Creating a Robust Community of Care for BPS Students
erving nearly 4,000 students in the Boston Public Schools (BPS), Boston Partners in Education (Boston Partners) builds and trains a network of volunteers to serve as academic mentors to students inside K-12 classrooms. Founded in 1966, Boston Partners aims to help struggling public school students get back on track. “In the beginning we were just a handful of folks committed to supporting teachers in the Boston Public Schools,” Executive Director Erin McGrath recounts. “We’ve shifted our focus over time to providing volunteers at scale to support BPS students who need extra help in the classroom.”
Boston Partners recruits and trains community members to work with students in literacy, math, science, and other subjects in more than 50 of the 125 schools across the district. The focus is exclusively on students from the Boston Public Schools—72% of whom are considered economically disadvantaged by the district—who may not be receiving other kinds of support or interventions. “We’re trying to ensure that all our students get access to a quality public education,” notes McGrath.
Individual student needs dictate the type of assistance provided. Aside from one-on-one tutoring, Boston Partners’ “Motivate,” “Accelerate,” and “Aim High” programs allow hundreds of volunteers to engage with students in whole-class or small-group settings. And its “Big Cheese Reads” initiative introduces middle school students to esteemed community leaders—such as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh—bringing them directly into the classroom to talk about literacy and its link to careers.
To serve thousands of BPS students in this high-touch and high-impact way, Boston Partners deeply engages with more than 600 community and corporate volunteers.
Engaging Teachers and Changing School Culture
An overarching goal of Boston Partners’ programs is to close the opportunity gap; it seeks to provide every student with the resources to become a better learner. The invaluable academic mentorship it provides is free to students and their families, thanks to funds raised via various channels (including BPS schools, individual donors, corporate sponsorships, and grants). Boston Partners manages both mentor-student matching and fundraising processes on Salesforce. The organization works closely with teachers and mentors to tailor interventions; it offers an online platform for teachers to nominate students whom they feel would benefit from an academic mentor.
“We rely on teachers to let us know which students will benefit from the individualized one-on-one attention that an academic mentor brings to the table,” McGrath says of the teacher nomination model. Through its deep relationships with schools and individual teachers to identify the right interventions for the right students, Boston Partners fosters a more engaged culture in BPS, in which staff and students are visibly and meaningfully supported by the community.
“There aren’t that many partners that focus on one-on-one academics with students,” says Miriam Rubin, Director of Development and Partnerships at the Boston Public Schools. “I find myself referring to Boston Partners a lot because they are one of the only ones who are doing that work.”
Consolidating Systems to Match and Monitor
Managing a large network of constituents—including teachers, parents, students, mentors, and donors—is no easy feat for Boston Partners’ small team of 16 employees. Technology is invaluable in helping the organization do so. According to COO Jim Laudisio, its previous online database was “clunky, confusing and didn’t enforce data quality.” A proliferation of systems led to a lack of consolidated data, which led to significant difficulty reporting on student progress and tracking toward other organizational goals.
Functionality and interoperability weren’t the only concerns: the organization also needed to improve communication between teachers, students, volunteers, and community members, as well as better data inputs to track program efficacy. A new system was clearly needed.
Says Laudisio of the strategy behind the system overhaul: “The real work was to figure out how we were going to set up our interactions to capture the information we needed to reach the kids who really needed our help, and to ensure that our mentors were having a positive impact.”
Boston Partners initially implemented Salesforce to enhance its fundraising, and once it realized how much simpler and more efficient Salesforce could make volunteer-to-student matching, subsequently adapted the system for this placement process. This led to a marked improvement in data processing and, by extension, the organization’s ability to optimally pair BPS students with mentors.
Boston Partners used FormAssembly, a plug-and-play app on the Salesforce AppExchange, to help manage the online student nomination process teachers complete. The flexibility of the Salesforce platform allowed the organization to switch to a new editable form that helps it react to new data collection options or changes to educational and mentoring best practices—collecting better and more comprehensive information about its students. Because the volunteer process also involves an online application, its new web-based form submission system gave Boston Partners a truly flexible platform to process its many mentor applications as well.
Salesforce also turned out to be useful in addressing Boston Partners’ other big need around more rigorous evaluation. “We needed to better evaluate our programs to see if they were making the impact that we hope they’re making,” Laudisio observes. Boston Partners made use of another AppExchange app, GetFeedback, to easily survey teachers, volunteers, and students.
“There’s a lot that each of us needs to manage,” says Laudisio. “Salesforce helps us keep information organized and on track to provide excellent customer service for the teachers and volunteers who are working in our programs.”
Increased Communication and Transparency
Due to the volume of students it serves, Boston Partners’ ability to maintain constant staff communication with schools, teachers and volunteers is crucial. It also needs to proactively and strategically communicate with its network of donors and schools—and with the community writ large—about outcomes of its various initiatives. Salesforce is used to securely guide communication on individual records that tie school, match, teacher, student, and mentor information all together, allowing for the real-time internal and external transparency that is vital in working with public school students. Boston Partners can also view donor and volunteer activity—oftentimes the same people—in one single, secure database, and get a complete picture of its supporters.
According to McGrath, “When we had two separate databases, it was very hard to know if a volunteer had been converted into a donor or if a donor was interested in volunteering. Now we’re able to tell a complete story across the lifespan of someone’s engagement with us.”
Tapping into Communities of Support and Innovation
Boston Partners has learned the hard way that it takes a great deal of organization and attention to detail to keep operations streamlined and thus manageable. Connecting with other like-minded education and nonprofit organizations who are also using Salesforce has helped Boston Partners solve common problems and improve efficiency. Laudisio, for one, appreciates the community of support that comes with being a Salesforce.org customer.
“What gives us a lot of value,” he says, “is that there’s a terrific community, particularly here in Boston, of organizations that are using Salesforce and all working on very similar problems most of the time. Being able to collaborate with others in this space and to also have help directly from Salesforce is a big value-add for us.”