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Robert Irwin Sperber Papers

Identifier: P-976

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains documents pertaining to Dr. Robert I. Sperber’s fifty-year career in education, including his years as Superintendent of Brookline Public Schools and at Boston University as Special Assistant to the Dean of the School of Education, Professor of Education, and Special Assistant to the President on Urban Public Schools. Records describing his efforts in developing and implementing education reform in curriculum as well as community involvement in public education are shown in the numerous professional and personal documents in this collection. These include correspondence, academic and administrative documents, conference materials, speeches, writings, minutes, proposals, and reports from the many committees and projects Robert Sperber was a member of, as well as the many organizations that he dealt with over the years to bring positive changes to public education.


  • undated, 1952-2010


Language of Materials

The collection is in English.

Access Restrictions

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Use Restrictions

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Biographical Note

Robert Irwin Sperber was born on June 15, 1929, to Jacob and Alice Schwartz Sperber in New York. He received his B.A. in History from Western Reserve University in 1951, followed by his Masters of Arts in Childhood Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and his Education Doctorate in General Administration from the same university in 1957. Sperber married Edith Winter, a kindergarten teacher, in 1958. They had three children: Matthew, Laurence, and Beth. Edith died in 2012.

Dr. Sperber began his career in education in 1952. In that year, and again from 1954-1956, Sperber taught third, fifth, and eighth grade in Levittown, New York, as well as served as a consultant for foundations and universities, focusing on moral education, school health, teacher education, collaboration, personnel, and community relations. From 1956-1961, Sperber was the Administrative Assistant for the Superintendent of Schools in Plainview, New York, and Westfield, New Jersey.

In 1961, Sperber and his family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when he accepted the job of Assistant Superintendent of Personnel for the school system. While in this position, Sperber was responsible for recruiting new teachers. In the midst of the Civil Rights movement in the United States, Sperber desegregated the teaching staff of the Pittsburgh school system under a “conscious preferment” policy to increase the number of African-American teachers in the schools. The community was divided over the decision of the school board, with some community members applauding the school system’s efforts, while others were hostile to the policy. Sperber received a number of letters, both positive and negative, as well as anti-Semitic and hate propaganda, in response to his policy.

In 1964, Sperber accepted the position of Superintendent of Schools for Brookline, Massachusetts. In this role, he hired personnel, created programs, implemented curriculum, and equalized educational opportunities so children from the less affluent schools received the same level of education and resources as those from schools with more resources. More funds were put into instruction and staffing at schools with fewer resources.

Beginning in 1964, Sperber met with various community members in a collaboration that ultimately resulted in the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) inter-district busing program. METCO provided the opportunity for students in Boston to attend suburban school systems.

Sperber also founded the Brookline Early Education Project (BEEP) in 1975, which provided educational, social and medical services to pregnant women. One-third of the 285 families recruited for the project were from the Heath Bromley Housing Project. When these children turned five years old, they were enrolled in Brookline Public Schools through the METCO program. BEEP was heavily evaluated; children were tested in Kindergarten, and second grade and again 25 years later. All studies indicated that early intervention and high quality services made significant impacts on a child’s academic success.

Also during 1975, in a culmination of meetings and collaborations with Margot Strom and William Parsons, the resource book “Facing History and Ourselves” was published by Strom and Parsons. The resource guide provided lesson plans and resources for teachers interested in educating their students about the Holocaust. The goal of the collaboration was to create and organization that would work with teachers on developing curricula about the Holocaust. Sperber served on the Board for many years, assisting Strom and Parsons with fundraising and helping build the organization.

While at Brookline, Sperber was also a statewide coordinator for Vote No on Prop 2 ½, which in 1980 was passed by ballot measure and went into law in 1982. Prop 2 ½ limits property tax increases in Massachusetts by 2.5%.

Sperber also taught courses in administration at Harvard University Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and the International Education Seminar Programs in conjunction with the HGSE, during his tenure as Superintendent in Brookline.

In 1982, Sperber retired as Superintendent and began his twenty-year career at Boston University (BU), first as a Special Assistant for Urban Education to President John Silber, and later as a professor of Urban Education. While at BU, Sperber served as co-director of the Boston Leadership Academy (BLA), a project that helped train Boston school personnel in leadership and management roles. In addition, he represented Boston University on the Board of Directors for the Massachusetts Pre-Engineering Program (MassPEP); supervised the Boston High School Scholars Program, a program that provides four-year scholarships for Boston high school graduates to attend BU; and was a member of the management team for the BU/Chelsea Project, coordinating field work training for students, fundraising, teaching, planning for new school buildings, and hiring new administrators for the Chelsea Public School. He retired from BU in 2002.

In addition to his work at BU, Sperber was also the Executive Director of the Boston Higher Education Partnership (BHEP) from 1982 to 1998. A consortium of 28 colleges and universities, BHEP sought to improve the Boston Public Schools through providing grants and scholarships, and collaborating on efforts with a variety of public school committees, the Private Industry Council Education Committee, the Higher Education Information Center Advisory Committee, the ACCESS Advisory and Trustee committees, and the Compact Work Group. The Compact Work Group, which developed out of the Boston Compact, was charged with implementing the Compact’s goals to ultimately increase access to high performing schools.

On October 17, 1998, the Brookline Education Center was renamed the Robert I. Sperber Curriculum Center. The Brookline Foundation also established an award in Sperber’s name, the Robert I. Sperber Fund for Educational Leadership, to be awarded annually to a member of administrative personnel.

