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Boston Debate League

 566 Columbus Avenue
 Boston, MA 02118
[P] (857) 350-4274
[F] (857) 239-9559
Kimberly Perrella
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 Printable Profile (Summary / Full)
EIN 59-3789722

LAST UPDATED: 04/22/2019
Organization DBA --
Former Names --
Organization received a competitive grant from the Boston Foundation in the past five years Yes


Mission StatementMORE »

To integrate argumentation and competitive debate into public schools in Boston to develop critical thinkers ready for college, career, and engagement with the world around them.


Mission Statement

To integrate argumentation and competitive debate into public schools in Boston to develop critical thinkers ready for college, career, and engagement with the world around them.


FinancialsMORE »

Fiscal Year July 01, 2018 to June 30, 2019
Projected Income $1,913,300.00
Projected Expense $1,914,800.00

ProgramsMORE »

  • After-School Debate League
  • Evidence-Based Argumentation (EBA) Initiative

Revenue vs. Expense ($000s)

Expense Breakdown 2017 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2016 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2015 (%)

For more details regarding the organization's financial information, select the financial tab and review available comments.


Mission Statement

To integrate argumentation and competitive debate into public schools in Boston to develop critical thinkers ready for college, career, and engagement with the world around them.


Background Statement

“This activity and this league are meant to uplift youth thinking and youth voice. At the end of the day, debaters are walking away with a better understanding of what is going on in the world and a better understanding of how they can express themselves, using their voices.” -Boston Debate League Alum

Competitive academic debate has long served as a uniquely effective training ground for leaders in American society. Before the Boston Debate League (BDL) was founded in 2005, most students in Boston did not have access to debate and the transformational skills it cultivates. BDL’s mission is to integrate argumentation and competitive debate into Boston Public Schools (BPS) to develop critical thinkers ready for college, career, and engagement with the world around them. Its vision is an informed and inclusive Boston, led by youth voice. The organization serves young people in the classroom through its Evidence-Based Argumentation (EBA) initiative and during out-of-school-time with the After-School Debate League (ASDL).

Impact Statement

Over a decade into its work, BDL is at a key inflection point in its history. BDL has grown from a grassroots organization serving 25 students at just 3 schools to a 501(c)3 nonprofit that reached over 4,500 students, 350 teachers, 700 community volunteers, and 36 schools this past year. BDL is currently implementing a Strategic Plan to offer every BPS middle and high school student the opportunity to debate, while teachers regularly use argumentation as a learning tool in their classes. As it expands, BDL’s programming is upholding high expectations of rigor and engagement in BPS, helping teachers center the classroom on students, and offering young people a platform where their voices are heard and valued.

Together, BDL's After-School Debate League and Evidence-Based Argumentation initiative uphold high expectations of rigorous and engaged learning, in the classroom and after school, while offering youth a platform to express their intellect. ASDL creates space for young people to use their voices, dive into complex materials, express their opinions using evidence, and be heard and respected by adults in the community. EBA helps narrow the achievement gap by shifting the teaching paradigm and centering the classroom on student voice. BDL’s work also fosters civic engagement, youth leadership, and cultural competency. It gives diverse students a platform to use their voices, ask each other questions, and push one another’s thinking. Through these two independent and complementary lenses, BDL fosters academic skills, 21st century skills like critical thinking, and community engagement, which are pivotal to students’ success in college and their future careers.

Needs Statement

Many students who attend under-resourced school districts, mainly students of color, are largely unprepared for college and the workforce, especially compared to their peers in more affluent districts. In BPS, 30% of students do not graduate high school in four years, compared to only 13% statewide, and as low as 3% in wealthy suburbs like Lexington (MA DESE, 2017). Students who do graduate from high school are often unprepared for college, as BPS graduates commonly need up to two years of remedial classes before they can take college credit courses, and only 32% of all BPS graduates will go on to graduate from college (Boston Foundation, 2013).

