Sharing best practices between Boston schools creates lasting relationships

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Fall of 2010, the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester collaborated with its neighbor, the Harbor Pilot Middle School, another Boston public school. This collaboration focused on the training and intensive professional development of teachers, and effective school management practices. Staff members of the Neighborhood House Charter School visited their neighbor on a weekly basis, while teachers from the Harbor Pilot Middle School frequently returned the visits. This three-year collegial cooperation created a lasting partnership, which helped the Harbor Pilot Middle School achieve a veritable turn around.

“It’s been really, really terrific,” said Kate Scott, Executive Director of the Neighborhood House Charter School. “It has deepened our ties and our relationship with the district and I am really inspired by the work that is going on in the district and the really hard work of the teachers every day.”

Now, through the Boston Compact, an alliance between different school sectors in Boston, the Neighborhood House Charter School is building new relationships with two schools in Mattapan, the Charles H. Taylor Elementary School and the Mildred Avenue K-8 School, to work on improving test scores and closing achievement gaps.

“I think it is always helpful when kids from different schools come together and learn from one another. It really does create a larger community of Boston,” said Ross Wilson, the Assistant Superintendent for Human Capital at Boston Public Schools.

The Boston Compact is a partnership formed in September 2011 between the Boston Public Schools and the Boston Charter Alliance. In the spring of 2012, it expanded to include Catholic Schools in the city. The program gives educators a place to come together for the good of all students in the city of Boston.

Prior to the compact, there was a lot of animosity between regular public schools and charter schools, according to Rachel Weinstein, Chief Collaboration Officer for the Boston Compact. Creating the compact provided a space for people to converse and learn more about charter and district schools. Best practices, rather than competition, became the focal point.

“I think a lot of our success is really quiet,” said Weinstein. “Like the fact that you don’t have different sectors angry at one another or making their comments publicly, because, instead, they pick up the phones and talk to each other to work things out. It’s an constructive diversion, which is big.”

Right now, the Boston Compact has two triads that include a BPS district school, a charter school, and a catholic school. There are also other partnerships that exist outside the Boston Compact that formed either beforehand or on their own.

Dominic Slowey, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, believes that the Boston Compact was a way to instigate discussion about best practices, and also about how schools can collaborate on purchasing and providing direct services to special needs kids. Now, the charter schools work together to align their start and end times for the school day to accommodate district transportation, making transportation more cost effective. According to Slowey, the district saved $2 million dollars in transportation costs last year.

“When I hear back from the school leaders and even the teachers that I interact with, there is sharing back and forth and there are things that are being learned from each other,” said Slowey who believes it is not just a one-way street. “I like to think of it as a charter brain dump to the district but it’s a two-way conversation and there’s a lot of interaction going on.”

For example, according to Cara Candal, an education and research writer who is also on the City on the Hill’s Board, which has two locations in Roxbury and one in New Bedford, Mass., the network of schools were having a problem retaining their students. One of the things they wanted to improve was to pinpoint early warning indicators before students dropped out. By reaching out to a local public school to learn how to identify problem cases, they were able develop an effective system. The system helped them identify children prone to dropping out as early as 6 months ahead of time, and also helped them develop approaches to prevent students from quitting.

Jenna Ogundipe, chief academic officer at Boston Collegiate Charter School, said, “No school has everything figured out and so the more that we can take the roof off of our school buildings and expand what a professional learning community is for our staff and for our kids, our kids will benefit.”

One thing is clear: children benefit when adults talk and learn from one another.