Compact Blog

Seeing the “Big Picture” of Small Classroom Practices at KIPP Academy Boston
By Elise Swinford
February 2018


Data monitoring might not sound exciting, but to educators at KIPP Academy Elementary Boston it could be the key to the next step to improve learning for all students. In November, KIPP welcomed educators from neighboring charter, Catholic, and BPS schools in Roxbury to witness how their teachers were beginning to gather and document academic data in “real time.” Beyond measuring progress, the goal of this data collection is to create better instructional groups and to determine next steps for instruction.

For KIPP Special Education Coordinator Peter Perry-Friedman, being part of this community of practice in Roxbury and getting input from other educators is invaluable. “What works within one classroom is about teeny, tiny moves and small practices…[sometimes] we’re too ‘in it’ to realize the bigger picture,” he says. Building relationships with other special education experts in the community, says Peter, is important to seeing this bigger picture. “The more input, the better,” Peter notes of his team’s focus on constantly improving.

The “big picture” that Peter’s team hopes to see was evident in Network participants’ comments about what they observed in the classroom. The strong classroom culture was obvious, Samantha Rivas, After School Director at St. Patrick School, noted: students were fully engaged and were helping their peers as teachers frequently checked for comprehension.

Others mentioned the multiple ways that teachers were already monitoring student learning—from having each student record their responses on a white board to share with the class, to teachers implementing a signal for students to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed with a classmate’s response. The Network then discussed ways these types of monitoring might be translated into active data collection in the classroom.

What also became clear was the learning that the Network would take from this visit to their own schools. “The CGI [Cognitively Guided Instruction] block is amazing,” commented Mary Driscoll, Associate Superintendent, who plans to bring the idea back to her team at BPS. Ashley Riccardi, Dean of Student Support Services at KIPP, has worked in multiple sectors and proclaimed at the end of this conversation, “This is my dream: to have all three communities come together.”

Reflecting on the value of these observations and his own visits to other schools, Peter observed that “Hearing other educators’ stories and how they handled it” is an important part of this process. "It makes us reflect on what’s really important to us [at KIPP].”


Embracing Productive Struggle at the Higginson K0-2 School
By Elise Swinford
December 2018

The halls of the Henry L. Higginson K0-2 School overflow with student artwork and vibrant handmade displays emphasizing the values of this close knit community. A wall of “Higginson Heroes” spotlights students who have earned merit badges from “good helper” to “appreciating differences.” The prize for this honor? Most often, students choose cookies and milk with Principal Marie Mullen who knows each of her 171 students by name.

In November, Principal Mullen opened the Higginson’s doors to other school leaders from district, charter, and Catholic schools in the Roxbury neighborhood in the first of a series of school visits for the Roxbury Special Education Network (supported by the Boston Compact), a group that formed in the spring of 2018 around a shared interest in supporting students with disabilities and learning from each other.

As this group of leaders from across the sectors gathered, Principal Mullen gave an honest picture of the school’s challenges: 88% of students are economically disadvantaged, 25% have disabilities, and Principal Mullen estimates that about 40% are trauma survivors. Principal Mullen’s answer to these challenges? Embrace productive struggle. Help instill stamina in the students, an idea that completes the school’s core values along with “respect” and “responsibility.” Mullen explained to the group that, as special education specialists, her staff are used to accommodating students. To compliment this, Mullen wants to help her staff give students the tools they need to solve problems and persevere in sometimes difficult circumstances.

After observing classes and engaging in a consultancy with Principal Mullen about productive struggle in the classroom, visiting educators offered ideas such as positioning paraprofessionals more directly in instructional work, something that Principal Mullen took to heart and has since incorporated into her leadership plans. “Para[professional]s are a valuable resource that we should be utilizing,” said Mullen. In staff meetings she now asks, “how are we using the paras this week? It should become common practice.”

Though Principal Mullen is herself a veteran educator who has started two schools including the Higginson, she is grateful for the fresh ideas from her Roxbury colleagues. Ultimately, she noted, this sort of collaboration across sectors in Roxbury is important because “we’re serving the same kids with the same struggles.”


All Students are Our Students:
Learning from Each Other Across Sectors

Co-authored by Scott Balicki, Boston Latin School, Titciana Barros, Roxbury Preparatory Charter School & Carolina Brito, Cristo Rey Boston (through June 2018) & Boston Prep (current). September 2018.

We open this school year by welcoming our students and reconnecting with colleagues. The three of us were fortunate to come together last spring for an experience that is all too rare: the chance to spend a day visiting three Boston high schools--one district, one charter, and one Catholic--to learn about and witness ways that we all can better support Black and Latino boys across our city.  