Further, it has long been known that in the most effective classrooms, students talk more and teachers talk less. Research shows that teachers of students who are considered "high achieving" speak for 55% of class time, while teachers of students considered "low-performing" speak for up to 80% of class time, leaving little room for student discussion (Flanders, 1970). More recent research has also found evidence of this trend, showing that teachers in low-income areas spend more class time speaking than teachers in better-resourced districts (Lingard, Hayes & Mills, 2003). Despite this, even today, students are often expected to only speak in response to their teachers’ questions.

CEO Statement


Board Chair Statement


Geographic Area Served

In a specific U.S. city, cities, state(s) and/or region.

The Boston Debate League operates After-School Debate League teams and the Evidence-Based Argumentation school-wide initiative in middle and high schools across every neighborhood in the City of Boston.

Organization Categories

  1. Education - Secondary & High Schools
  2. Education - Elementary & Secondary Schools
  3. Public & Societal Benefit - Leadership Development

Independent research has been conducted on this organization's theory of change or on the effectiveness of this organization's program(s)



After-School Debate League

Hundreds of middle and high school students from across Boston debate a complex, real-world policy question each year through the After-School Debate League. The program served over 800 students at 41 middle and high schools during the 2017-2018 school year and is continuing to expand. During the 2018-2019 debate season, students will debate whether or not the U. S. government should reduce restrictions to legal immigration.

 Teams of two students face peers from other schools during 90-minute rounds. They engage with collegiate, non-fiction texts to craft arguments and respond to their opponents. Each debate team is coached by teachers in the school, practices twice weekly, and competes in six BDL tournaments from October to March. Students can also compete in up to seven regional and national tournaments. Local professionals, college students, former and current debaters, BDL alumni, and community members volunteer as tournament judges. To make debate accessible to students of all abilities, ASDL offers four increasingly rigorous divisions and Spanish-language debates.
Budget  --
Category  Education, General/Other Extracurricular Activities
Population Served Adolescents Only (13-19 years) Minorities Poor,Economically Disadvantaged,Indigent
Program Short-Term Success 
In the short term, we seek to continue increasing debate participation.  We will start by building infrastructure and capacity so we can get the dozen BPS schools who seek debate participation off our waiting list.  As we bring additional schools off the waiting list, student participation numbers will grow exponentially.  Success in the short term will include increased numbers of students participating in debate and in the BDL's ability to appropriately support this growth.
Program Long-Term Success 

The driving goal behind the Boston Debate League's work is that students who participate will demonstrate measurable gains in academic achievement, 21st century skills, and community engagement. Young people can draw on these skills as they strive to succeed in high school, college, and the workforce.

Program Success Monitored By 
The BDL regularly tracks participation numbers.  Additionally, the BDL engages third-party evaluators to do quantitative and qualitative assessments of its work.
Examples of Program Success 

Through debate, students develop their academic abilities, 21st century skills like critical thinking, and community engagement, which are pivotal to success in college and their future careers. ASDL creates space for young people to use their voices, dive into complex materials, express their opinions using evidence, and be heard and respected by adults in the community. It is an unparalleled academic experience, requiring communication and analytical skills beyond what students typically experience in the classroom, in a way that readily applies to future academic and career pursuits.

Debate leagues, like BDL, that serve students who live in metropolitan school districts improve educational equity by giving young people equal opportunity and access to debate. Debaters are 3.1 times more likely to graduate high school than non-debaters, 63% more likely to matriculate to college, and 80% more likely to graduate once they enroll (Anderson & Mezuk, 2012). An independent study found that BDL debaters perform significantly higher on indicators of college readiness than a matched comparison group, including growth (SGP) on standardized test performance, academic GPA, and attempting and passing advanced placement (AP) tests (Winkler & Fortner, 2014).

