By Elise Swinford, December 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.
After touring classrooms and talking with students at Mildred Ave and, later that day, at Sacred Heart Roslindale and Brooke Charter School, what becomes clear is the schools’ focus on creating positive school climates and holding students to high expectations. Each classroom has a list of shared values. Murals and student artwork reflect student identities. Teachers work individually with students and speak to them (literally) on the same level.
When asked about Mildred Ave’s amazing transformation from the designation of a “turn around” school in 2013 to a level 1, prize-winning school today, Principal Andrew Rollins credits cross-sector collaborations as one part of their success. Nearby Neighborhood House Charter School, says Rollins was Mildred Ave’s “phone-a-friend,” helping formally by sponsoring professional development and informally in day-to-day challenges. Rollins recalls one example of a Mildred Ave teacher who was eager to teach K1, yet didn’t have experience with that grade. Her K1 colleague at NHCS not only offered advice, but invited the teacher to co-teach a K1 class at Neighborhood House to gain hands-on experience.
On paying it forward to other schools by sharing their success strategies, Rollins identifies the most “scalable” strategy as Mildred Ave’s “whatever it takes approach,” which has included everything from customizing learning for students, to giving teachers the freedom to try new ideas, to providing supplemental after-school and vacation programming. Something that all schools across sectors can do, he suggests, is change how educators approach students and teaching, including changing mindsets from what we can’t do together to what we can. “The best thing about mindset is that it’s free,” adds Rollins, a benefit all administrators can surely appreciate.