Urban Education Advocates Make Family Gift to the Neag School

Pictured are Carla Klein and her late husband, John Klein.
Pictured are Carla Klein and her late husband, John Klein.

As a native of Bridgeport, one of Connecticut’s most challenged cities, and as president and CEO of People’s Bank and its parent, People’s United Financial Inc., headquartered in Bridgeport, John Klein saw every day the effects of poverty. He also saw the solution: education.

People’s Bank became a major engine for community betterment in Bridgeport and beyond during Klein’s tenure. At the same time, his wife, Carla Klein, Neag ’72, a longtime schoolteacher in Stratford and Trumbull, retired and continued to work in education with the Bridgeport Public Education Fund to help children stay on track for college. The couple also established the John and Carla Klein Endowment for Graduate Assistants in Teacher Education at the Neag School at UConn, and both served on the UConn Foundation’s Board, among many other efforts.

Then, in January 2008, at age 58, John Klein died of esophageal cancer.

Carla Klein mourned the loss of her high school sweetheart, but was also determined to fulfill their shared goals. “John was strongly an advocate for education for everyone,” she says. “He was instrumental in creating the $20 million People’s United Bank Community Foundation during the last merger to continue to address the needs of its community.”

To honor and keep John Klein’s memory alive, the Klein family, which includes daughter Kristen Chiodo and son Eric Klein and their families, founded the Klein Family Foundation to focus their giving on areas important to them.  Education had a high priority, and just recently, Carla Klein committed to a gift to the Neag School of Education to fund a termed professorship focused exclusively on urban education, with another gift over time to build an endowment for urban education.

“I had a desire to do something,” she says. “I wanted to get something started, and if we do it this way we can move forward as the funds are being put into place.”

As an indication of just how influential Carla Klein had become in education reform efforts in Connecticut, then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell appointed her to the Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement, a volunteer organization researching achievement gaps between low-income students and their more affluent peers.  Her expertise, commitment and philanthropy will continue to make a difference to legions of students and teachers throughout Connecticut.

“Carla has been and continues to be a strong advocate for children in Connecticut,” says Thomas DeFranco, dean of UConn’s Neag School of Education. “As a former teacher, and more recently in her role on the Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement, Carla is dedicated to closing the achievement gap in Connecticut. Her gift will impact the academic performance as well as the lives of children throughout the state.

When donors give, the question often arises: Why this particular focus? For Carla Klein, two experiences, one in second grade, one in third, were pivotal. “In second grade, I was easily distracted, and a particular teacher didn’t handle my distraction in a positive way,” she remembers. “She was humiliating. I remember expressing this to my father, and he went marching into the school and it wasn’t pleasant.

“The following year I had a new teacher, wonderful and kind, and I remember how that impacted me. Just the way the teacher approached me; I felt comfortable in the classroom. It was so much nicer to have a kind, compassionate and understanding teacher, the positive immediately following the negative.”

It was also a defining time for her, one that would determine her career path early on. And even though she no longer teaches in elementary school, she is testament to the power of education, giving her time and financial assistance to help.

“We really feel quite privileged to do it,” she says. “It gives us an opportunity to honor John and his memory. He’s alive with us today because of it.”

To give to the Neag School of Education, please contact the Foundation’s development department.