Evidence-Based Argumentation (EBA) Initiative

The innovative Evidence-Based Argumentation (EBA) initiative partners with entire schools to help teachers of all subjects educate and inspire students. It offers support, professional development, and activities that put student voice at the center of the classroom to increase academic rigor. This facilitates student-led, evidence-based, and discussion-focused learning. EBA reached 4,900 students and 350 teachers at 12 schools during the 2017-2018 school year and is continuing to engage new schools. Through EBA, students move beyond memorization of facts to a deeper understanding and application of content. For example, students do not memorize the names of American Civil War battles, but debate which was the key turning point of the war. Instead of independently completing worksheets, students explore real world algebra problems, then present and evaluate one another's mathematical arguments. Students listen to, challenge, and ask each other questions, as they support one another and take on the heavy lifting of their own learning.

EBA is designed to be a school’s core instructional approach for three years with a tiered model of BDL staff support. At first-year schools, every teacher receives at least 14 hours of school-wide professional development and four hours of individualized or small-group support. The first year is intentionally focused on building buy-in, which is essential to EBA’s success. In second- and third-year schools, teacher leaders begin to take on more of the work of promoting and developing the initiative at their school, necessitating less time and support from BDL staff. EBA offers Boston’s teachers new tools that help students build crucial skills for the future while learning required course content at a deep level

Budget  --
Category  Education, General/Other Curriculum Development
Population Served Adults US At-Risk Populations
Program Short-Term Success  EBA encourages learning out loud, in-depth dialogue, and critical thought. The initiative aims to increase academic rigor so students learn to engage in high-level academic discussion, and construct and analyze compelling claims founded on evidence. In the short-term, BDL aims to expand EBA within and beyond BPS to help teachers catalyze student-led learning.
Program Long-Term Success 

The driving goal behind the Boston Debate League's work is that students who participate will demonstrate measurable gains in academic achievement, 21st century skills, and community engagement. Young people can draw on these skills as they strive to succeed in high school, college, and the workforce.

Program Success Monitored By 

BDL is committed to rigorous evaluation of the inputs, outputs, and outcomes of its programs. To determine success, BDL systematically tracks and documents services provided, including teacher attendance at professional development sessions. Staff collects feedback through annual surveys of teachers and school administrators. EBA is further evaluated through a classroom observation protocol to evaluate teacher effectiveness and an in-class, authentic, writing-based assessment to better determine student progression in argumentation skills.

Examples of Program Success 

EBA requires intensive student engagement and a deep understanding of material. Students who are in schools where teachers regularly use EBA in their classrooms are routinely engaged and frequently practice key academic skills required to be successful in college. Students showed a 38% increase in argumentative writing skills over 2016-2017 school year, using a new in-class pilot assessment developed by teachers and EBA staff. On the end-of year teacher survey, over 94% of teachers agreed that when they use EBA, learning is student-centered, and students are engaged and demonstrate rigorous thought. Every teacher indicated that EBA helps students make and evaluate claims based on evidence. Over 93% of teachers reported that EBA is effective in helping students: meet Common Core State Standards, learn class content, understand complex texts, and improve their reading, writing, and oral language skills.

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments



CEO/Executive Director Mr. Mike Wasserman
CEO Term Start May 2016
CEO Email
CEO Experience

Mike Wasserman, Executive Director, joined the Boston Debate League in May of 2016. Mr. Wasserman most recently served as the Executive Director of Bottom Line in Massachusetts, where he worked in several leadership roles over the course of 10 years. During that time, he helped lead the effort to expand Bottom Line's programs, funding, and impact in Massachusetts, with a focus on the city of Boston. He is also the co-founder of the Marathon Coalition, a non-profit collaborative that helps hundreds of runners raise millions of dollars annually for local nonprofits by running the Boston Marathon. He has a BA from Brown University and an MBA in nonprofit management from Boston University.

He was a high school debater, a debate coach in the Providence Public Schools, and an early supporter of BDL. With his strength of vision and proven record of leadership, Mr. Wasserman will lead BDL through its Strategic Plan to bring debate to every BPS middle and high school student.

