(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2012)
On Monday night parents and staff from the Marshall Elementary School in Dorchester listened nervously to what Superintendent of Boston Public Schools Carol R. Johnson had to say about the possibility of the school being turned into an in-district charter school.
The change would mean the Marshall, one of the Commonwealth’s lowest performing schools, would be administered by Unlocking Potential, which currently runs the in-district charter school, UP Academy, in South Boston.
The state has yet to approve the BPS proposal and the Boston School Committee votes on the issue Wednesday night
If approved the Marshall would be BPS’ sixth in-district charter school.
“We want to make sure your children get everything they need,” Johnson told the crowd of close to 125 parents and staff Monday night. “It’s not fair to your children for us to let low performance happen.”
Johnson also said no child would be turned away for the next school year, but staff would have to reapply for their jobs.
The move would also give the school more flexibility with curriculum and administration and the school day would be extended from six to eight hours.
Class sizes would be reduced; K1-K2 classes would hold about 18 students, grade 1-2 classes would hold close to 20 students, grades 3-4 classes would hold 22 students, and fifth grade classes would hold about 25-26 students.
The proposal would also eventually turn the school into a K-8, with a class being added every year starting in the 2014 school year.
Although parents were skeptical, many said they were ready for a change at the school where students consistently score extremely low on the MCAS.
On the 2012 MCAS the school ranked 951 out of 955 in third-grade math, 914 out of 936 in fourth-grade math, and 851 out of 881 in fifth grade math. Students also scored in the bottom percentile in English and science.
“I think there is a chance for the school to be improved,” said Frank Miller, the parent of a Marshall student. “I thought it was encouraging that they said there would be a place for all students and that they would continue to provide services.”
Parents however cited concerns about special education classes, after-school programs, and parental involvement, expressing fear that once Unlocking Potential took over, parents would be shoved out and parents’ opinions would be ignored.
Scott Given, co-founder and CEO of Unlocking Potential, said he is excited and committed to working with parents and the school’s current Parent Council and will add three individuals to Unlocking Potential’s Governing Board to represent the school.
“If this proposal goes through one of the first things I want to do is sit down with the Parent Council,” said Gavin.
“I think the most important thing we bring is an extended day and I think we bring an atmosphere of high expectations coupled with strong support for students that are struggling,” he later added.
Parents questioned BPS and Unlocking Potential staff throughout the night.
“Is this happening tonight?” asked Jennifer Rose-Wood, a Roxbury resident with a child about to enter Boston Public Schools. “It feels like it already happened.”
“I’m not happy about it,” said Jane Brooks, the parent of a student at the Marshall. “Everything is being rushed and some say you give up your rights [as a parent] when a school become a charter.”
According to BPS administrators, the school system over the summer looked at a number of schools in the system to convert one into an in-district charter and settled on the Marshall after the 2012 MCAS scores were released.
“When we looked at the MCAS data the Marshall dropped quite a bit,” Joe Shea, academic superintend for BPS, told the crowd. “We looked at the difference [between 2011 and 2012] and the Marshall was clearly one of the lowest.”
In 2011 thirty-four percent of third grade students were considered “warning/failing” in English and in 2012 that number jumped to thirty-eight percent. The number of students considered “warning/failing” in 2012 also increased in all subjects and grades from 2011.
Some also questioned why Unlocking Potential, a non-profit formed in 2008, was designated the group to lead the change at the school, Johnson said it’s because most providers BPS talked to wanted to start with a fresh school and not take over an existing school.
“We went around to schools asking providers if they wanted to turnaround an underperforming school, they would say, ‘well we will start a new school in your district’,” said Johnson. “I have a school I don’t want to tell the parents they have to move, I want to tell the parents they get to stay exactly where they are, it’s their school and except for UP Academy none of the other providers would agree to take the kids.”
Although the change seemed sudden for many of the parents, those in attendance agreed as they headed out the door of the Westville Street school that something needed to be done to turn it around.
“I think it’s good we’re having a conversation about this,” said Fran Smith, an organizer with the non-profit Project R.I.G.H.T., who was attended the meeting with a co-worker. “We’re all in this together.”