Boston school officials announced today that they intend to tap an education-management company to convert the Marshall Elementary School in Dorchester into a charter school next fall, under a proposal to boost student achievement at the academically struggling school.
The announcement marks the second time school officials have turned to an outside firm to remake a traditional public school into an “in-district” charter school. The action will require approval of the Boston School Committee and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Under the proposal, the Marshall would be run by Unlocking Potential and would have its day lengthen to eight hours. The school would also get a new name—UP Academy Charter School of Dorchester—and would eventually add a middle school program. All students currently enrolled at the Marshall would be able to attend the Westville Street school, but all staff would have to reapply for their jobs.
Unlocking Potential is the same nonprofit company that Boston school officials partnered with last year to turn around the long-ailing Gavin Middle School in South Boston, which now goes by the name of UP Academy. In just one year, Unlocking Potential has doubled the proficiency rates on state standardized tests in math among students who had attended the Gavin.
“We are excited” about the proposal, said Matthew Wilder, a School Department spokesman. “Unlocking potential has had great success at the former Gavin Middle School.”
By converting the Marshall into an in-district charter school, Boston and Unlocking Potential will gain considerable flexibility in running the school. The handful of such schools that are overseen by school districts can deviate from central office mandates on curriculum, budgets, and scheduling of the school day and year.
In-district charter schools also are exempt from many workplace rules in teachers contracts, but their teachers still remain part of the teachers union.
The proposal will be presented to the School Committee at its meeting Wednesday night, and a vote is expected Nov. 7. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education could vote on the proposal in February, if their commissioner gives the proposal a favorable recommendation.
The Marshall is among the lowest-performing schools in Boston. On last spring’s Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams, only 10 percent of students scored proficient or advanced in English and just 12 percent did in the math portion.
About 700 students attend the school, almost all of them are black or Latino, and more than three-quarters of all students come from low-income households.
The school also is located in a section of Dorchester frequently besieged by violence, causing the school to occasionally go into lockdown.
Scott Given, chief executive officer of Unlocking Potential, said his company is looking forward to converting a second school in Boston into a charter school.
“We come into this work with a lot of humility,” Given said. “We know that turning around a school is immensely difficult work, but we believe we have the people and the programs and the willingness to work hard, which will all contribute to doing well at this school.”
Given said his company, which specializes in turning around academically struggling schools, will make a concerted effort to meet with all families at the Marshall School in hopes of having all students return to the school next fall when it becomes UP Academy.
The proposal has been months in the making. School officials and Unlocking Potential originally announced in the summer their intention to covert a second school in Boston into a charter school, but had not determined which school would be targeted, saying only it would be an elementary school or a K-8 school.
The School Committee gave preliminary approval to that proposal, and it was reviewed by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which named it in September as one of 12 semi-finalists for this year’s cycle of new charter school approvals.