Mission: WriteBoston promotes deep learning through writing. We offer training and coaching for teachers, along with writing opportunities for students, built on the premise that powerful thinking and writing are inseparable.
How does your organization strive toward the attributes associated with Relevance?
WriteBoston works to ensure that low-income, historically disenfranchised, and linguistically diverse students have the necessary writing and analytical skills to graduate from high school and succeed in school and career.
True social change takes a village: to that end, we work both directly with students themselves through in-school tutoring and after-school journalism programming, as well as educators, to ensure that every adult who supports students has the expertise they need to be effective. WriteBoston targets essential adults in school “eco-systems”– classroom teachers, literacy coaches, school administrators and youth development staff. Through this innovative approach, we are able to reach exponentially more students.
WriteBoston has “followed” low-resource and immigrant families who can no longer afford to live in Boston-proper. Today, we work with Chelsea, Everett, Salem, and seek to expand into additional Gateway Cities.
- We nimbly support the literacy needs of a wide range of partners: from traditional public schools and high-performing Boston charters to Gateway City voc-tech schools, education partner organizations like City Year, and whole school districts. No other literacy organization offers the flexibility and expertise that we do, positioning us to support new communities in meeting the specific needs of their students.
How does your organization strive toward the attributes associated with Impact?
Our assessment strategy is driven by the same questions that undergird our mission: are we making a difference in the life trajectories of high needs youth? What impact are we having on college acceptance, attrition, and completion? Do changes we espouse make it through the classroom door and impact the educational outcomes of students?
In assessing our work, we use a combination of measurement tools: qualitative surveys, classroom level audits of student reading/writing/discussion; pre and post assessments; end-of-year test scores and embedded assessments; college acceptance rates; and rates of usage and scope of influence.
Impact Story: Partnering to transform literacy outcomes across the Chelsea Public Schools
WriteBoston began partnering with Chelsea Public Schools in 2015 to transform literacy instruction for 1,600 students across Chelsea’s three middle schools. Nearly 60% of students are economically disadvantaged, and 81% speak a first language other than English. Together, Chelsea and WriteBoston designed a three-year plan to support teachers, coaches, principals, and district leaders. In year two, this project has already seen real impact. In classroom audits, we have measured a 55% drop in “low literacy engagement” classrooms across the three middle schools. (These are classrooms where students spend less than 2/3 of class time reading, writing, or speaking).
Superintendent Bourque praised the partnership: “By working across our three middle schools and providing cohesive, coherent professional development to both teachers and coaches, as well as feedback to administrators, WriteBoston is assisting us in improving our literacy instruction for all our middle school students… [WriteBoston staff] have integrated seamlessly into our systems and have pushed our educators to improve. The design and follow-through of this multi-year partnership have been impressive.”
How does your organization strive toward the attributes associated with Sustainability?
WriteBoston’s budget features a healthy and diverse balance of funding sources, including a robust fee-for-service arm: our FY19 budget is made up of 40% foundations, 34% fee-for-service, 17% individuals, 5% corporate support and 4% in-kind resources.
In 2018, WriteBoston established a 4-month cash reserve to ensure greater financial sustainability of the organization.
WriteBoston has a cultivated a group of sustained funders who have made a deep and ongoing pledge to support our work: for FY19 (the current fiscal year) through FY21, we have $770K in committed funding from multi-year funders.
To ensure strong but lean financial practices, WriteBoston employs outsourced bookkeeping and accounting services, allowing our small nonprofit to benefit from “CFO-level” expertise to which we would not otherwise have access.
To support the overall sustainability of our business model, WriteBoston has developed a successful fee-for-service model that leverages dollars from a school district to attract additional grant and donor resources, enabling us to grow projects and offer more service.
- Significant in-kind partnerships support our programs: the Boston Business Journal and Emerson College provide space for our afterschool and six-week summer programs for youth, and the Boston Globe prints and distributes 64,000 copies of our Boston Teens in Print youth newspaper annually.
EXCELLENCE IN MANAGEMENT AND OPERATIONS
How does your organization strive toward the attributes associated with Excellence in Management and Operations?
WriteBoston employs a co-directorship model, designed to ensure that mission drives the decisions of the organization and to transform a traditionally isolating role into a more sustainable and humane role. The two co-directors possess different skill sets – one is program-focused, while the other is operations-focused – that operate in tandem to support the organization.
We are committed to greater Board and staff diversity and building an organization that more closely mirrors the community we serve.
- In 2016, we brought on a new Director of Teens in Print, our youth journalism program which engages 100+ Boston high school students in writing and producing articles for a citywide teen newspaper. After a months long search, we hired Carla Gualdron, a graduate of the Teens in Print program and the Boston Public Schools, and a professional journalist with experience reporting in both English and Spanish. Last year, she was named a Boston Latino 30 under 30 and recognized by the Mass Mentors Stand & Be Counted program as an outstanding youth mentor.
- We have committed to a sustainable work environment that fights traditional nonprofit burnout: staff work extremely hard, but we work to provide fair compensation in salary and benefits; offer flexibility in work-at-home opportunities and hours; and prioritize a staff culture that empowers employees and nurtures positive, supportive manager-employee relationships. Each staff person has access to a professional development budget to grow their skills in the ways they see fit.
HOW DOES YOUR ORGANIZATION ENGAGE YOUNG PROFESSIONALS / EMERGING LEADERS?
WriteBoston has identified young leaders committed to the nonprofit sector through partnership with the AmeriCorps VISTA program and the Massachusetts Commonwealth Corps service internship program. Both programs are targeted generally towards young professionals interested in making a significant contribution to a cause and organization through service. We have hosted 11 FT and 2 PT AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers and currently engage two Commonwealth Corps members who serve full-time for 10.5 months in substantive, capacity building roles in our youth journalism program. This program has created a pipeline for young professionals to join the organization: three of our twelve staff are former service corps members.
Emerging leaders under the age of 35 comprise half of WriteBoston’s director-level staff leadership, and are placed in key programming and development/communications positions. We’ve made a commitment to supporting young professionals in leadership roles through empowering staff to take on increasing responsibility, and by providing all full-time staff an individual PD budget that allows them to build their professional skills through tailored support.
We engage young professionals and others as volunteers through our Writing Center program, where volunteers work one-on-one with students on writing on a weekly basis. Volunteers receive specific training in their role, including an orientation, shadowing other volunteers, and ongoing feedback from the Writing Center Coordinator.
We seek to create a young professionals board within the next two years to complement our existing Board of Directors and provide leadership pipeline into our full Board.