Teachers union school to replace Young Achievers

December 5, 2008
By

DAVID TABER

YA to move to Mattapan

WOODBOURNE—The Young Achievers Science and Mathematics Pilot School serving students grades K-8 will move to Mattapan at the end of the school year and be replaced by a new K-8 pilot school run by the Boston Teachers Union (BTU).

The new BTU school will be managed and run by its faculty. “It will be something like an academic department in a university, with faculty deciding about instruction practices and hiring and things,” said Erik Berg, a Boston Public Schools (BPS) teacher and JP resident who sits on the new school’s organizing committee.

JP’s International High School on Glen Road will be moving to Dorchester.

The moves come as part of Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson’s Pathways to Excellence system-wide reorganization plan.

Founded in 1995, Young Achievers was among the first pilot schools in Boston. Its replacement at the old Parkman School site at 25 Walk Hill St. might be the first teacher’s union-run school in the US, said BTU president Richard Stutman.

Hello BTU

Pilot schools function within BPS, but have autonomous control over governance, cur-riculum, staffing and scheduling, among other things.

That autonomy means, among other things, that pilot schools are not governed by union contracts. The relationship between the BTU and pilot school advocates has been conten-tious. The union secured the opportunity to run its own pilot in the most recent round of contract negotiations.

One goal of the new school is to combat the perception that, “Good teachers are not good union members and good union members are not good teachers,” said Berg.

Berg teaches at the Philbrick Elementary School in Roslindale and said he does not have plans to work at the new school.

Stutman, who is also on the new school’s organizing committee, said the faculty at the BTU school will not have to adhere to union rules. Rather, along with managing the school, the faculty will be “in charge of working conditions.”

The only exception to that is the BTU plans for teachers to be paid for every hour they work, he said.

Stutman famously blocked the conversion of an Allston school into a pilot in 2004, despite a vote by teachers to convert, because he opposed BPS not paying overtime.

In the same round of contract negotiations that created the BTU school, BPS agreed to cap the number of uncompensated hours teachers in pilot schools could be forced to work at around 100 a year.

While the union is interested in showing that “paying people fairly and running a school well are not mutually exclusive,” the new school also has a distinctive academic vision, Stutman said.

In a memorandum posted on the BPS web site, the school is called the Union School for the Liberal Arts. The school’s official name is the BTU Pilot School, BPS spokesperson Chris Horan told the Gazette, but a liberal arts education is an important part of its mission.

It plans to “offer a well-rounded curriculum including foreign languages, music, art, physical education and geography. We are not going to ignore subject areas that are not tested,” Stutman said.

Berg said the school will offer rigorous instruction in English language arts and math—two areas where students are required to pass Massachusetts Comprehensive Assess-ment System (MCAS) tests to advance through the school system and graduate.

But, he said, “The joy of teaching and learning comes from other areas, too.”

Teachers’ control of the curriculum will insure that it is a strong program, he said. “Too often things get done to teachers…At the BTU school we will make sure teachers’ voices are heard.”

According to the BPS memorandum, one or two “lead teachers,” who will split their time between administrative and teaching duties, will oversee day-to-day operations at the school. A governance board, potentially comprised of staff, administration, commu-nity representatives, families, and students will make planning and policy decisions.

Curriculum and instruction decisions will be made by the faculty senate. That group, made up of the entire faculty, will meet every two weeks and will also approve hiring decisions made by a sub-committee of the governance board. The senate will also form sub-committees to oversee discipline, long-term planning, operations, fundraising, public relations and professional growth, the memo says.

The school will open next year offering kindergarten and first-, second- and sixth-grade classes, and add classes each year to accommodate its advancing students until it is a full K-8 school.

Organizers hope to attract about 140 students in its first year and serve around 350 when it is running at all grade levels.

Berg said it is unlikely the new school will follow Young Achievers’ lead in renting space across the street from the Parkman School in the St. Andrew the Apostle Church complex. As the Gazette previously reported, other buildings on that site cur-rently provide a temporary home for the MATCH charter school, an independent middle school chartered by the state Department of Education.

Pilot schools were originally formulated as a city-run alternative to charter schools.

Goodbye Young Achievers

Young Achievers—founded in 1995—has resided in JP since 1999. The move to the current site of the Lewenberg Middle School on Outlook Road in Mattapan will mean the school could more than double its student body from 350 to 800 students, according to a BPS press release.

While the school will be jumping neighborhoods, it will only be moving a mile away from its current location, and it will continue a longstanding tradition of utilizing local resources in its curriculum.

“We will be able to walk to the Boston Nature Center from the school. We intend to continue that program…We won’t be as close to the [Arnold] arboretum,” Chalmers said.

Coming in an era of fiscal austerity, the Pathways to Excellence plan includes some belt-tightening, including a reduction in spending for bus transportation. Its new location in Mattapan is just over the district border in the East Zone, so Young Achievers will go from being a citywide school to an East Zone district school.

Chalmers said that the “change will not be apparent right away,” because students who are currently enrolled at Young Achievers will be allowed to graduate. Younger siblings will also be allowed the option to enter the school until their older siblings graduate.

The plan also calls for the International High School, which serves students who are new to the country, to move from 125 Glen Road to a facility in Dorchester. Inter-national High now serves 171 students but plans to expand to 300 by 2012, Horan told the Gazette.

Citywide, the plan includes the creation 6,000 new seats for kindergarten through 8th grade and 2,000 new pilot school seats, according to a BPS press release. Five schools will be closed, none of them in JP.

BPS recently announced the beginning of its 2009-2010 school choice process. Stu-dents and parents can find out more about the BTU pilot school and other new scholas-tic opportunities at www.bostonpublicschools.org/pathways.