Campus & Community

City of Boston, Harvard and area universities ‘Step UP’

4 min read

Unprecedented university collaboration provides coordinated services to Boston Public Schools

Five Boston-area universities, including Harvard, have joined the city of Boston in a new initiative to support learning in 10 Boston Public Schools.

The five-year effort, called “Step UP,” was announced by Mayor Thomas M. Menino at a press conference Thursday (Sept. 28).

“This partnership offers a new set of resources to strengthen our schools,” said Menino, who has made education a top priority of his administration. “These five universities have stepped up to the plate in a very substantial way.”

The new partnership will leverage the collective experience and expertise of Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, Northeastern University, and Tufts University in outreach to public education in a variety of forms. For the first time, the universities will be working together in a coordinated fashion to provide a comprehensive set of learning support services to select schools that caters to specific needs. The universities are investing $5 million in direct services to the schools and an additional $5 million in in-kind and other support services.

“Harvard University and the Boston Public Schools are longstanding partners in education,” said Kathleen McCartney, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who represented Harvard at the event. “This ‘Step Up’ initiative is unique, however, because it will bring together five major universities with a unified goal: to help Boston students and their families reach their full potential. We will do so by sharing our discrete strengths and resources to deliver coordinated learning support services throughout the city’s schools. It is my hope that this approach will prove effective and serve as a model in other urban areas.”

Learning support will be provided in the following areas: professional development for teachers, curriculum and instructional support during and after school, school readiness and student support, family engagement and out-of-school time (providing an extended day, full-service model of mentoring, tutoring, and community resources, as well as summer programs and job opportunities), student wellness – nutrition, dental, and general health screenings, and a food service program and assessment and evaluation. A full-time program director will coordinate the planning and programming between the universities and the schools. The goal of the five-university collaboration is to reduce the achievement gap by supporting schools with expertise and resources so that all students can reach their full potential.

This collaboration builds on the universities’ commitment to work with the city of Boston to improve the Boston Public Schools.

“We know that collaboration with community partners is a key component to the success of every school, and certainly here in Boston, we have a valuable resource in the colleges and universities,” said Michael Contompasis, interim superintendent of Boston Public Schools. “We are delighted that these five universities have committed to expanding the programs and services they provide to students and schools in need of additional support. With their help, and the help of other institutions, our schools will succeed in closing the achievement gap and ensuring every child performs at the highest levels.”

“We have found that the university presence is critical in helping students maintain and reach their full academic potential,” added Janet Palmer-Owens, principal at the Mason School, where Harvard, Boston College, Boston University, and Tufts currently provide services.

The public schools that will benefit most from participating in this initiative will be determined soon. Boston Public Schools and the universities will bring their principals and staff together with college faculty and staff to develop individual school plans that will spell out the mix of programs and services that they need. A rigorous review and evaluation process will be put in place from the start so that the program’s progress and successes can be tracked.