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Private donations to aid Boston Public Schools

Christine McCall

EdVestors recently announced that its donors are investing more than $1,000,000 in urban school improvement initiatives in Boston Public Schools through its 2010 Urban Education Investment Portfolio beginning this fall for the 2010-2011 school year.

The Boston-based nonprofit was founded in 2002 and tries to create sustainable change in urban schools through strategic investments.

According to its mission statement, EdVestors serves “as a catalyst for change in urban schools by identifying and shaping the most effective improvement initiatives, partnering with donors to invest in these efforts, and supporting education project leaders with our hands-on expertise.”

Laura Perille, executive director of EdVestors, said that the organization also aims to “level the playing fields in accessing private investments” for schools.

Back in April, EdVestors held its 8th Annual Urban Education Investment Showcase. More than 175 philanthropists, educators and business and community leaders attended to hear presentations on a number of school improvement initiatives. The showcase allowed investors to get a closer look at the initiatives available for them to make contributions.

The initiatives ranged from accelerating students’ academic achievement in math, transforming the district’s lowest performing schools and introducing a model for school-driven arts education.

Initiatives can involve one or more schools in Boston and proposals can be submitted by the school or by a nonprofit working together with the school.

The finalists were selected by a 38-member volunteer Education Review Panel composed of a diverse group of leaders with expertise in the education, nonprofit, philanthropic and business sectors, as well as the EdVestors staff. When deciding what initiatives to support, the panel looked at those that have the most promise to share best practices, replicate and expand over time. Start-up projects are also encouraged to apply.

More than 80 concept papers are typically submitted in October. They are reviewed, then narrowed down to 20, and those are asked to submit full proposals. The 2010 EdVestors Urban Education Investment Portfolio Finalists featured at the showcase and later selected as recpients of the grants included:

•BPS: Algebra Expansion

•BPS: ESL Professional Practice Pathway

•Countdown to High School

•Haley Pilot School: Response to Intervention (RTI)

•Making Music Matters!

•Teach Plus and Boston Public Schools: Turnaround Schools

•Visual Understanding in Education: Visual Thinking Strategies

BPS: Algebra Expansion “aims to accelerate academic achievement in math by increasing the number of schools teaching Algebra in eighth grade.” This initiative was initially funded by EdVestors at Rogers Middle School and then moved district-wide with EdVestors 2009 Investment Portfolio. Of the 3,800 students not in one of Boston’s exam schools, less than 1 percent of the student population had access to Algebra back in 2007. The percentage of students who have access to Algebra is increasing and as of 2010, 20 percent of eighth-graders had access, Perille said.

The $155,000 grant will support continued expansion across the district and the hope is that by 2014, 40 percent of eighth-graders will have access to Algebra.

Making Music Matters! (MMM) is a model for school-driven arts education, which provides instrumental music instruction for 300 third through seventh grade students that has already been implemented at four schools.

Beginning this fall, $130,000 will be allocated toward MMM as it is replicated at Mattahunt Elementary School in Mattapan and Bates Elementary School in Roslindale. As a result, 240 more students will be exposed to music instruction.

The Visual Understanding in Education: Visual Thinking Strategies has received $105,000 to expand its Visual Thinking Strategies, which is an “arts-based critical thinking and language curriculum and teaching method,” to all students at Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain and Mather Elementary School in Dorchester. As part of the program, students will work on their critical thinking and communication skills through the discussion of works of art.

The grant receiving the largest sum is Teach Plus and Boston Public Schools: Turnaround Schools, which has been allocated $205,000. Boston Public Schools will work together with Teach Plus to recruit and properly train teachers and principals in hopes of transforming the district’s lowest performing schools.

All seven initiatives will be fully funded over the course of the next two years. Perille, says what motivates EdVestors donors is the desire to help out by giving back. Many of the donors are graduates of Boston Public Schools and because of their “fruitful and productive careers,” they now have the means to give back to the communities in which they grew up in, Perille added.

These grants are in addition to the $700,000 in arts grants EdVestors announced in early June as part of the Boston Public Schools Arts Expansion Initiative. In total, EdVestors has coordinated more than $1.7 million in school improvement funds in 2010.

To learn more about applying for a grant through EdVestor Urban Education Investment Portfolio for the 2011-2012 school year, visit http://www.edvestors.org/