Makeeba McCreary, Chief of Learning and Community Engagement, at the Museum of Fine Arts, welcomed educators, school administrators and public officials to the auditorium at the MFA on May 30 for the release of the eighth annual Boston Opportunity Agenda Report Card. The event was held just one week after students from the Davis Leadership Academy encountered a range of discriminatory experiences at the MFA that made them feel extremely uncomfortable and unwelcome.
McCreary thanked those attending the event. “The decision not to show up to our museum won’t get us to the place we need to be, which is an MFA that belongs to all of the families in Boston. This is their museum. This is your museum.”
After she spoke, Debbie Rambo, President and CEO of Catholic Charities and a key member of the Boston Opportunity Agenda, welcomed those gathered and served as moderator.
The Boston Opportunity Agenda is an unprecedented public/private partnership that includes the City of Boston, the Boston Public Schools, the Catholic Schools Office and virtually all of the major education funders in the city, including the Boston Foundation. Much of the work is conducted in cooperation with dozens of nonprofits and other community-based organizations. Its mission is to increase dramatically the pace and scale of change in education for all children in Boston, with a special focus on students who have the least access to successful pathways.
This year’s report set a new goal of getting 66 percent of Boston students well-prepared for postsecondary work by 2025. “Ultimately, we want each and every student in Boston to graduate from high school fully prepared to continue their education and achieve success,” said the Agenda’s Executive Director Kristin McSwain. She admitted that the goal for 2025 is highly aspirational considering that the report finds that currently only 48 percent of Boston high school graduates from the class of 2017 met three of the four benchmarks, which track GPA, attendance, challenging coursework and “anywhere/anytime” learning.
The new goal, if reached, will increase the actual number of graduates who are prepared for higher education by more than 50 percent. “We know this is ambitious,” explained McSwain, “but we believe that schools leaders, teachers and our many community partners are committed to providing Boston’s students with the world class opportunities they need to succeed.”
Results across the other metrics were largely mixed this year. Students in Catholic and Charter public schools outperformed students in traditional Boston public schools on 3rd and 6th grade measures, however the gap narrows between BPS and Charter students on high school graduation and college completion metrics.
After the results were shared, a panel of representatives of all of the schools measured by the Agenda shared their thoughts. Sharon Liszanckie, Executive Director of Boston Preparatory Charter Public School, spoke on behalf of all Charters, saying that they have been innovating around what it means to increase students’ GPAs with the goal of getting into college. Describing Charters as “competitive collaborators,” she said, “We are all about anytime/all-the-time learning. That means using coaches, encouraging students to work in groups, focusing on beyond K-12 and encouraging students to engage in summer enrichment experiences.
A special section of the report focuses on the nationally-recognized partnership between the Boston Public Schools and Boston After School & Beyond, which involved 12,552 students in the summer of 2018.
Thomas Carroll, Superintendent of the Catholic Schools Office, spoke next. Just five weeks into the job, he praised all of Boston’s schools and what he called a “tri-sector approach” to educating Boston’s children. Carroll went on to caution the audience about being flexible when it comes to expecting all children to graduate from college. “There are ways to succeed without college,” he explained. “We want to see upward mobility more than anything—and to be agnostic about how to get there,” adding that the trades and the military offer other options for some students.
Interim Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, Laura Perille, spoke next, emphasizing the city’s progress in funding “quality Pre-K” and a deep commitment to adding hundreds of seats within five years. She ended by saying that the “opportunity gaps” that exist between white students and students of color are morally unacceptable and that erasing those gaps must be a collective commitment on the part of everyone who cares about the 54,000 students who are at the center of the Boston Opportunity Agenda’s mission.
The Agenda’s Leadership Meets a Milestone
A theme that ran throughout the 2019 Boston Opportunity Agenda event was the leadership of Rev. Ray Hammond, who served as Chair of the Agenda since its launch and for the last eight years. He will be succeeded by Michael Durkin, CEO of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.
A number of speakers, paid tribute to him, including: Boston Foundation Vice President of Programs Orlando Watkins; King Boston’s Executive Director Marie St. Fleur; Hammond’s son-in-law and former Education Chief for the City of Boston Rahn Dorsey; the United Way’s Karley Ausiello; and moderator Debbie Rambo.Rev. Hammond concluded the event with his own remarks. “From the beginning, the Boston Opportunity Agenda has been about truth telling without finger pointing,” he said, adding that the trust between the Agenda’s CEOs and the numerous members and contributors has allowed everyone to take bigger, bolder risks. “This work in unbelievably hard,” he ended, “but we can’t stop until we know that all children are receiving the education they deserve in this privileged and wealthy community.”