Blackstone Elementary fingered for turnaround
Superintendent Johnson points to 14 schools set for five-year overhaul
Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson announced Wednesday, Nov. 18, that the South End’s William Blackstone Elementary School and 13 other underperforming city schools have been identified for substantial turnaround as the district begins an aggressive five-year overhaul.
Touting a "new era" for Boston schools, Johnson said she seeks to bring drastic improvement to those 14 schools while raising academic expectations citywide, closing achievement gaps, and strengthening the district’s partnerships with local businesses, nonprofits, students, and parents. Administrators, she said, cannot continue to lead schools that they would not want their own children or grandchildren to attend.
"If our students in our schools are successful, then we have done our job well. If our students are not successful, then it is we who have failed," said Johnson before explaining an inclusive vision of Boston schools where no student is allowed to fall through the cracks. "What we must do from this day forward is to create schools where there are no haves and have-nots."
Johnson’s "Acceleration Agenda" was unveiled to the Boston School Committee and public at one of the underperforming schools, Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury. Two additional schools needing improvement-Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary and Henry Dearborn Middle School-lie in Roxbury, while one, Maurice Tobin K-8, is in nearby Mission Hill.
Schools were identified based on low MCAS scores in language arts and math as well as a lack of progress over the past six years. They will be expected to make a 10-point gain in composite MCAS scores by June 30, 2012.
The other nine lagging schools are Paul Dever Elementary, John Holland Elementary, William Monroe Trotter Elementary, and Harbor Middle School in Dorchester; Elihu Greenwood Elementary in Hyde Park; Odyssey High School in South Boston; Curtis Guild Elementary in East Boston; and John F. Kennedy Elementary and English High School in Jamaica Plain.
Johnson said the Acceleration Agenda brings a renewed, "unapologetic" focus on accountability-successful educators will be rewarded with new classroom investments, while teachers performing poorly will be dismissed.
"There is no place to hide," she asserted. "Accountability must exist everywhere, and everyone must be evaluated."
There are also plans to expedite the dispute resolution process.
Notably, the proposal emphasizes continued progress at the schools that are already excelling.
"Everyone, including Boston Latin, has room to grow," Johnson stated. Additionally, she said the overhaul-to be funded with federal dollars-addresses taxpayers’ demands for greater efficiency and higher returns.
Following a comprehensive, individualized study of each school, the district will consider four types of intervention: transformational change that builds on a school’s assets; comprehensive change with major staffing adjustments and new programs; a "fresh start" approach that would require all staff to re-apply for their jobs; and, as a last resort, closure with re-assignment of all students.
Mayor Thomas Menino was scheduled to speak in support of Johnson’s aggressive proposal but could not attend because of his recent knee injury.
Staffers read a statement on his behalf that backed the "rigorous, ambitious" plan to provide each of Boston’s more than 56,000 students (hailing from 40-plus countries) with a strong, well-rounded education.
"Putting public education first is vital to the health and vibrancy of our city, and the most important thing I can do as mayor," he wrote.
Menino noted that while some Boston schools have received regional and national recognition, there are schools on the other end of the spectrum that demand creative solutions, accountability, flexibility, and radical changes that could be off-putting to some Boston residents.
"To these people, I say time has run out. We can no longer wait to take action," read his statement.
Johnson chose 2005 Boston Public Schools graduate Reggie Alouidor as a symbol of the success she hopes all city students will one day achieve. Alouidor, now a senior at Northeastern University, has been accepted into a graduate studies program and landed a job with PricewaterhouseCooper.
"I felt very confident in my ability to learn and to grow," he said, recalling his years at Boston Latin. "It is my hope that all Boston public school students get the education that I was able to gain."
The Boston School Committee will vote on the Acceleration Agenda next month, with changes scheduled to be in effect by next fall. Johnson added that work is already being done to evaluate inadequate schools and identify key problems.
The William Blackstone Elementary School community is invited to meet at the school on Monday, Dec. 7, for an informational session from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Letters were mailed to parents on Nov. 16 to notify them of the school’s status and plans for turnaround.
The school committee will also hold public feedback forums on Dec. 2 and 16 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at 26 Court Street.
"The school committee wishes to convey and make it known to all of you that it is very, very important for us to receive your feedback," said Boston School Committee Chair Rev. Gregory Groover before hearing two-minute comments from 20 pre-registered residents on Wednesday night.
To reserve time to speak at a feedback forum, call the Boston School Committee at 617.635.9014 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.