Massachusetts is home to plenty of miracle schools, those wonder academies of excellence and innovation that teach EXACTLY THE SAME students as our union-stifled public schools but achieve miraculous results. One of these is working such marvels, such magic that it deserves a special stop on our wonder tour. Reader, I give you Unlocking Potential, or UP Academy, which in its brief existence has managed to prove once and for all that poverty doesn’t matter. No wonder that UP is quickly expanding into a mini-miracle empire.
The miraculous story of UP got its start last year when Unlocking Potential took over the Gavin Middle School in South Boston and invited students there to apply to attend the new UP Academy. The first miracle: UP was able to contact virtually ALL of the students at the school BY MAIL, even though, as anyone remotely familiar with urban public schools can attest, low-income students are notoriously transient. The second miracle: 91% students then sent in their applications to attend the new school. The third miracle: The same 91% then showed up at UP Academy on the first day of school. And finally, our fourth miracle: 85% of those students remained at UP Academy for the entire school year. This last miracle is especially miraculous given that UP Academy has the third highest suspension rate in the city—38% of UP students were suspended for at least a day last year.
Looking at such, ahem, miraculous numbers, one might feel moved to investigate said miracles, especially if one works for the Boston Globe and is actually contacted by a former UP employee who says “these numbers are not even remotely accurate.” Or we could go with option #2: hand UP the keys to one of the largest elementary schools in Boston, without consulting parents, community leaders, teachers or the principal of the school. That sound you hear, dear reader, is a cash register drawer opening the achievement gap closing…
But here is where we arrive at the most miraculous part of all. You see, it appears that Unlocking Potential has already been working miracles of excellence and innovation at the school—and they don’t even have the keys yet. In the following testimony to the Boston School Committee, the principal of the Marshall Elementary School describes some unusual changes to the student body there in recent months. (Note: testimony begins at minute 40). Miraculously, the hardest-to-teach students—those with emotional disturbances and English language learners who’ve never been to school before or whose schooling has been disrupted—have suddenly disappeared.
As a struggling school all of our 1st grade classes are over subscribed. However we are noticing some interesting school assignment patterns. Our LAB cluster program which houses the district’s students who have emotional and social disabilities is under-subscribed. Last year the 4th grade class had 12 students. The class size maximum is 8. This year it has 3. Our SIFE class which houses Latino students who are new to the country, have never been to school, do not speak English or have had major disruptions to their schooling has one [student]. We are wondering: is this because all of the Marshall students are guaranteed a seat at UP Academy and all of these children will have to take MCAS?
And that’s not all. In the last few weeks a veritable miracle crew of repairmen has showed up to paint the school for the first time since 1995, install new windows, fix the lighting, repair the playground and replace broken toilets sealed off since last year. Now that’s what I call a miracle.
Members of the Boston School Committee will vote on the proposal at their November 7th meeting. Barring a miracle it is almost certain to be approved.
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