Local pilot school excels

December 14, 2007
By

DAVID TABER

Greater Egleston Community High School (GECHS) is a cut above the average Boston Public Schools (BPS) high schools, according to a study recently released by the Boston-based Center for Collaborative Education (CCE).

The four-year study of 10 BPS pilot high schools found that they have better MCAS scores, higher attendance rates and higher advancement rates than their more traditional counterparts. The English High School in JP, which this year became a Commonwealth Pilot School, subject to oversight by the state Department of Education was not included in the study.

The study did not compare the schools on a school-by-school basis, but rather examined the performance of students in pilot schools versus students in traditional schools, said CCE researcher Roseanne Tung.

Founded as a US Department of Labor demonstration project in 1992, GECHS serves “overage students between the ages of 16 and 21 who are on the verge of dropping out or have dropped out,” said GECHS Headmaster Julie Coles. Just over 100 students are currently enrolled in the school, which shares a building with the Egleston Square YMCA at 3134 Washington St.

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) data that, under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, tracks the progress of most schools is not available for GECHS. But according to another report, released last month by the private consulting firm the Parthenon Group, 93 percent of all BPS dropouts are off-track from graduating by at least two years. According to information about GECHS on the BPS web site (www.boston.k12.ma.us), the high school has about a 65 percent graduation rate. Another CCE study from 2003 reported that 50 percent of GECHS graduates were enrolled in post-secondary education one year after graduation.

Professional development and accommodating diverse learning styles are two main tenets of GECHS’s mission, and Cole said autonomy and “freedom to look outside the box” is a huge part of what makes the school work. “There is a lot more going on that doesn’t get captured [in statistics],” she said.

The study also found that four-year graduation rates at pilot schools are 23 percent higher than at BPS schools as a whole. Since Greater Egleston is not a four-year school, it was excluded from that category, said CCE Executive Director Dan French.

BPS Superintendent Carol Johnson, who hosted one of a series of Graduation For All community forums at The English High School, Nov. 27, told the Gazette she found the data in the CCE study “very compelling.”

She said she plans to “talk to [pilot school headmasters] further to find out what has been working.”

She is interested in using lessons from the pilot schools and from others to improve high schools system-wide, she said.

“We have some great schools that are not pilots,” Johnson said.

The goal, she said, is to make sure “access to the best programs is available for all kids.”

Cole echoed this sentiment. While “the numbers speak for themselves,” regarding pilot schools, she said, “I haven’t heard from every single traditional high school about models they use. I would love it if the system could have us all sit down together.”

By the CCE study’s own admission, BPS pilot schools have “proportionally fewer students designated as Limited English Proficiency and fewer students with moderate to sever special needs,” two categories of students with high drop-out rates that were the main focus at the Graduation For All forums.

The English High forum was one of four held throughout the city in November and December offering those involved with the school system and concerned community members the opportunity to share ideas and develop strategies to increase graduation rates.

The forums were the first step in following up on the 10-month Parthenon Group study that “provided unprecedented data about BPS students who have dropped out,” according to BPS press materials.

According to the report, 75 percent of all BPS dropouts fall into four categories. They are late-entrant English language Learners (ELLs); substantially separated special needs students; students who are over-age, fail multiple courses, or are absent more than 20 percent of the time in eighth grade; and students who fail multiple core courses in ninth grade. Core courses include English, math, science and history.

Sixty-one percent of students who drop out are male. Fifty-five percent, including 54 percent of ELLs, are African-American, 29 percent are Hispanic, 12 percent are white and 4 percent are Asian, according to the study.

The Parthenon study also notes that there are only about 1,000 seats throughout the system in diploma-granting alternative education programs, including those at GECHS. There are about 3,000 students ages 16 and up who are not on track to graduate by their eighteenth birthday and would qualify for such programs, the study says.

Many of the ideas expressed in at least one of the small group brainstorming sessions at the Graduation For All forum mirrored concepts being implemented at Greater Egleston High. Offering vocational training and giving students the opportunity to earn credit through internships, for example, were both discussed.

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