First, came a tragedy. In 1980, Andrew Warren Lurie, a Brookline High School graduate in his freshman year at the University of Chicago, died of an infection at school.
Years later, his parents, Bob and Syrul Lurie, came to Bob Weintraub, the headmaster of the high school, and explained that they wanted to create a memorial space at the high school in Andrew’s honor. They offered to pay to construct and furnish a beautiful library — named for Andrew — in School Within a School (SWS), which Andrew had attended.
The question was: could a public school use private money to do this kind of project? The Luries and Weintraub cited endowments for public colleges and universities as examples of spending private money for public institutions. The superintendent of schools, James Walsh, and the school committee supported the idea.
The Andrew Lurie Library exists to this day. And the project had an added effect: it sparked an idea. Weintraub recalls Andrew’s father, the late Bob Lurie, saying, “You know, if we can raise money for a room, we can probably raise private money for other stuff you need, Bob.”
A team from BHS visited the Boston Latin School and spoke with the headmaster, Mike Contompasis, and the school’s very sophisticated development team. Boston Latin actively solicited and cultivated their alumni — which included some very prominent and generous folks — and had built a multi-million dollar endowment. The Brookline team left Boston Latin saying, “We can do this.”
As this idea was germinating, two renowned senior teachers at the high school – Margaret Metzger and Gayle Davis — approached Weintraub to tell him that they were nearing retirement, and felt a need to create ways for seasoned staff to ease the entry for newcomers. Long story short, the plan for “Teachers Mentoring Teachers” was born. The teachers would be released from one of their classes so they could devote time to developing and running it, and their professional lives would be enriched. It wouldn’t be very expensive. Weintraub figured it would cost around $25,000. But that was money he didn’t have.
So he spoke with Bob Lurie and another prominent BHS grad and Brookline citizen, Arthur Segel, and a team began to coalesce around a goal — starting a private, non-profit foundation to support innovation at the high school. The Brookline Education Foundation already existed and was widely beloved for the awards and recognition it gave teachers — but its grants tended to be small.
“This was a very different idea,” Weintraub says. “This was to do big stuff, in the spirit of Brookline’s innovative history.”
“Local Solutions to National Education Challenges” became the mantra that defined the project. Brookline High would address important educational problems and develop compelling programs that, if validated, could be disseminated nationally. “Through this foundation, we can improve public education and simultaneously polish the mystique of Brookline High,” Weintraub argued.
After copious work by Lurie, Segel, and others, the Brookline High 21st Century Fund was launched with a gala in December 1998 at the home of a team member. The launch featured a star-studded list of speakers who graduated from Brookline High, including Mike Wallace, Mike Dukakis, Conan O’Brien, and Bob Kraft. More than 50 donors attended and kicked in $10,000 each. With $550,000 in hand, the “BHS 21st Century Fund” was born.
The Fund didn’t have much structure at the beginning, Weintraub says; it tended to generate ideas informally, focusing on problems and how to solve them. Teachers Mentoring Teachers was the first program and proof of concept. It was evaluated and validated, research conducted on the program was published in prominent national educational journals, and the program leaders — Margaret Metzger and Gayle Davis — presented to school systems across the country. Both Metzger and Davis acknowledged that their engagement with the program prolonged their careers at Brookline High by many years.
The Fund — now known as The BHS Innovation Fund — is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It has created 15 programs, including the nationally significant African-American and Latino Scholars Program, the Social Justice Leadership Program, and BHS Tutorial.
The Tutorial Program, which has also received national recognition, began with a research project. Weintraub saw that the only academic support/tutoring available at The High School was through the special education program. The “experiment” removed 40 students — the experimental group — from the special education Learning Centers and placed them with regular classroom teachers for tutoring. Forty other students — the control group — with similar academic profiles remained in the Learning Centers. The format for the services was the same — five students met with a tutor every day for one class period. Data was gathered over two years.
The results demonstrated that for students with mild learning issues, tutoring with regular classroom teachers — math, social studies, world languages, and science — was more successful in terms of academic data. Students in The Tutorial Program also reported feeling better about going into a mainstream classroom than a special education classroom.
For teachers, the program provided some professional variation, working with a small group of students in a different way, once a day. And for parents, it offered tutoring that they could not afford otherwise. Good for students; good for teachers; and good for parents.
In 2017, the Fund’s name was changed to the Brookline High School Innovation Fund, to more accurately reflect its mission. As it celebrates its 20-year anniversary, this mission continues to be not only relevant, but also paramount in supporting Brookline High School students as they enter today’s world.