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Twelve Underperforming Schools To Be 'Shaken-Up' in Boston

Bill Schechter Comment on Blue Mass Group:

Ho-hum. It was the usual one-two punch in the Globe today.

James Vaznis reported on the Boston superintendent's announcement that 12 'underperforming' Boston schools will be shaken-up. Boston superintendent Carol Johnson announced that five principals will be replaced and the staff at six of the schools at the schools will be forced to reapply for their jobs.

Mr. Vaznis asked everyone for a comment (well, almost everyone). Ms. Johnson has a quotation. The Governor expresses his concerns. Mayor Menino gets his say-so. A superintendent voices his fond hope for some of that RTT money. Even union president Richard Stutman gets a word in.

Once again, not a single, solitary teacher-only the group most effected by this shake-up-is asked for a comment or thought. To do so might give the impression, mirabile dictu, that they can actually think. How do they feel about having to reapply for their jobs, mostly in the absence of any evaluations? What is their response when the Boston superintendent says teachers are going to have to "recommit themselves"? One would think these are natural questions for a reporter to ask.

By not asking them and having only Mr. Stutman respond, Mr. Vaznis reinforces the perception that the world of education can be best explained via the "determined reformer/selfish union" dichotomy. This is the prescription lens being ground for us and placed before our eyes. The reader walks away without any sense of how the people in the trenches (including the fired principals) feel about this action or how they explain the students' low performance. This is a great example of how journalism can be deficient despite the absence of any reportorial error. It's all about omission. The mental world of the Globe is populated only by those who occupy high positions of responsibility. Important people. Like them.

Question: if a significant number of reporters at the Globe were going to reassigned or let go because of poor performance, would the reporter covering that story think to ask any of them for their thoughts? You would kind of think so.

A related editorial is the right-cross that is supposed to send us to the canvas. In a piece entitled, "Menino's Circle of Change," the Globe editors help us reach the correct conclusion about the Boston school shake-up, just in case the story didn't do the job. In a tone dripping with the usual condescension-honestly, I would treat my dog with more respect-the editors announce they are beginning to see evidence that Menino just might have a vision for his fifth term. The evidence is the shake-up and the mayor's willingness to deliver on another Globe passion: more charter schools for Boston. Mayor Menino must be feeling terrific to have earned that pat on the head. Nothing like a doggy treat in the morning to get the day off to a great start.

I want to end with an incisive reader comment in Globe today. The reader suggests that Superintendent Johnson lead by example and go into one of those "Scarlet F" schools and show the teachers how it is done. Great idea.

ps: By the way, is Larry Harmon still writing those nameless/faceless/Voice of God omnipotent education editorials? Please note he has also now been given op ed real estate to write on other issues. But, sigh, there is still no room for critics at the inn! Actually there is less room them ever, because Globe staff have so much to express.

Reader Comment: Here's a lead-pipe cinch guarantee. Instead of replacing the teachers and principals, if the students who attend Weston High School or those who attend Acton-Boxboro Regional were moved into the Jeremiah Burke and vice-versa--with no changes in teachers--Burke would be a high-performing school and Weston or A-B would be on the defecate list. . . .

Reader Comment: Are these the same schools that have trouble attracting any quality teachers? Now it will be even more difficult. What teacher with choices of career path would want to go into that environment knowing their predecessors took the blame for the failure of society to provide any sort of meaningful opportunities for these kids or their parents. At the collapse of the Western world order the damned will blame each other but the problem is national not local. Empty stores on Newbury Street show the decay at the top and foreclosed houses in suburbia the decay in the middle but the lack of buyers and jobs is the result of foreign trade.

Dramatic shake-up planned at 12 Boston public schools
Staff at 6 must reapply; 5 principals to be removed

By James Vaznis, Globe Staff

Boston school officials announced yesterday that staff at six schools will have to reapply for their jobs and five principals will be replaced after the schools were listed among nearly three dozen statewide that will probably be declared âunderperformingââ and subject to drastic change.

Overall, 12 Boston schools face being listed as underperforming, slightly more than a third of the 35 schools statewide. The list includes the Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester, long considered a barometer of Mayor Thomas M. Meninoâs effectiveness in improving the cityâs schools over the past 16 years.

The stateâs action was the first under a two-month-old law requiring dramatic changes to overhaul the stateâs lowest-performing schools. Superintendents will have three years to turn around these schools or face a state takeover.

