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An East Boston elementary school has been awarded a $100,000 prize for overall gains students have made in state standardized tests. The Donald McKay elementary school leaders received the award from the nonprofit group Edvestors Wednesday morning.
Principal Jordan Weymer said that 95 percent of students at McKay speak a language other than English at home. Many of their families are immigrants.
“This award shines a bright spotlight on the incredible academic success of students who sometimes feel they need to live in the shadows," said principal Jordan Weymer. "This is their reward. It is proof that when provided with the loving, respectful, supportive environment, all children can succeed.”
Weymer has been principal of the MacKay for the last six years. He said this award will have a big effect on the students, staff and community. "It just goes against everything that's been said in terms of the labels that are thrown around."
In his acceptance speech, Wymer spoke about last January — following several measures the Trump administration took to crack down on illegal immigration. Mayor Marty Walsh said that Boston City Hall would be a "safe space" for anyone who feared deportation. Weymer said he followed the mayor's lead, offering up his own office as a safe haven for families.
"It's about making sure that they feel respected and safe and loved and welcomed. And that's been the biggest thing that we've done. When that happens, when students feel that way, they can overcome many obstacles," Weymer said.
It's hard to compare MCAS scores over the last six years, because of changes in the test. Edvestors noted that the school overall has surpassed the district average in literacy and math MCAS scores. The school was also in the bottom 6 percent of schools statewide six years ago, and the state categorized it as a Level 1 school in 2016.
"What's important about this morning and this prize is that it shines a spotlight on the tremendous work and the dedicated effort over multiple years that leads schools to this level on behalf of every student that they serve," said interim Superintendent Laura Perille, who used to lead Edvestors. Perille said that McKay undertook "an enormous effort to personalize learning and to respond to the needs of their unique school community."
The two runners up for the big prize — the Oliver Hazard Perry K-8 School in South Boston and the Muriel S. Snowden International High School in the Back Bay — each received $20,000. That prize was doubled this year as a result of an anonymous donation.
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