By Seth Daniel
No matter where one drinks coffee in the Town, officials at the Harvard Kent want parents and students to know that the school near the Tobin Bridge is a great choice to stay local and get great instruction, and this week that claim was backed up by a City and state announcement that the Harvard Kent has moved from a Level 3 to a Level 1 school.
They are one of just 21 Level 1 schools citywide, and have accomplished that while overcoming challenges like being the school with the poorest population in the district.
“We don’t even know how to celebrate yet,” said Principal Jason Gallagher, who has led the school on an upward path since taking the helm. “We’re so excited, but we know we have more work to do and everyone is concentrating on what we need to do to get even better. So, we’re so focused on that we still are trying to figure out how to celebrate.”
Despite that, there is plenty to celebrate.
School ratings are based upon a four-year look at student improvement on standardized tests. A Level 5 school is the worst, with a Level 1 being the best. A Level 1 rating means that students improved their scores year over year in a way that shows marked improvement, and obviously, a better grasp of the material.
“It’s really been a lot of work by the teachers and the kids,” said Gallagher. “It confirms what we knew all along – that we’re doing good work. The state stepping in and saying that they see the improvement and that we’re doing good here means a lot to us.”
Altogether, 12 schools in the Boston Public Schools system this year rose to top Level 1 status for meeting assessment targets, bringing the total number of BPS schools presently in that top accountability level to 21. In addition, BPS now has 25 schools designated as Level 2. The combined 46 schools in either Level 1 and 2 are the most for the district since 2012.
The Harvard Kent was the only school in Charlestown moving up to a Level 1 status this year, joining the Donald McKay in East Boston.
“Our top priority is creating a public school system that gives all of our young people an opportunity to succeed,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said. “I am proud of the improvements we have made across so many of our schools as a result of the hard work of our students, teachers and staff. We will continue working everyday so that every single one of our schools has the resources to prepare our students for a bright future.”
Harvard Kent increased its overall CPI in English Language Arts (ELA) by 11.9 points and its overall Math CPI by 10.1 points. In ELA, every student subgroup experienced “high” levels of growth, indicated by a median Student Growth Percentile (SGP) of 60 or higher.
“Our most improved schools are serving some of our most vulnerable populations, which shows that Boston Public Schools is a leader in this work,” said Boston School Committee Chairperson Michael O’Neill, a Charlestown resident. “Our teachers in all of our schools are fearless in tackling challenges and doing everything possible to close the opportunity and achievement gaps.”
For Gallagher and those at the school, the Level 1 status is vindication of the work they do. Frequently, the Harvard Kent takes a back seat to the Warren Prescott in Charlestown and the Eliot School in the North End when it comes to the choices parents make for public schooling. That’s something that Gallagher said he hopes comes to an end with the commendation from the state.
“What Level 1 status means for us is we are an excellent school for all kids in the community, whether their parents drink coffee at Zume’s, whether they drink coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, or whether their parents work at Dunkin’ Donuts,” he said. “When kids come here to our school, they will get a good education. We don’t feel this Level 1 means we want to change who we are. We want it to mean that no matter who you are or where you come from, you’re going to get a good education here. We love our Charlestown kids and all our Charlestown kids, no matter what part of Town they live in, we want them to know we are an excellent choice as a school. We have great opportunities here.”
The Harvard Kent has 510 students and is one of the most diverse schools in the district and also it has the poorest population of kids in the district. There is almost and event split between Asian, Hispanic, black and white students, with some 49 percent of their students being English Language Learners (ELL). Some 88 percent of the kids qualify as economically disadvantaged.
Despite those challenges, the Harvard Kent is a model of decorum in the hallways, with students frequently passing quietly through the halls. The school core values, Gallagher said, have set the stage for innovations that have led to better results for kids – such as the Extended Learning Time program or the push to stress high levels of reading in the lower grades.
“It all comes down to the teachers and things are working because we have the right teacher in every classroom,” he said. “On top of that, we have the students reading and writing a lot. Extended Day is new, but a piece of that puzzle. We told the kids about this and they don’t know what it means exactly, but they know it’s good. Now we want to think about what we need to do to keep this up. That’s been the immediate reaction, to see where we need to improve to get even better.”
Gallagher said he expects that more parents in Charlestown will take notice of the Harvard Kent and understand that it is as good a choice as any other, and perhaps a very special place to be.
“We’re proud to be in Charlestown,” he said. “We want more Charlestown families to join us. They will be part of something pretty special going on down here.”