Two local schools to get special treatment


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Caprice Taylor Mendez, executive director of the Boston Parent Organizing Network (BPON) based in JP, as well as BPON parents Valentina Hernandez and Rosa Fernandez, both JP residents, are all smiles after the Boston School Committee voted on March 21 to put 15 more Family and Community Outreach Coordinators in Boston schools next school year.

The Agassiz and Curley schools in Jamaica Plain will become what is being called “Superintendent’s Schools,” with greater autonomy from many district and union regulations, beginning at the start of next school year. Changes include a longer school day and new salary incentives for faculty, and come as part of the new contract between Boston Public Schools (BPS) and the Boston Teachers Union (BTU).

According to BPS spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo, conversations between BPS and BTU exposed the desire for more control over schools in specific performance categories as a means of improving some schools’ programs. Initially, the $10 million initiative targets either low- or under-performing schools with the greatest risk of state intervention. The program may be offered to other schools in the future.

“I want to stress that the designation as a Superintendent’s School is not punitive,” said BPS Superintendent Michael Contompasis in a press release. “Rather, it is an opportunity to be bold, to enact many of the promising reforms that have shown progress elsewhere,” he said, referring to the pilot and charter school structures already used in some schools throughout the city.

The new school structures at the Agassiz Elementary School on Child Street and the Curley K-8 School on Centre Street, will include the creation of a full-time Family and Community Outreach Coordinator at each school; a class size reduction of two students; salary incentives for attracting and retaining outstanding teachers and an extra hour of instruction each day. It also grants the principal the power to fill 75 percent of all staffing vacancies at the school using his or her own sole discretion.

Teachers who do not wish to continue to work at the affected schools can request a transfer to another school.

“It’s great that BPS almost doubled the number of Family and Community Outreach Coordinators,” said Caprice Taylor Mendez, director of Boston Parent Organizing Network (BPON) based in JP. “This means schools will have the added resource of parents to reduce the achievement gap in schools.”

“Without the coordinator there is very easily a communication breakdown,” she said. Parents don’t know how to support the school or the child because they are not getting adequate information.”

Taylor Mendez said during school budget hearings prior to setting the budget, community members, parents and BPON advocated for more coordinators.

“It’s a big win,” she said. “We thank BPS for listening to its constituents.”

A new Step-Up program to be included at the schools is also still in the midst of negotiations. This is also known as the mayor’s “surround care” program. Five local universities coordinate with the schools to provide services related to the university’s expertise. This could mean something like Tufts University offering dental services, Palumbo said.

“It’s not necessarily on the academic level,” said Palumbo. “It’s more, ‘How can we support the students outside of the classroom.’”

Nine schools citywide were chosen to become Superintendent’s Schools beginning this fall, based on annual BPS reviews of each school. Up to 20 total may become Superintendent’s Schools within the next few years. State and federal measures—such as the MCAS tests taken by all public school students in Massachusetts, or requirements legislated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act— determine how well students at a school are performing.

Representatives of the BTU approved the contract two weeks ago. The Boston School Committee voted unanimously to approve the contract last week.

The recommended $782 million package for the next school year would create seven new pilot schools, launch new teacher development and peer assistance programs, increase salaries and a share in employee health insurance premiums; and 15 additional family and community outreach coordinators.

In addition, the package is asking for a $12.9 million supplementary budget to pay retroactive pay releases. The proposal now has to be heard and voted on by the city council.

Representatives of the BTU and Agassiz School did not return Gazette phone calls for this article. A spokesperson for the Curley School could not be contacted.

“I think for the most part this is being embraced,” said Palumbo, “because a lot of folks are excited about the charter schools because of the extra flexibility. We’re trying to mimic that, at least a little bit.”

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