In announcing the shake-up, Superintendent Carol R. Johnson said the schools must have top-notch staffs to successfully turn them around. She emphasized that staff members are not being fired and that employees not rehired could find work at other district schools.

âWe feel itâs important for teachers to recommit themselves to the tough work ahead,ââ she said at a press conference at the Holland Elementary School in Dorchester, which was on the stateâs list.

Johnsonâs swift move drew the immediate ire of the teachers union, which accused her of trying to âevictââ hard-working teachers and said it is exploring legal action.

But with the fate of 17,000 students at risk in the 35 targeted schools, state education officials said yesterday that radical change is imperative and needs to come swiftly. The students are overwhelmingly poor and of disadvantaged ethnic and racial groups.

âIâm worried about the kids,ââ Governor Deval Patrick said. âIâm worried about the kids being left behind. Iâm worried about the kids getting the resources they need.ââ

Massachusetts could receive an infusion of $250 million from the federal government to help these schools and others. The US Department of Education announced yesterday that the state is among more than a dozen that will advance to the final round of President Obamaâs Race to the Top competition, which will reward states that aggressively fix failing schools and expand independently run charter schools.

The list of underperforming schools is preliminary because the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has not yet approved regulations to execute provisions of the new state law. The board is expected to vote on those regulations later this month. The state released the list early because superintendents expressed eagerness to get started.

The schools are considered to be the worst of the worst, culled from a pool of roughly 370 schools, the bottom 20 percent of the stateâs 1,846 schools, based on persistently low test scores. In developing the preliminary list, state education officials also weighed other factors, such as a schoolâs failure to meet federal education standards under the No Child Left Behind law.

âThese are schools where results are unacceptably low,ââ Mitchell Chester, state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said of the newly identified schools. âKids are not being well served in these schools.ââ

Much of the effort to improve will probably conform to one of four intervention models developed by the Obama administration, and each includes striking actions, ranging from replacing principals and at least half of the entire school staff to having a charter school operator run the school. The most severe action calls for shutting down a school and transferring students to high-performing schools.

Superintendents will appoint committees of stakeholders, such as parents and teachers, for each school to develop the most appropriate overhaul strategy, which will then require state approval.

But Boston is hoping to take advantage of a provision of the new law that allows for an expedited process for school districts that are already pursuing sweeping changes. In November, Johnson unveiled a list of 14 schools she wants to overhaul. Ten of those schools appear on the list released yesterday.

In addition to those, the state also identified an elementary school in Jamaica Plain and Burke, where Menino famously urged residents in 1996 to âjudge me harshlyââ if the cityâs schools did not improve.

Yesterday, Menino defended his record.

âFor the most part, I think weâve done a good job,ââ Menino said at the press conference, but added, âBut we are not satisfied. Thereâs a lot more to be done.ââ

Staff at Burke, Trotter Elementary, Blackstone Elementary, Dever Elementary, Harbor Middle, and Orchard Gardens K-8 schools will have to reapply. Getting new principals will be Harbor, Orchard Gardens, Blackstone, Dever, and John F. Kennedy Elementary schools.

Richard Stutman, the teachers union president, questioned how Johnson and her principals would decide which teachers should be rehired at the affected schools when few teachers receive job reviews. A report last week found that almost half the cityâs teachers have not been evaluated in at least two years, prompting Johnson to announce her intent to remedy the lapse.

âWe are going to look at that precise issue legally,ââ Stutman said. âYou will have people forced out of a building without evaluations. You also have discredited principals in some cases making decisions without showing one iota of paperwork.ââ

Johnson said her departmentâs human resources office has already stepped up efforts to evaluate teachers in the schools slated for overhauls.

Under the new state law, administrators must prove âgood causeââ to fire staff members in underperforming schools. That makes it likely that, in schools where teachers must reapply for their jobs, those not rehired will shift to other schools.

Many superintendents in the affected districts welcomed the designations, even though it could bring negative attention to the schools. That is because it comes with a trade-off: a possible $500,000 federal grant, independent of the Race to the Top money, to fund each schoolâs improvement plan.

Springfield has the second largest share, 10 schools, on the stateâs preliminary list of 35 underperforming schools. Nine have already been the subject of intense improvement efforts that began last year.

âItâs an unprecedented opportunity,ââ said Alan Ingram, Springfieldâs superintendent. âIt will give us additional resources and support to accelerate improvement and to build on some of the work weâve already done.ââ

Michael Levenson and Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

— James Vaznis, comment by Bill Schechter
Boston Globe and Blue Mass Group


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