Co-CEO --
Co-CEO Term Start --
Co-CEO Email --
Co-CEO Experience --

Former CEOs and Terms

Name Start End
Mr. Steve Stein Jan 2006 Feb 2016

Senior Staff

Name Title Experience/Biography
Ms. Alicia Adamson Deputy Director Alicia Adamson serves as the Deputy Director of the Boston Debate League. She brings 10+ years of experience in nonprofit leadership, development, special events and marketing. Alicia is an authentic and passionate leader who galvanizes teams around a shared vision to achieve desired outcomes. She is committed to closing the opportunity gap for the next generation of leaders and empowering individuals to make an impact in their communities! Prior to joining the Boston Debate League, Alicia served as Senior Director at United Way of Mas Bay, successfully raising millions and transforming the philanthropic impact of donors. Prior to joining the nonprofit sector, Alicia worked in product and brand marketing roles for both Reebok International and Kaplan Test Prep & Admissions. For over a decade Alicia has inspired hundreds of young women from all walks of life while serving as founder emeritus of the National Black Women’s Society Inc. (Formally YBWS) and guest speaker at conferences, local schools and universities, nonprofits and churches. She currently serves as a member of the Mayor Walsh’s Women’s Commission. Alicia is a proud graduate of Simmons College School of Management, with a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Divinity at Gordon Conwell Seminary and writing a book due in 2016.
Ms. Kimberly Bartlett-Ra Director of Operations Kimberly joined the Boston Debate League as the Director of Operations in July 2015. In this role, Kimberly manages the human resources, finance, and IT functions of the organization. Previously, Kimberly was the founding Director of Operations at Brooke Charter School’s Mattapan campus for four years. Kimberly’s prior experience includes working at a small company in Chicago providing outdoor adventure and service summer programs for teenagers and working at a nonprofit social enterprise organization in San Francisco providing job training and job placement services to adults with mental health disabilities. Kimberly earned her Bachelor of Arts from Brown University and her Master of Business Administration from Yale University. Kimberly also completed two terms of service with AmeriCorps*NCCC in the Southeast Region.
Ms. Marisa Suescun Director of Programs Marisa is the Director of Programs at Boston Debate League.  Marisa spent 13 years working on behalf of public education equity through many avenues: she has taught students, trained teachers, coached youth leaders, facilitated organizations, and fostered community partnerships. She began her career teaching elementary school, as a member of the first cohort of NYC Teaching Fellows.  She completed the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs, and helped lead Coro’s Exploring Leadership program for NYC high school students. Most recently, Marisa worked with the T3 Initiative at Teach Plus in Boston, facilitating district and school partnerships in support of teacher leadership.


Award Awarding Organization Year
-- -- --


Affiliation Year
-- --
Member of state association of nonprofits? No
Name of state association --

External Assessments and Accreditations

External Assessment or Accreditation Year
-- --



CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments


Foundation Comments


Staff Information

Number of Full Time Staff 11
Number of Part Time Staff 0
Number of Volunteers 450
Number of Contract Staff 0
Staff Retention Rate % --

Staff Demographics

Ethnicity African American/Black: 4
Asian American/Pacific Islander: 0
Caucasian: 6
Hispanic/Latino: 0
Native American/American Indian: 0
Other: 1
Other (if specified): Mixed Race
Gender Female: 8
Male: 3
Not Specified 0

Plans & Policies

Organization has Fundraising Plan? Yes
Organization has Strategic Plan? Under Development
Years Strategic Plan Considers N/A
Management Succession Plan No
Business Continuity of Operations Plan No
Organization Policies And Procedures Yes
Nondiscrimination Policy Yes
Whistle Blower Policy Yes
Document Destruction Policy Yes
Directors and Officers Insurance Policy --
State Charitable Solicitations Permit No
State Registration --

Risk Management Provisions


Reporting and Evaluations

Management Reports to Board? Yes
CEO Formal Evaluation and Frequency Yes Annually
Senior Management Formal Evaluation and Frequency Yes Semi-Annually
Non Management Formal Evaluation and Frequency Yes Semi-Annually


