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$27m lift for city’s schools

Charities create partnership with goals for students

By James Vaznis
Globe Staff / June 22, 2010

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Several major philanthropic organizations in Boston will give $27 million to a new partnership, being announced today, that aims to greatly accelerate student achievement across the city, from “cradle to career.’’

The goal is to help children living in poverty build better lives as adults, organizers say, in part by boosting literacy rates for elementary school students and increasing the percentage graduating from high school and college. The organizers say they will regularly release accountability reports to the public measuring their progress.

The partnership, three years in the making, is being headed by four of the city’s largest philanthropic organizations: the Boston Foundation, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and the Merrimack Valley. The organizations are tapping endowments, fund-raising campaigns, and individual donors. When the two-year commitment ends, they will set a new financial commitment.

The $27 million, characterized as an initial donation, will be distributed over the next two years to organizations that provide such services as early education, after-school programs, and college assistance.

City leaders are also partners in this venture, called the Boston Opportunity Agenda.

“The overarching goal is to make Boston the leading city for upward mobility,’’ Paul Grogan, the Boston Foundation’s president, said in an interview yesterday.

The donation is the latest in a wave of philanthropic support to bolster the quality of education in Boston, as Governor Deval Patrick and President Obama push for sweeping overhauls of urban schools.

Among those efforts: Fidelity vice chairman Peter Lynch and his wife, Carolyn, announced this week a $20 million donation to Boston College to train urban school leaders. EdVestors, a Boston nonprofit group devoted to educational improvements, launched a $2.5 million campaign last fall with the support of several foundations to raise money to expand arts programs in the city’s schools. And last summer, Suffolk Construction’s Red & Blue Foundation announced a $1 million donation to start a program to bolster the school system’s athletic programs, with a goal of raising millions of dollars more in donations.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino said yesterday that the growing support for education reflects growing awareness that overhauling urban schools is a job too big for government to do alone. He and the district’s superintendent, Carol R. Johnson, helped develop the latest effort and welcomed the scrutiny it will invite.

“This resource is a tremendous asset in difficult budget times and we need to spend it wisely, effectively and efficiently,’’ Menino said.

One of the partnership’s goals is increasing the four-year high school graduation rate to 80 percent by 2014, which would be a nearly 20 percentage point increase from last year’s rate.

Johnson said many of the partnership’s goals are similar to those outlined in her overhaul plan for the city’s school system. “We can’t do it alone, we need the collective action and wisdom of the entire community,’’ she said.

The announcement will be made this morning at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester, located in a swath of the city that school leaders have targeted for greater investment from community partners because of a high concentration of low-performing schools and students living in poverty.

The money being raised will be in addition to existing financial commitments the organizations have made to educational programs, and it will support some of those efforts.

They include Thrive in 5, a two-year-old alliance created by the city and the United Way to support school readiness programs for babies and toddlers, and Success Boston, an effort by the school system, local colleges, and community groups to help local students get ready for and complete college.

The partners will also announce a new summer learning venture between the school district, Boston After School & Beyond, and other nonprofit organizations to keep students on top of their academics and prevent the “learning loss’’ that often occurs over the break between June and September.

Other partners include the Barr Foundation, the Beal Companies, Eos Foundation, the Myra & Robert Kraft Family Foundation, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, and New Profit Inc.

Having the charitable organizations and the city share goals in overhauling urban education will magnify the power of the financial investments, said Michael Durkin, United Way’s president.

“We may have funded a few things together in the past coincidently, but never with this thoughtfulness and planning,’’ Durkin said. “As a donor, I feel much better about contributing.’’

Correction: Because of incorrect information provided to the Globe, this story mischaracterized the role of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston. It is a non-donor partner.

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