List of Acronyms

  1. AASA—American Association of School Administrators
  2. BEEP—Brookline Early Education Project
  3. BHEP—Boston Higher Education Partnership
  4. BLA—Boston Leadership Academy
  5. BPS—Boston Public Schools
  6. BU—Boston University
  7. HGSE—Harvard University Graduate School of Education
  8. MassPEP—Massachusetts Pre-Engineering Program
  9. MCAS—Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System
  10. METCO—Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity
  11. SBM/SDM—School Based Management/Shared Decision Making
  12. SLSA—Student Loan Servicing Alliance


  1. Materials from the collection.


June 15, 1929
Robert Irwin Sperber born to Jacob and Alice Schwartz Sperber.
Receives a B.A. from Western Reserve University.
Receives an Early Childhood Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and works as an eighth grade teacher in Levittown, New York.
Serves in the United States Army.
Returns to teaching grade school in Levittown.
Receives Ed.D in General Administration from Teachers College, Columbia University.
Administrative Assistant and intern in Westfield, New Jersey.
Marries Edith Winter.
Administrative Assistant, Plainview New York.
Lecturer, School of Education at New York University
Assistant Superintendent of Schools for Personnel, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Lecturer, Carnegie Institute of Technology.
Superintendent of Brookline Public Schools.
Vice Chairman, Southern Division Schools, United Fund.
Member, Commission on Jewish Education of Reform Judaism.
Chairman, Professional Advisory Board of METCO.
Member, Board of Trustees, New School for Children, Roxbury, Massachusetts.
Member, Committee for Community Educational Development.
Founder and Member, Education Collaborative of Greater Boston (October). Member, Teacher Certification and Preparation Study Commission of Massachusetts Advisory Council on Education.
Member and Secretary, Education Development Commission, Massachusetts State Department of Education.
Lecturer, Administrative Institute: “Issues and Challenges for Public Education and the School Administrator”- State College at Westfield, MA.
Member of the Massachusetts Advisory Council on Education, Committee on Early Education. Member, Task Force on Training of the Governor’s Commission on Elderly Affairs.
Lecturer, Harvard University Graduate School of Education.
Special Assistant to the President, Boston University.
Executive Director, Boston Higher Education Partnership.
Member, Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education.
Coordinator, Boston High School Scholars Program at Boston University.
Co-Founder and Member ACCESS Board of Trustees and Advisory Committee.
Chair, Boston University Planning Committee for Boston Latin School 350th Anniversary.
Member, Fenway Retention Consortium.
Member, Boston Public Schools Dropout Prevention Committee.
Member, Chairman’s Advisory Panel on Holocaust Education of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
Member, Executive Committee for the Higher Education Information Center.
Member, Selection Committee Kahn Career Entry Scholarships, Boston University School for the Arts.
Member, Boston Compact Steering Committee.
Testified before the Boston City Council on Behalf of Boston Higher Education Partnership on the governance of the Boston Public Schools.
Member, Council for Fair School Finance.
Member, School Based Management/Shared Decision Making Steering Committee.
Member, Boston/Chelsea Urban Team.
Member, Management Team Boston University/Chelsea Public Schools Project.
Member, Steering Committee Brookline Civic Association.
Planning Committee for Chapter I Change Institute.
Member, Boston Public Schools Panel on Tracking and Retention.
Member, Board of Overseers Mount Ida College.
Panelist, Kennedy Library Forums, Boston, “The Public’s Responsibility on Public Education.
Teacher/Coordinator, Seminar for Boston University, School of Education, Graduate students serving as administrative interns at Chelsea Public Schools.
Member, Boston Public High School Curriculum Advisory Committee; Chelsea Education Advisory Committee; Education Committee/Black Jewish Encounter.
Member, Boston Public Schools Commission on Excellence and Equity; Harcourt Brace-Initiative for Better Learning Advisory Committee; Harcourt General Fund for Educators.
Speaker, visitors from Tokyo Gakugei At University, Boston University, “The American Education System”; “An Agenda for Urban Education in the Nineties” Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Member, Steering Committee on School Based Management, Boston Teacher’s Union, and Boston Public Schools; Brookline Development Advisory Board.
Member, Advisory Committee for Boston Public School Center for Leadership Development.
Vice Chair, Critical Friends.
Member, Boston Public Schools Promotion Policy Task Force.
Awardee, Brookline Foundation Award.
Guest Presenter, Boston University School of Education, “The History of the American Superintendency.”
Chairman, Massachusetts Pre-Engineering Program (MassPEP).
Guest Presenter, Boston University School of Education, “BU-Chelsea Partnership: Its History and Implications”; Harvard University Graduate School of Education, “The Boston Higher Education Partnership: History, Accomplishments, Evaluation.”
Member, Search Committee to select a new president for Roxbury Community College.


31 linear feet (28 manuscript boxes, 1 oversized box)


Dr. Robert Irwin Sperber is an educator, former superintendent of Brookline Public Schools, professor and administrator at Boston University School of Education. He was responsible for pioneering and implementing a variety of programs, including Brookline Early Education Program (BEEP), the the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) inter-district busing program, and Facing History and Ourselves. This collection contains curriculum, speeches, meeting minutes, handbooks, administrative documents, correspondence, financial records, reports and planning documents spanning Dr. Sperber’s fifty-year career in education.

Physical Location

Located in Boston, Mass.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Dr. Robert Sperber in July 2013.

Related Material

Bureau of Jewish Education (Boston, Mass.) Records, I-497 and I-120

Processing Information

Processed by Stephanie Call and Kelsey Sawyer, 2014
Guide to the Robert Irwin Sperber Papers, P-976
Processed by Stephanie Call and Kelsey Sawyer
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society Repository

99-101 Newbury Street
Boston MA 02116 United States