Board Chair Ms. Stone Wiske
Board Chair Company Affiliation Retired; Harvard University Graduate School of Education
Board Chair Term Apr 2018 -
Board Co-Chair --
Board Co-Chair Company Affiliation --
Board Co-Chair Term -

Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
Kenneth Deveaux Santander Bank Voting
Nikheel Dhekne IBM Voting
Mary Dibinga Boston Latin Academy Voting
Alison Eggers Seyfarth Shaw LLP Voting
Elbert Hardeman Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Voting
John Isaacson Isaacson Miller Voting
Marisa Kelly Suffolk University Voting
Eva Mitchell City of Boston Voting
Matt Schnall Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP Voting
Dr. Iris Strammberger TALBOK Consulting LLC Voting
Stone Wiske Retired; Harvard University Graduate School of Education Voting

Constituent Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
-- -- --

Youth Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
-- -- --

Advisory Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
-- -- --

Board Demographics

Ethnicity African American/Black: 3
Asian American/Pacific Islander: 1
Caucasian: 6
Hispanic/Latino: 1
Native American/American Indian: 0
Other: 0
Other (if specified): --
Gender Female: 6
Male: 5
Not Specified 0

Board Information

Board Term Lengths 3
Board Term Limits 1
Board Meeting Attendance % 73%
Written Board Selection Criteria No
Written Conflict Of Interest Policy Yes
Percentage of Monetary Contributions 100%
Percentage of In-Kind Contributions 83%
Constituency Includes Client Representation No

Standing Committees

  • Board Governance

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments


Foundation Comments



Revenue vs. Expense ($000s)

Expense Breakdown 2017 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2016 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2015 (%)

Prior Three Years Total Revenue and Expense Totals

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Total Revenue $1,932,749 $2,214,758 $2,195,058
Total Expenses $2,419,431 $2,311,660 $2,104,013

Prior Three Years Revenue Sources

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Foundation and
Corporation Contributions
-- -- --
Government Contributions $631,500 $665,426 $548,059
    Federal -- -- --
    State -- -- --
    Local -- -- --
    Unspecified $631,500 $665,426 $548,059
Individual Contributions $1,178,836 $1,516,586 $1,638,910
Indirect Public Support -- -- --
Earned Revenue $34,711 $24,890 $6,117
Investment Income, Net of Losses $542 $300 $1,972
Membership Dues -- -- --
Special Events $86,739 -- --
Revenue In-Kind -- -- --
Other $421 $7,556 --

Prior Three Years Expense Allocations

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Program Expense $1,808,670 $1,605,722 $1,523,270
Administration Expense $427,568 $422,735 $262,938
Fundraising Expense $183,193 $283,203 $317,805
Payments to Affiliates -- -- --
Total Revenue/Total Expenses 0.80 0.96 1.04
Program Expense/Total Expenses 75% 69% 72%
Fundraising Expense/Contributed Revenue 10% 13% 15%

Prior Three Years Assets and Liabilities

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Total Assets $643,099 $1,171,737 $1,231,677
Current Assets $602,230 $1,148,949 $1,209,973
Long-Term Liabilities -- -- $0
Current Liabilities $39,296 $81,252 $44,290
Total Net Assets $603,803 $1,090,485 $1,187,387

Prior Three Years Top Three Funding Sources

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
1st (Source and Amount) -- --
-- --
-- --
2nd (Source and Amount) -- --
-- --
-- --
3rd (Source and Amount) -- --
-- --
-- --

Financial Planning

Endowment Value --
Spending Policy --
Percentage(If selected) --
Credit Line No
Reserve Fund Yes
How many months does reserve cover? --

Capital Campaign

Are you currently in a Capital Campaign? No
Capital Campaign Purpose --
Campaign Goal --
Capital Campaign Dates -
Capital Campaign Raised-to-Date Amount --
Capital Campaign Anticipated in Next 5 Years? --

Short Term Solvency

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Current Ratio: Current Assets/Current Liabilities 15.33 14.14 27.32

Long Term Solvency

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Long-term Liabilities/Total Assets 0% 0% 0%

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments


Foundation Comments

Financial summary data in the charts and graphs above are per the organization's IRS Form 990s.  Contributions from foundations and corporations are listed under individuals when the breakout was not available.
This organization switched from a calendar year to a fiscal year in 2009.  The 2009 documents only reflect half a year of operations. The 990s for 2009 (half year) and 2008 (full year) are posted for review.


