Boston – The Pioneer Charter School of Science II, a Grade 7-12 Commonwealth Charter school in Saugus, Mass., has been selected as the winner of the 7th Pozen Prize for Innovative Schools, the Boston Foundation and Pozen Prize Committee announced today. The winning award this year is for $70,000, in recognition of the outstanding achievement of Pioneer’s students and its innovative approach to learning at the high school level. Boston Collegiate Charter School was selected as runner-up, receiving a $20,000 prize.
First awarded in 2014, the Pozen Prize highlights schools of all types, including district and charter schools, which find creative ways to connect with students and help them succeed. The winning school each year must also have demographics at least as diverse as those of its school district.
Pioneer Charter School of Science II (PCSS II) enrolls 370 students in grades 7-12, with a student body that is roughly 75% students of color (versus just over 30% for the Saugus Public Schools). Even during the pandemic, PCSS II has maintained exceptionally high attendance rates. About 58% of PCSS II students are considered “high needs,” roughly matching the surrounding district, and 1-in-5 of its students is learning English as a second language.
At the same time, PCSS II achieved a 100% graduation rate for its Class of 2020, with MCAS scores significantly above the state and city averages. PCSS II was recently ranked #4 of all Massachusetts public high schools by U.S. News and World Report.
“We are so pleased to be able to award the Pozen Prize this year to the Pioneer Charter School of Science II. The school has delivered on its goals of meeting the highest levels of academic achievement in the difficult subjects of math and science,” said Robert Pozen, who created the prize with his wife, Elizabeth. “By encouraging students to challenge themselves with a rigorous curriculum and building a strong connection with the community around them, the school sets students on a course to succeed that lasts long after graduation.”
Established as a Commonwealth Charter School in 2013, PCSS II’s curriculum is designed to ensure access and rigor for students with different ability levels and learning styles. As a Commonwealth Charter, the school accepts all students through a lottery system. It then offers extended school hours and a 195-day school calendar to make it possible to offer extra support as needed, together with a wide variety of extracurricular clubs and activities.
Ensuring academic success includes a focus on contemplating and exploring college opportunities as early as 8th grade, and that system of supports continues through the college application process. Seniors are also required to complete a capstone Senior Project, an independent service and research project on a social issue/topic of great personal significance.
Engaging with families and community members, long a hallmark of the school, has been even more critical during the pandemic. The school has regularly connected with parents and brought members of the community into the school virtually when physical connections have not been possible.
“We are honored to be recognized by the selection committee and receive the 2021 Pozen Prize,” said Vahit Sevinc, Executive Director of PCSS II. “This means a lot to our school community after a very stressful year. We are thankful and very proud of what our staff and students do every day.”
The 2021 runner-up, Boston Collegiate Charter School, educates 700 students in grades 5-12. Founded in 1998 as the South Boston Harbor Academy, Boston Collegiate’s student body has consistently grown more diverse over time. Students of color and high-needs students now comprise 57% and 53% of all students, respectively. Like PCSS II, Boston Collegiate boasts high academic achievement; nearly 9 in 10 students graduate high school and enroll in college. Boston Collegiate anchors its model in extensive teacher supports, college counseling that begins early, and a robust Advanced Placement program. In 2019, Boston Collegiate’s AP exam pass rates were the fourth highest in the city, after Boston’s three exam schools. Boston Collegiate was also ranked among the state’s 50 best public high schools by U.S. News and World Report.
The Pozen Prize was created by Boston Foundation donors Robert and Elizabeth Pozen. Robert is a former top executive of Fidelity Investments and MFS Investment Management, who now serves as a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. Elizabeth is a retired psychotherapist who is now focusing on her career as a figurative artist and poet.