All Charlestown Schools to Get More Attention under State MOU

Under the state’s Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) with Boston Public Schools (BPS), all of the schools in Charlestown – includ­ing the Eliot K-8 in the North End – would be enlisted in a competi­tive program called Kaleidoscope.

In March, right before schools were dismissed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) produced a critical report of BPS inequities, a report that is done for every district in the state on a 10-year timeframe. That also came with an MOU between DESE and Supt. Brenda Cassellius pledging to start discussions immediately about how to turn the district around in those respects.

In the proposed School Budget, Cassellius had already begun to address the needs of 33 of the lowest-performing schools in the district – two of which are in Charlestown (Charlestown High and Edwards Middle). That is likely step one in the MOU plan, but many wonder about the rest of the schools.

There apparently is a plan for that, though it won’t be unveiled soon as the state and BPS have agreed to move back the start of discussions to May 18.

DESE told the Patriot Bridge that many of the schools in Charlestown and East Boston per­form in the lower tier on standard­ized testing, but aren’t at the level of the 33 schools identified for large investment.

Kaleidoscope is apparently a program to address that.

“As part of the MOU, we have decided to move a group of Boston schools in East Boston and Charlestown to the front of the line, recognizing that there is a concentration of schools in the bottom 10 to 20th percen­tiles in these neighborhoods,” read a statement from DESE. “The Kaleidoscope support will help to ensure these schools make continued progress, while BPS focuses its efforts on improving the 33 lowest-performing schools. The district has already created a detailed plan for supporting the 33 schools, which is further support­ed by Mayor Walsh’s $100 million investment in the school system over the next three years.”

The schools included will be the Warren Prescott K-8, the Harvard Kent Elementary, the Eliot K-8, the Edwards Middle School and Charlestown High School. They are part of a new group of 15 schools citywide to be potentially placed in the Kaleidoscope sup­port program.

Kaleidoscope is described as a professional development program focused on promoting engaging instruction that asks stu­dents to work on real-world tasks while building skills like collab­oration and creativity. DESE is currently providing this program to a group of approximately 20 innovative schools and districts across the state – which already includes the Eliot K-8, which was accepted after a competitive pro­cess in January.

When the state started the program, they had 500 letters of interest for the 20 statewide spots available, and so it was a very sought-after program. At that time, BPS had put in an applica­tion for the entire district to be included in the program, but only the Eliot K-8 and Tech Boston High in Dorchester were accepted.

The work on the MOU had started in mid-March, and less than one week later the schools had shut down completely for the COVID-19 response.

Last week, Councilor Lydia Edwards called for the MOU work to be put off until after the crisis and re-assessed completely.

She also was curious about the Kaleidoscope program and asked for more information on it given that most of the public schools in her district were proposed to be placed in the new program.

This week, DESE indicated it had agreed with BPS to hold off further planning for 60 days, start­ing on May 18.

“The MOU specifies a 60-day timeline to agree on targets for improvement across several initia­tives and work out other details of the partnership,” read a statement from DESE. “Near the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, the commissioner and superintendent decided to push back the start of that 60-day period, and they recently codified that decision as an amendment to the MOU that moves the start of the 60-day period to May 18. Under the new deadline, discussions would con­clude mid-summer.”

DESE officials said it was important to note that the MOU doesn’t place the district or any of the Charlestown schools in receivership, nor does it create an empowerment zone for schools in certain areas of the district. The MOU does include the following priority initiatives for BPS and supporting initiatives for DESE and BPS.

BPS priority initiatives:

•Teaching and learning: Make specific improvements in the district’s 33 lowest performing schools, which will be defined as “transformation” schools.

•Equitable access to student supports: Adopt MassCore as a uniform high school graduation requirement for all BPS schools and reduce chronic absenteeism overall, especially at the high school level.

•Supporting students with dis­abilities: Increase the percentage of students with disabilities who are served in the least restrictive envi­ronment and reduce the dispro­portionate placement of students of color in substantially separate programs.

•Transportation: Improve the student transportation system.

DESE/BPS supporting initia­tives:

•Teaching and learning: Prepare a cohort of 15 BPS schools for entrance into DESE’s Kaleidoscope Collective for Learning, a pro­fessional development initiative designed to engage students and teachers in deeper learning.

•Equitable access to student supports: Help broker partner­ships for schools that do not have strong partners.

•Educator diversity: Help BPS recruit and retain a diverse educa­tor workforce by providing addi­tional staff capacity and develop­ing programs that could include such programs as homebuying incentives or signing bonuses.

•Facilities: Provide a DESE employee(s) to work with BPS on upgrading essential facilities such as student bathrooms.

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