Boston Unveils Five-Year School Restructuring Plan

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Boston's public schools are in for a shakeup. Superintendent Carol Johnson has laid out a five-year timetable for bringing the whole district up to par.

"What we must do from this day forward is to create a community of schools where there are no 'haves' and 'have-nots.' Where achievement and access gaps are a thing of the past," Johnson said as she released the draft plan at a School Committee meeting Wednesday night.

Specifically, the "Acceleration Agenda," as Johnson calls it, targets 14 failing schools. The message: Shape up, or else.

Most of the schools are in Roxbury and Dorchester, in clusters of poor neighborhoods, and it's a mix of elementary schools, middle schools and high schools.

Three of them are pilot schools, the Boston invention that was supposed to be the district's answer to charter schools, allowing the principals more autonomy and easing teachers' work rules.

Johnson unveiled the proposal at Orchard Gardens Elementary and Middle School in Roxbury, a pilot school in a brand new building. But they have had a lot of problems at the school and it is one of the so-called "turn-around" schools.

The two other pilot schools on the list were Harbor Middle School in Dorchester and English High School in Jamaica Plain.

Elementary schools on the list were Curtis Guild in East Boston, Elihu Greenwood in Hyde Park, John F. Kennedy in Jamaica Plain, John P. Holland in Dorchester, Paul A. Dever in Dorchester, Ralph Waldo Emerson in Roxbury, William Blackstone in the South End and William Monroe Trotter in Dorchester.

Maurice J. Tobin K-8 and Henry L. Dearborn Middle School in Roxbury as well as Odyssey High School in South Boston are also being targeted.

Johnson's plan was not very detailed. It was more of a motivational speech, with more urgency than in previous presentations to the School Committee. Basically, they will have a number of interventions for both minor and major overhauls and something called "fresh start," which is completely reinventing a school — closing it down and making all the teachers reapply for their jobs.

"There are no places to hide," Johnson said. "Accountability must exist everywhere. And everyone must be evaluated on whether our students succeed."

She said she will redesign the teacher performance process, assist principals in evaluating teachers and expedite dispute resolutions. She is banking on getting some concessions from the union, but she is also hoping that some legislation at the State House will give districts the ability to override some elements of union contracts.


Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman said he would cooperate, but he said this would not result in teachers at struggling schools losing their jobs.

"The current contract, the current law, says that those teachers can go somewhere else and thrive," Stutman said. "It may be in a different school, but they go somewhere else and that's what I believe will come out of the state Legislature. So she probably will not have the right to do anything such as close a school and dismiss the teachers on the spot."

Interestingly, there didn't appear to be any parents from the targeted schools at the meeting, but there were parents from schools that have already gone through a similar "turnaround" process, and they spoke about that experience in such glowing terms that it made some audience members wonder if they were planted there.

The proposal is still a draft plan. The School Committee has to vote on it, likely next month. In the meantime, there will be meetings between school and union officials and public hearings where parents and students will get a chance to weigh in.

This program aired on November 19, 2009.


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