Other Documents

No Other Documents currently available.


The Impact tab is a section on the Giving Common added in October 2013; as such the majority of nonprofits have not yet had the chance to complete this voluntary section. The purpose of the Impact section is to ask five deceptively simple questions that require reflection and promote communication about what really matters – results. The goal is to encourage strategic thinking about how a nonprofit will achieve its goals. The following Impact questions are being completed by nonprofits slowly, thoughtfully and at the right time for their respective organizations to ensure the most accurate information possible.

1. What is your organization aiming to accomplish?

BDL aims to increase access to debate, helping more students across the Greater Boston area improve their academic achievement, develop 21st century skills, and become more engaged citizens of the community. The ultimate goal of BDL’s work, is to offer debate as a platform to help young people achieve educational and personal success in high school, college, future careers, and their lives.

2. What are your strategies for making this happen?

BDL aspires to offer every middle and high school student in Boston Public Schools the opportunity to debate, while teachers regularly use argumentation as a learning tool in their classes. This will necessitate BDL staff providing high-level support to debate coaches and EBA teachers, debaters and students, while promoting high expectations of rigor and engagement for young people within and beyond the classroom. ASDL aims to engage more students at more schools in the activity of debate, after school and at weekend tournaments. EBA aims to promote more frequent use of EBA activities by teachers to foster increased student skill proficiency.

3. What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?

BDL has a staff of 14 full-time employees, with experience in education, philanthropy, youth development, operations, and debate, including BDL alumni. Executive Director Mike Wasserman brings 10 years of leadership experience at local youth nonprofits. BDL could not operate without the support of hundreds of volunteers from across the Boston community; last year alone, over 700 individuals gave more than 4,100 hours of their time, primarily as ASDL tournament judges.
Bringing a diversity of expertise, including debate, finance, and education, the Board of Directors sets BDL's policy and direction, and acts as fiduciary stewards. Kevin O'Laughlin, retired partner at KPMG and current adjunct professor at Boston College, was recently appointed Board Chair, following John Isaacson's transition to Board Chair, Emeritus.
The organization also partners with local corporations, universities, and student associations to engage volunteers and community members in its work. BDL could not operate without the hundreds of volunteers who support it each year through these important partnerships. Last year, over 715 individuals volunteered more than 4,100 hours of time to BDL, primarily as judges on tournament days, ensuring that all students who wanted to participate were able to do so. These partnerships also create opportunities for BPS students to connect with local college students and professionals who work in diverse fields and are involved in our community.

4. How will your organization know if you are making progress?

While the organization has used a number of evaluative tools and metrics over the past decade, during the 2016-2017 school year, the leadership team recognized a need to focus on core metrics of which the organization can take ownership and measure consistently and reliably. These key impact metrics will focus on the areas of: academic milestones, 21st century skills, and community engagement. Over the 2017-2018 year, staff will determine and refine the exact goals and measurement tools for each area of intended impact for students. BDL will gain a stronger understanding of its impact, using consistent key metrics.

5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

BDL has succeeded in large-scale growth, expanding from serving 25 students at just 3 schools in the 2005-2006 school year, to over 4,500 students, 350 teachers, 700 community volunteers, and 36 schools in 2016-2017. The organization has reached thousands of young people since its founding, BDL aims to continue to grow and offer every student in BPS the opportunity to debate, and to significantly expand EBA within the district so that more teachers receive targeted support in centering the classroom on student voice and discussion.