The Boston Compact has served as the table where traditional barriers between our district, charter, and Catholic schools are broken down and where collaboration to improve all student learning is prioritized.
First convened by former Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the Compact vision and work has continued and been strengthened during the tenure of Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
Mayor Menino initially convened Boston Public Schools and Commonwealth charter school leaders to work together for the greater good of children and families in the city. The district and charter representatives defined their common interests and signed their first compact in September of 2011 that outlined their intentions. The following spring, the Catholic schools signed on as partners.
Our initial work focused on building trust and busting myths. Our founders, hungry for cross-sector collaboration, set a solid foundation for honest conversations and partnership work on critical issues, such as leading schools with an equity lens (the Boston Compact Leadership Initiative), and providing rigorous instruction for students who are English learners (the Quality Teaching for English Learners initiative).
In our early years, we outlined a process for transferring individualized education plans from one sector to another when students migrate, facilitated the lease of three empty district school buildings to charter schools, and established tri-sector communities of practice. We also established a comprehensive fiscal sponsor relationship with the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC). The PIC has served as our employer of record, has housed our staff, and managed our financial accounts. PIC staff continue to be valued partners.
Our strategies and initiatives have evolved in the intervening years (see our current work here). With aims to make the school enrollment process easy, accessible, and equitable for families in schools across Boston, we held shared school showcases and established the Boston Schools Hub website to highlight all options available for families in district, charter and Catholic schools. (Our friends at the Boston School Finder have since invested in building a more robust school information website and we recommend it.)
In 2015, at the urging of Mayor Walsh and with the support of leaders from both public school sectors, we began a community dialogue to explore the concept of unifying the enrollment processes families use for BPS and charter schools. We collected extensive, valuable feedback that helped frame both the benefits of such a plan in making the system more equitable and the challenges it presents, particularly around processes to enroll students who are English learners and/or have disabilities.
Over the years, we have become increasingly focused on practice related to effective teaching and learning. We are currently prioritizing our collaborative efforts to better serve students with disabilities and English learners, in part because we have always shared the commitment to students who have been underserved historically, but also because we heard that Bostonians needed to see more of our collective instruction-related action before more fully considering unifying enrollment processes.
Throughout its history, our compact has served as a venue for mutual accountability and collaborative action. The different governance structures for BPS, charter and Catholic schools in the city mean that, unless practitioners come together voluntarily to share practices and refine systems, there are not sufficient structures for responding to the needs of the city’s students and families comprehensively and in a coordinated fashion.
We founded the Boston Compact for this purpose. We believe this is why our Compact continues to exist and evolve despite multiple leadership changes in the district, charter, and Catholic sectors. There is and will be a need for educators to share what works at classroom and school levels and to collectively tackle Boston’s most pressing educational challenges.