JP Kids: State: Kennedy School is on right track

HYDE SQ.—The John F. Kennedy Elementary School at 7 Bolster St. is moving in the right direction, as it was recently named an improving school by the state Department of Education.

Principal Waleska Landing-Rivera credits teachers, parents and a social and emotional program called “Open Circle” for the improvement.

The Kennedy School was designated a Level 4 school by the state in March 2010. The state ranks schools from Level 1 (highest performing) to Level 5 (lowest performing). Level 4 is one step away from receivership.

The state recently moved the Kennedy School to Level 3. From 2009 to 2013, the school’s MCAS English proficiency doubled from 21 percent to 42 percent. The number of Hispanic/Latino students reaching the proficiency level almost tripled. During the same period, proficiency rates in mathematics jumped 30 points, from 23 percent to 53 percent.

Landing-Rivera said part of the school’s improvement is attributed to “Open Circle,” a program that is run through a partnership between the school and Wellesley College. She said the program encourages students to talk, especially about concerns that they have. The program has lessons about bullying and how to build routines. Landing-Rivera described one lesson in which a student learns to smell a flower when angry.

Students realize “they have something to say” and know that their “voices are being heard,” said Landing-Rivera.

“It’s wonderful for the students to reflect,” she added.

Landing-Rivera took the reins of the Kennedy School in the summer of 2010 when the school was undergoing changes, including the ushering in of many new teachers. She said the teachers “really wanted to be part of the change” and that they worked long hours, including weekends, to make that happen.

The principal said one of the biggest challenges she faced upon her arrival was bringing “the community together” and letting the parents know that “we are here.” She said the school was able to do that through getting to know the parents through home visits, making them feel comfortable at the school and having a parent council.

“If parents know what you are doing, they will want to help,” she said.

Landing-Rivera said the Kennedy School added more adult education classes for the parents, which in turn allowed them to better help their children.

She said there is “still a lot of work to do” and that her and the staff will continue to look at the data and fine-tune the curriculum.

“We know we can make the change,” said Landing-Rivera.

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