Columbia Public Schools through leadership consultation and principal cluster trainings and establishes a partnership with KIPP DC, the charter school network, working closely with two schools, training all KIPP DC principals and partnering with its leadership..

American Federation of Teachers' TEACH Conference

Michael Lamb, Executive Director, Washington D.C. delivers a plenary talk to 1,400 educators on opening day of the AFT Together Educating America’s Children (TEACH) Conference, followed by a question and answer session focused on children’s well-being with AFT President Randi Weingarten and Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Associate Professor of Raza Studies and Education at San Francisco State University and Co-Founder of the Teaching Excellence Network.

SoLD peer-reviewed papers published in Applied Developmental Science

Two landmark papers, co-authored by Pamela Cantor, M.D. and Lily Steyer from Turnaround for Children, along with colleagues David Osher and Juliette Berg from the American Institutes for Research, and Todd Rose from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Center for Individual Opportunity are simultaneously published in the peer-reviewed journal Applied Developmental Science. The first paper, Malleability, Plasticity, and Individuality: How Children Learn and Develop in Context, examines what nourishes or hinders healthy brain development. The second, Drivers of Human Development: How Relationships and Context Shape Learning and Development, focuses on how family, peer, caregiver and teacher relationships, as well as home, community and school environments impact the ways young people develop. Combined, these papers aim to answer the following questions: What science should we pay attention to when considering how to foster healthy developmental trajectories for all children? What do we know now that could help all students learn to the fullest?


In September 2017, Dr. Pamela Cantor announced that after 16 years, she planned to transition as Founder and CEO to a new role, Founder and Senior Science Advisor. A national search commenced and in March, Turnaround for Children’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to name Brigid Ahern President and CEO, effective June 1. In a strong pool of applicants, Brigid rose to the top because of her goal-orientation, operational focus, successful track record and unwavering dedication to Turnaround’s mission. Brigid joined Turnaround in 2014 as Chief External Affairs Officer, overseeing the Communications, Development, Executive Office, Policy and Systemic Impact teams. She has served on the organization’s leadership team, driving the strategy that positions Turnaround to meet growing demand for its work translating science into educational practice at scale.