Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Updates from English High School
English High School is the Boston school where I taught 9th grade physics for the past two years. The schools is often called "troubled" or "underperforming," but based on my experience there, I would say a better word is "failing," as the school is certainly failing in its goal (and purpose!) to educate all students to a high standard.
I'm not there this year, so I am not really in a position to comment on what is going on, but there have been some reason headlines about the school that I wanted to share.
Lagging schools in Mass. take on partners
It seems that EHS is among 8 schools in Boston that are near the point of facing a state takeover. This occurs when a school has been underperforming so badly, and for such a long time, that the state determines that the only way to get the school out of the rut is to come in and completely overhaul it. In order to stave off state takeover, EHS and these other schools are being encouraged to partner with private groups to help run the school more effectively.
This is a complicated issue. As a former consultant, and a future consultant to school districts, I obviously believe in the power of outside partners to improve a situation or solve a problem. However, that doesn't mean that every situation is right for an outside partner, or that every partner is right for the situation.
A very smart person I know at English once described EHS as having a "christmas tree problem": When you decorate a christmas tree, you need to choose just the right decorations and arrange them in just the right way to get the best possible outcome. If you go overboard with ornaments and decorations, your tree stops looking good and soon buckles under the weight of all the uncoordinated decor. From my experience, I think this is exactly the situation at EHS - too many programs, too many partners, too many priorities and no clear guiding plan, so the staff buckles under the weight of handling all the different programs and partners.
English High headmaster to leave troubled school
Though it is not a surprise to hear that the headmaster is leaving, it is a disappointing sign of continued trouble for EHS. One thing that can help overcome the "christmas tree problem" is some degree of continuity in leadership and vision. Now, with changing headmasters and outside partners, the school will be shaken up yet again. The school will likely find little continuity from its teaching staff, with another year of high turnover expected (the past 3-4 years have all seen more than half the staff turn over, so that when I was in only my second year I was "experienced").
So, as EHS heads into the homestretch of another challenging school year, I just have to express my admiration for all the teachers who work so hard to make sure that the wonderful students there can in fact get an education in this troubled school - ECS, GB, KW, Dr. RL, and many others who I am probably forgetting.