Boston – Four new schools were approved to become Pilot Schools by the Boston School Committee last night, including Another Course to College, Samuel W. Mason Elementary School, North Zone Early Learning Center, and Joseph Lee Elementary School. These four schools recently received funding from the Boston Foundation to explore their conversion to pilot school, and will be invited to apply for additional grants to help them cover their start-up and implementation costs. This makes a total of 19 pilot schools that will be operating in September, up from 13 this past year and only 11 two years ago, out of a total of 134 schools.
“We are grateful that our Pilot School Initiative has been able to stimulate a number of these schools to think along new lines,” said Paul Grogan, President of the Boston Foundation. “Now, with approximately 9% of the overall enrollment of students will be attending pilot schools in the Fall, there is an opportunity to take the pilot school model to scale, to provide coaching and professional development to new pilot schools, help link pilot schools with community resources, and conduct research on the impact and most effective practices of these schools.”
When the Boston Foundation launched its pilot school initiative last Fall, it anticipated that five to seven schools would request planning grants. However, representatives from more than 30 schools attended a preliminary informational meeting. As Janet Palmer Owens, Principal of the Samuel W. Mason Elementary School in Roxbury, one of the newly approved pilot schools, observed, “The support from the Boston Foundation provided us with the resources to conduct a serious exploration of the pilot school model. Now, as we move forward, we are looking at our options to enhance our college and university collaborations as an urban lab-type school. I can’t imagine how this would have happened without their leadership.”
The Boston Foundation has long given priority to systemic reform of the Boston public schools because the vast majority of the city’s low-income and minority youth attend these schools. Pilot schools are seen as a promising new reform of the public system, incorporating many best practices with regard to governance, involving parents and community partners, and management of the school day. Specifically, they are free from many of the rules and regulations that govern regular district schools, with considerable autonomy over governance, scheduling, budget, curriculum and hiring. Because pilot schools are a part of the system, they are a reform that can be taken to scale, and they have attracted both teachers and students who would not otherwise teach in or attend the Boston school system.
“Based on our experience of working with public schools over the years, we believe that they need more independence from central controls and regulations to function optimally in an increasingly demanding and competitive environment,” Grogan said. “We hope that pilot schools will be another important way to stimulate better practices and give Boston parents, students, faculties and school administrators a wide range of options so that every student can be successful.”
In partnership with the Center for Collaborative Education, a renowned Boston-based education reform group, the Boston Foundation will continue to provide training on the development and management of effective pilot school status as part of the Foundation’s ongoing Pilot School Initiative. Experienced facilitators, as well as current pilot practitioners, work with each school’s team on how to manage the autonomies that are inherent in the pilot school structure. In addition, there are additional schools currently working on conversion plans and may be voting on pilot school status in the Fall.
According to a recent report from the Boston Foundation and MassINC, Mapping School Choice in Massachusetts, while school choice options exist for many students in Massachusetts, lower-income and minority students are under-represented in alternate schooling options. Pilot and charter schools provide choice for these families, and they provide constructive, competitive pressure on local school systems to adapt and improve. As the report made clear, there is an enormous unmet demand for these options throughout the Commonwealth.
To meet this competitive pressure, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, school Superintendent Thomas Payzant, and Boston public school teachers have implemented new programs. Payzant recently acknowledged the new competitive mind-set when he said: “We can’t in any way afford to sit on our laurels, but have to innovate, change and improve our competitive edge.”
"The Boston Foundation has found a remarkable way to support a powerful reform strategy - with direct investment in innovative schools they have created the conditions in four schools for success, not just for today, for this year, but for years to come,” said Tim Knowles, former Deputy Superintendent for Teaching & Learning with the Boston Public School system. “The next step is to scale this strategy up.”
Pilot schools were created by agreement of the Boston Teachers Union and the Boston Public Schools through collective bargaining in 1994, primarily in response to the loss of Boston students to charter schools. Pilot schools may be established in two ways: by creation of a new school organized as a pilot, or through conversion of an existing district school by a vote of two-thirds of its faculty. In both cases, the application must be approved by a Boston Public Schools/Boston Teachers Union Steering Committee, and by the Boston School Committee. They are staffed by union members, and they are accountable to the Boston School Committee, but not directly to the state Department of Education. As with all public schools, including charter schools, they are subject to state curriculum standards, teacher qualification requirements, and all their students are required to take the MCAS tests. The superintendent may close a pilot school for poor performance.
# # #
The Boston Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and largest community foundations, has an endowment of more than $500 million and made grants of $53.7 million to nonprofit organizations last year. The Boston Foundation is made up of 750 separate charitable funds, which have been established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes. The Boston Foundation also serves as a civic leader, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to build community. For more information about the Boston Foundation and its grantmaking, visit www.tbf.org, or call 617-338-1700.