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Interested in adopting a school? Businesses might have to wait

At the John Winthrop Elementary School, volunteer mentor Rob Lyons of Natixis worked Wednesday with student Angel Laboy.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

It was the highlight of the speech, the moment the room went quiet.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh gave an emotional plea to hundreds of business leaders gathered at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce event that September morning, urging them to adopt one of the city’s public schools.

Two young students from the John Winthrop Elementary School added to the poignancy, joining Walsh on stage to share how a financial company’s business sponsorship at their school had changed their lives.

But eight months have passed, and the city’s business community is still waiting for the program to emerge from the city’s bureaucracy. Local officials say they remain hopeful a formal adopt-a-school program will be launched by the time the bell rings at the start of the next school year in September.


“We think we’re on a good trajectory,” said John Barros, Walsh’s economic development chief.

John Sgroi (left) of Natixis partnered with student Ariana Betances at the Winthrop School.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

But city officials also say they want to ensure the program is done correctly and doesn’t interfere with existing school-business partnerships.

If the program doesn’t get started in time, it won’t be because of a lack of interest among employers. More than 30 people attended a meeting that Walsh and Superintendent of Schools Tommy Chang held at the Parkman House in December to express their interest, and about 10 companies are eager to be matched with a local school, according to the school department.

Greater Boston Chamber chief executive Jim Rooney said school officials appeared “a little less focused” on the program over the winter, particularly as they wrestled with budget cuts and racial tension at the Boston Latin School.

That seems to be changing. School officials and business leaders gathered last week at the school department’s headquarters to discuss how to best proceed with the school adoption program.

And then, on Wednesday, a formal invitation went out by e-mail to interested employers, asking them to signal whether they are committed to moving forward with a school match.


Jonathan Sproul, director of school-community partnerships for Boston’s school system, said officials are in the process of identifying the first round of schools that would be candidates to participate. “There’s a lot of potential,” Sproul says, “and we really want to get this right.”

John Hailer, chief executive at Natixis Global Asset Management, can’t help but wonder what’s taking so long. After all, it was his company’s sponsorship of the John Winthrop School that was featured in Walsh’s speech last September. This program is now in its fourth year, and Hailer said his team has refined the model over time and kept it flexible to meet the school’s changing needs.

Natixis provides some financial support, and individual employees give money, too. But the assistance is much broader than check writing. Employees donate their time, visiting the school frequently, and acting as mentors.

“It’s had a huge impact on the culture of the company,” Hailer said. “I think people [can] complicate things. This is pretty straightforward and simple. We have a template that we can get to other companies.”

Officials at the chamber and Boston Public Schools say they are drawing from the Natixis-John Winthrop partnership. But they’re also looking at what other companies have done in Boston — and in other cities.

In recent years, that list has included property insurer Liberty Mutual’s assistance to Charlestown High School and Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ partnerships with Boston Green Academy and Excel High School.


Vertex spokeswoman Dawn Kalmar said her company reached an agreement in 2012 with the city’s school department to establish three-year partnerships with the schools. As that term comes to an end, the arrangements are now being reviewed. Kalmar said the company hopes to expand its reach within the school system, although the nature of that future commitment hasn’t been decided.

For example, Kalmar said Vertex works with high school students throughout the system by bringing them to the “learning lab” established at the company’s waterfront headquarters where students and teachers can work alongside Vertex scientists.

“We are looking to help develop the science leaders of the future,” Kalmar said. “We’ve got a better sense now of what works and what the programs are that are the most effective.”

General Electric, too, is looking to get involved with Boston’s schools as the company prepares to move its headquarters to Boston. GE has already committed $25 million to the school system over five years, and city officials say the struggling Madison Park Technical Vocational High School will be one beneficiary.

A GE spokesman said no official decisions have been made about how this aid will be allocated.

Across Boston, business leaders say they see an adopt-a-school program as a camaraderie builder — and an important recruiting tool.

“We’re in a moment in which this type of an idea can achieve success,” said Rooney, the chamber’s chief executive. “As more millennials are entering the workforce, part of their criteria for selecting where they work is the degree of civic involvement. They want companies that do these kinds of things.”


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.