In addition to seeing firsthand the challenges facing young men of color in our schools, hard data reflects the need for us to come together to make changes. According to the Boston Compact, which invited us to participate in the day of visits and cited the BPS’ 2014 study entitled Opportunity and Equity, Black and Latino male students in district schools complete the MassCore (a sequence of classes to prepare for college) at less than half the rate and are suspended at more than twice the rate of their white and Asian counterparts. The numbers vary from school to school within BPS as well as charter and Catholic schools. While our schools share a deep commitment to improving outcomes for our young men of color and are making progress, we all have work to do.

During our visits, we listened to a panel of seniors share their life-changing experience in a boys’ group; we heard how white educators need to take initiative to lead conversations around race, bias, and privilege with their white peers; and we learned how one school has eliminated tracking and now prepares all students for calculus by senior year.

These are all important, share-worthy, and real examples of things happening in classrooms and schools in Boston that ought to be accessible to more educators because these things are at the heart of our own day-to-day lives in schools. The chance to not only read about or hear about but to see and experience life in other schools opens our eyes to what is possible. [read more] 


Solving Crimes, Coding Robots in Cross-Sector Camp

By Elise Swinford, September 2018

As I step carefully over “blood” spatters, a sixth grader from the Dearborn STEM Academy informs me there’s been a murder in this Bridge Boston Charter School classroom, and hands me a magnifying glass so I can help search for clues. Next door, it’s a dance party with small robots spinning in different patterns and lighting up in sync with the music.

During the two-week Vertex Discovery Camp, 4th-8th graders from district, charter, and private schools had the opportunity to engage in project-based STEM learning, both in Crime Scene Investigation and coding.

Students learned the science behind blood spatter analysis, fingerprinting, and chemical testing in their CSI class, while students in the coding course learned computer code and music theory as they programmed Root robots with iPads.

This camp was a partnership between i2 Learning and Vertex Pharmaceuticals, organized by the BPS Office of External Affairs, that gave 94 students across the sectors the chance participate in this free STEM camp aimed at engaging students in the sciences, especially girls.  

STEM teachers from Roxbury schools across the sectors taught these future scientists, a testament to the power of cross-sector collaboration. As Makeeba McCreary, BPS Director of External Affairs, notes, great things are possible “when we look past school governance models and just focus on the kids.”

Boston Parents Work Across Sectors to Examine School Climate

By Elise Swinford, December 18, 2017

After getting home from her full-time job running the The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department Family Matters program, a program that supports returning citizens and their families impacted by incarceration, Karla Walker turns her attention to another cause: facilitating focus groups of Boston families who are eager to have a voice in their children’s school experience.  

Karla is one of 12 parents from across Boston’s district, charter, and Catholic schools to participate in this groundbreaking joint project of the Boston Compact and the Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network (CPLAN). CPLAN members are reaching out to families in their communities to gather information about what matters most to families about the climate and culture of their children’s schools. For years, the Boston Public Schools have administered a district-wide survey to families, and now that the Catholic Schools Office of the Archdiocese and Boston Charter Alliance also are using their own surveys, the sectors are working together to develop a shared set of questions based on focus group feedback, hopefully providing a broader picture of school climate in Boston. So far, family members’ suggestions for the shared set of questions have ranged from themes of school safety (both physical and social/emotional), to cultural competency, to discipline. [Read more]


Boston Educators Collaborative at Great City Schools

By Rachel Weinstein, December 20, 2017

A delegation from our Boston Educators Collaborative was honored to present at the Council of Great City Schools this week.  Superintendent Chang reflected at the panel, “We often let governance get in the way of just good work. The focus of the Boston Compact is professional learning for adults.” Ms. Caroline Jones, third grade Math teacher at Saint John Paul Catholic Academy - Lower Mills Campus, underscored the learning that happens even for the Teacher Leaders in the BEC, noting that, “all our facilitators embrace a growth mindset.  I grow not only as a facilitator and leader of teachers, but as a teacher for my students.”  Paul Toner, Executive Director of Teach Plus MA, summed it up nicely when he said, “The only way we’re going to move forward is through the people doing the frontline work working together.”


“School on the Move” Winner on Supporting Black & Latino Boys Across Sectors

By Elise Swinford, December 15, 2017

On an early November morning, a group of educators gather in a school library to share strategies for supporting Black and Latino boys, and especially to learn from our host, Mildred Ave K-8 School, the recent winner of EdVestors “School on the Move” prize.

A day-long event organized by the Teacher Collaborative and sponsored by the Boston Compact, this cross-sector initiative in support of Black and Latino boys brings together teachers, administrators, and parents to learn from schools who have proven success in closing the opportunity gap for our underserved boys and young men. [Read more]