Just five years ago, Mildred Avenue K-8 School in Mattapan was one of the worst performing schools in the Boston Public School system and ranked in the lowest percentile of public schools statewide. When the school was in peril of being placed under state control, district and school leaders and the teachers union — often seen as unlikely allies — teamed up to make changes.
Fast forward to today, and Mildred Ave. is classified as a Level 1 school, the state’s highest ranking, and was recently awarded 2017’s “School on the Move” Prize from EdVestors. The award recognizes the often unsung work of rapidly improving schools and elevates lessons learned for dissemination to the rest of the Boston Public Schools and beyond. In just four years, Mildred Ave. transformed school climate, reduced student suspensions significantly, accelerated student learning growth, and improved ELA and math achievement by 15 and 22 points, respectively. They didn’t just raise test scores – they built a nurturing environment and expanded learning opportunities for all students.
What changed so quickly here? The school employed a rarely-used approach in the Boston Teachers Union contract that allows the superintendent to request a joint labor/management intervention process for an underperforming school. The foundation is increased autonomy at the school level in exchange for a commitment, informed by data and driven by frontline educators, to make bold changes on behalf of students. What is unique about this approach – when applied under the right conditions – is that reform is not done “to” the school but rather “by” the school community with a core group of strong teachers leading the work.