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An anonymous donor has pledged $9 million to Buckingham Browne & Nichols School, a 109-year-old independent school in Cambridge, Mass.

The gift, $5 million donated outright and $4 million in the form of a fund-raising "challenge,'' is believed to be among the largest gifts ever to an independent school.

The $5 million portion of the gift is to go toward construction of an "all-school center'' that would house athletic facilities, space for schoolwide gatherings, a student center, additional meeting rooms and classrooms, and parking facilities.

Marjo Talbott, the school's assistant head, would only identify the donor as "a family very connected to the school for a long time.''

Buckingham Browne & Nichols, created by the 1974 merger of two long-established schools, is New England's largest independent day school. It enrolls 930 students in preschool through grade 12.

As part of a long-range needs-assessment plan, the school has set a $40 million fund-raising goal to be reached by the end of the decade. The money is to be used to raise faculty salaries and increase professional development and financial aid, Ms. Talbott said.

Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., recently received a $5 million gift, which the school said is the largest single gift from a living alumnus in the school's 215-year history.

The Oscar Tang family of New York pledged the gift, $2.5 million of which will help revitalize a section of campus formerly known as Abbot Academy, a girls' boarding school that merged with the prestigious all-male Phillips in 1973.

Another $1.5 million will pay for a state-of-the-art theater, and $1 million will support professional-development programs for faculty members.

Mr. Tang, the president of an investment management-services firm, made the donation in honor of his late wife, Frances, a 1957 graduate of Abbot.

A recent report from the Institute of Urban Life at Loyola University of Chicago identifies approaches and resources that leaders of nonpublic, neighborhood-based schools can use to improve and empower their institutions that serve low-income students.

The report, "Mainstreaming the Urban Poor: Enabling Non-Public Schools to Survive in Inner-City Neighborhoods,'' pinpoints nine indicators of viability for such schools. It also found that private schools that survive in poor areas have tended to have a network of volunteers and a flow of money stemming from a religious connection, such as a sponsoring parish or an "urban linkage'' with another parish or congregation.

Copies of the 47-page report are available for $5 each from the Institute of Urban Life, 1 East Superior St., Suite 311, Chicago, Ill. 60611; (312) 787-7525.--M.L.

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