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Turnaround status for two Boston high schools

Level 4 status triggers intervention for Brighton, S. Boston Excel high schools

Jule Pattison-Gordon

Two Boston high schools that fell to Level 4 status this year are slated for major staffing changes. On Friday, Feb. 3, about 90 percent of teachers and staff at Brighton High School and Excel High School in South Boston were slated to receive dismissal notices, according to reports. Only custodians and cafeteria workers were guaranteed to be kept on for the next year. As of Mar. 1, about 110 teachers will be asked to reapply for their positions, states the Herald.

The two schools are up for reevaluation in 2020. If they cannot demonstrate sufficient improvement by that point, they could be put into state receivership.

Tenured teachers will be retained as Boston Public Schools employees, regardless of whether they are rehired by their original schools, Dan O’Brien, BPS press secretary, told Wicked Local.

Excel fails to meet targets

In the 2014-2015 school year, Excel High School’s 550-member student body was 38.4 percent black, 23.3 percent Hispanic and 13.6 percent white, according to BPS data. Nearly 86 percent of students were identified as low income; about a quarter were in special educatio; and nearly a quarter were English language learners.

A school’s level ranking is based on graduation rates and standardized test scores. Excel did not meet or exceed targets for reducing achievement gaps in any subject, according to BPS data.

In a December letter sent to Tommy Chang, BPS superintendent advising on turnaround plan development, a local stakeholder group praised the supportive environment at the school and recommended retaining teachers where possible. In the letter, the group said one of Excel’s strengths is an inclusive atmosphere characterized by emotional support, classroom organization, instructional support and teacher sensitivity. Another mark in Excel’s favor: positive faculty-student relationships.

“A deep concern raised by the LSG [local stakeholder group] was the loss of this positive asset as an unintended consequence of the timing of the Turnaround Plan,” letter states. The group referred to an understanding that teachers may be “excessed” on Feb. 1, should a turnaround plan not be finalized by that point. They said they were concerned such an action could cause disruption to students and loss of knowledgeable and devoted faculty.

“If this occurs, the LSG worries that some of the most expert and committed teachers who currently are part of the faculty will leave because of the uncertain nature of the jobs that might exist within the turnaround environment,” the stakeholder group wrote.

The group’s recommendations included partnering with University of Massachusetts Boston and Boston Innovation District firms to advance design, science, entrepreneurship, technology and arts education; creating a schoolwide project that examines civic engagement, history, race and segregation; increasing opportunities for student leadership and student voice to be heard; expanding elective and extracurricular offerings; and granting teachers more decision-making power and planning time. Other recommendations aimed to increase parent involvement and community engagement and improve school site resources, such as fully-functional technology.

Stakeholders also noted that many students are assigned to Excel, rather than choosing to join it. As such, they recommended a grade 9 orientation that includes a focus on building morale and school pride.

Brighton High: dropping enrollment, rising need

In school year 2014-2015, Brighton High enrolled 989 students of whom 45.8 percent were black, 43.7 percent Hispanic, 5.6 percent white and 3.2 percent Asian. About 88 percent of students were low-income, 20 percent special education and 39.7 percent English Language Learners.

Among challenges, said the local stakeholders in a letter to Chang, is a drop in funding due to declining enrollments. Although the overall enrollment reduced, students’ needs increased, they said.

“Brighton High School’s capacity to improve is tied to critical systemic factors within the district. District systems that have had negative impacts on the school include a student assignment policy driven by the limited number of truly comprehensive, ‘open to all’ BPS high schools, coupled with significant enrollment declines, including at Brighton High School,” they wrote. “These have produced a drop in funding even as the intensity and amount of students’ needs continue to grow.”

Local stakeholders said improving teaching and learning practices and student experience at Brighton High were the top focus. They recommended a turnaround plan that bolsters academic supports through measures such as enhancing professional development, improving teacher-student relationships, providing better access to computers and other technology, offering multiple graduation pathways and more rigorous academic opportunities, better prioritizing of time uses and more resources for the school.

The letter also included recommendations for socioemotional supports, such as increasing family engagement and adding psychology and social work staff, and strengthening school culture through steps such as encouraging student leadership and improving the facilities.

Reduced funding for 49 schools

District-wide, about 49 schools are allocated less funding in Fiscal Year 2018 than they received in FY2017, according to BPS budget information analyzed by Kristin Johnson, member of the Citywide Parent Council. Among the schools receiving a lower budget is the Mattahunt, which is being reconfigured from an elementary school into an early education center.

The largest projected funding declines are at McCormack Middle School (about a 21 percent reduction), Timilty Middle School (about a 19 percent reduction), and Tynan Elementary and Dever Elementary schools (each receiving about an 18 percent reduction). These tie to projected enrollment declines of 21 percent, 18 percent, 30 percent and 22 percent, respectively, according to the budget information. In nearly all cases reflected in this data, funding decreases were paired with enrollment decreases.

Brighton High is receiving a 13.35 percent lower budget while Excel High is due to receive a 4.32 percent increase.