City of Somerville

How can a city government articulate a vision for student success and establish a coordinated, community-wide effort to raise the necessary resources to achieve such a vision?


As a small- to medium-sized city long recognized for its innovative approach to government, Somerville was named in 2006 by The Boston Globe as “the best-run city in Massachusetts.” Still, Somerville faces challenges comparable to those of larger cities, particularly around how to improve educational achievement across a diverse student population with a wide array of socio-economic backgrounds and wide range of past academic performance. Sixty-nine percent of Somerville Public Schools (SPS) students qualify for free or reduced lunch, almost twice the state average. Fifty-one percent of SPS students have a first language other than English, approximately three times the state average.

To better enable SPS students to reach their full potential, the City of Somerville began exploring how it could leverage its strong, dynamic leadership to raise the appropriate additional resources to continue improving the educational outcomes of its children and youth. The city knew that achieving better outcomes universally requires the effective engagement of families and community partners, and the development of family-student supports to strengthen what the schools are already providing. While conversations around how to accomplish this had already begun, the city lacked clarity on how best to galvanize resources to support the success of all students in a consistent and sustainable manner.

Project Overview

As an objective third party, Root Cause was able to build on existing work while bringing in perspectives from other communities. Our consultants provided guidance to the City of Somerville and SPS on how to support a community-wide effort, and developed a plan for a clear path forward. First, through the SomerPromise initiative, consultants worked with the City and SPS to develop a Framework for Student Success, defining key desired outcomes along the continuum from early childhood to college and career. Then, consultants clarified the overall vision and purpose of SomerPromise to focus the initiative on shifting behavior and aligning resources across sectors to address the components of the Framework. Through this process, SomerPromise articulated its commitment to advancing evidence-based strategies at the interface of home, school, and community that complement and go beyond what schools are able to do on their own. To prepare SomerPromise to raise resources for this effort, consultants determined the optimal organizational structure and defined key priority areas on which to concentrate first.

Root Cause developed a summary document for SomerPromise to publicize and help generate interest in the initiative. To estimate the size of the donor market for such an effort, consultants conducted research on giving potential in Somerville and researched similar education-related funds in other Massachusetts cities and towns. Consultants also developed briefs that provide more detail on specific priority areas of SomerPromise, as well as a comprehensive summary of SomerPromise’s organizational structure and overall strategy.

Throughout the project, consultants were able to work closely with key stakeholders in both the city and school district—including but not limited to Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone and Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi—and ensure that their perspectives were represented.


As a result of this work, completed in September 2013, SomerPromise is now well positioned to raise resources to support improved educational outcomes for the city’s students. Mayor Curtatone and Superintendent Pierantozzi have approved the initiative and SomerPromise leadership has begun to generate interest and support.

Relevant expertise and smart problem solving tools.


School Readiness

This report includes an overview of the social issue, an investment recommendation, information on the return on investment, and ways to take further action. READ MORE

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