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Improving Boston's public school system

Kenneth J. Cooper | 12/13/2011, 3:46 p.m.

More support is also needed from local colleges, particularly scholarships, Guscott said. Those contributions would be a way for the nonprofit colleges to increase their payments to the city in lieu of taxes. He said Boston University has long contributed the most to the city’s schools, and he urged Northeastern University and Wentworth Institute of Technology in particular to do more.

Bunte suggested stronger relationships between Roxbury Community College and nearby Madison Park High School.

For her part, Johnson agreed the system has problems with negative perceptions of its schools and with fragmentation in the service agencies and a lack of accountability in them. She said the system’s Office of Community Engagement plans to find a faith-based partner for each school — not to promote religion, but to introduce students to adults with strong value systems.

Boston University, she said, does give dozens of scholarships to graduates every year, but until her staff stepped in and identified more eligible black and Latino students, an overwhelming number of the scholarships were going to whites and Asians.

The superintendent said the system has increased access to educational opportunities by enrolling more black and Latino students in Advanced Placement courses after training an additional 200 teachers to teach the classes.

In addition, more schools will offer Algebra I in the eighth grade to put more students on track for college work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Research has also documented that students who take algebra are more likely to go to college and graduate, whatever their major, because the course teaches an essential skill, abstract thinking.

The discussion was hosted by the Trotter Institute at UMass Boston and moderated by James Jennings, a Tufts University professor. More meetings are planned.