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BAA Mentioned in Boston Globe Article: As Harvard looks to build in Allston, how about a university-affiliated public school?

The university could help the city tackle one of its most vexing challenges.

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Harvard University is planning a massive new neighborhood on the nearly 140 acres it has assembled in Allston — apartments, laboratories, restaurants, and much that is still to be revealed.

And a couple of weeks ago, the school sent a letter to Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, state Representative Mike Moran, and other local leaders sketching out the community benefits it is prepared to offer in conjunction with the project. Among them: affordable housing set-asides, a publicly accessible system of parks, plazas, and greenways, and a multimillion-dollar financial commitment to a planned transportation hub known as West Station.

Moran in an interview with the Globe's Jon Chesto, made it clear he isn't impressed. The offer of a 20 percent set-aside for affordable housing could go higher, he suggested. And a recycled, four-year-old pledge of $58 million for West Station didn't move him. The university would have to do better.

Moran, the mayor, and community activists are right to keep the pressure on; it’s not often that the city has leverage over an institution as wealthy and powerful as Harvard.

But all the players here could stand to be more creative. Affordable housing and transportation and open space are all important and should be part of the package. But development as sweeping as what Harvard has in mind demands more.

One possibility: a university-affiliated public school.

Improving public education is among the most urgent tasks facing the city. Superintendents and students are leaving the Boston Public Schools at alarming rates. Achievement gaps remain wide, and there is persistent talk of a state takeover.

A single Harvard-affiliated school would not solve all of those problems, of course. But it could prove an attractive option for low-income families who are ill-served by the current system, and for middle-class families who might otherwise flee the city — creating the sort of racially and socioeconomically integrated classrooms that are key to a thriving public education system and a healthy democracy. And it could be an inspiration for more university-district partnerships in Boston.
The truth, though, is that there are plenty of examples of successful partnerships already.

In Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania joined with the Philadelphia public schools and the city’s teachers union to found a K-8, known as Penn Alexander, that ranks among the finest public schools in the nation. The university doesn’t run the school; administrators are not so presumptuous as to think they could guide the development of 8- and 9-year-olds. But Penn does provide help with the math curriculum, a per-pupil subsidy, and an embedded employee who helps with fund-raising and professional development.

In Houston, the mostly Black, Latino, and Asian students at the Baylor College of Medicine-affiliated Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions do rotations at nearby hospitals and head off to an impressive array of colleges.

And here in Boston, a consortium of arts-focused institutions, including Berklee College of Music, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and Emerson College helped found Boston Arts Academy, a high school for the visual and performing arts. And the consortium remains heavily involved — taking part in the audition process for young people seeking admission, for instance, and opening up their college classes to the academy’s students.

Of course, there’s no guarantee of success with a university-affiliated public school; some have had mediocre results.

But Boston has demonstrated that it can produce highly effective specialty schools; its charter schools are top-flight. And Harvard is an especially promising partner — once it commits to a project, it follows through.

What’s required, then, is political leadership — someone to rally the community around the idea and pressure Harvard to commit.

That leadership would have to come from Mayor Wu, the only person with the bully pulpit and power to do the job. The mayor’s office isn’t commenting on specific ideas for Allston at this point; it offered the Globe editorial board a generic statement of support for some of the concepts already on the table, like open space and affordable housing.

But if the discussion around community benefits is to expand to include more creative proposals, Wu will have to step up soon. If she succeeds in developing a university-affiliated school, she could employ the same model in other parts of the city — taking a promising school-improvement strategy to scale and helping move the needle on one of Boston’s most important and intractable problems.

Harvard, after all, isn’t the only big institution looking to build in this town.

Source: Boston Globe

By The Editorial BoardUpdated March 10, 2022, 4:00 a.m.

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