Garfield Middle School Lands Large Grant for School Re-Design

By Seth Daniel

The Garfield Middle School has been chosen as one of two schools statewide to participate in a $450,000 grant program by the Center for Collaborative Education – a grant that will try to bring the middle school in line with the high school’s Student Centered Learning model.

“It will be an effort to expand what’s happening at the high school already,” said Supt. Dianne Kelly. “We want to have Student-Centered Learning at all schools in the future. This will be the first time we’ve expanded the model beyond the high school, which is significant.”

The Center for Collaborative Education said the time is now to change the way teachers introduce information to students.

“As the state’s student population grows more diverse, the one-size-fits-all model of schooling from the past will not close achievement gaps or produce citizens who are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and entrepreneurial spirit that will be necessary for success in the 21st century,” explains Dan French, Executive Director of the Center for Collaborative Education. “With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), schools, districts and states have the opportunity to shift away from the traditional approach of schooling to one that enables the increasing diversity of our students to excel in relevant and rigorous instruction and real-life assessments of progress.”

Revere and Framingham will both receive $25,000 planning grants this year to begin their projects. Kelly said the Garfield has been decided upon as the target school, but the overall form of that program will be decided through the planning and professional development provided for with the planning grant.

“The teachers are going to get together and decide exactly what their model will look like,” said Kelly. “Maybe they would pilot it in just the 8th grade. We’ll leave that up to the teachers to decide because they know the kids the best. They have a year to plan and then after that they’ll have the time to implement. There will be a lot of different ways to accomplish what they are trying to do.”

The implementation part could take one year or multiple years.

The two schools will split the remaining $400,000 – each getting $200,000 – to implement their programs.

What they are trying to do is spread the latest model of learning to the lower schools – an awarding winning technique that has found success at Revere High School. It involves students interacting with teachers in a more pro-active way, instead of teachers standing before the classroom and giving lectures.

Kelly said Revere was likely chosen because it has already set down the path of bringing this type of innovation to its classrooms at the high school.

“We were in prime position to do this because we have already done it at the high school,” said Kelly. “It probably wouldn’t be beneficial for them to go into a district where teachers don’t embrace innovation.”

In a time of budget cuts, too, Kelly said it’s important to be able to gather grants in order to continue being able to try new things.

“It’s really important to get these grants because when money is tight, it’s needed to provide meaningful professional development to teachers,” she said. “These grants, no matter how small, allow us to do that. They are able to keep us out on the cutting edge of education. That’s important to keep us competitive.”

CCE will also provide a blended professional learning course of study (online and in-person) for all network schools working collaboratively to learn, practice, and design strategies for bringing personalized learning experiences into their schools. The course will be coupled with individualized coaching and technical assistance as each school works to design a plan to offer an educational experience for their students that is individualized, project-based, and attuned to the unique academic and social-emotional needs of students.

As more districts and schools participate in the network, CCE seeks to create a “tipping point” for urban schools that changes the public discourse about what constitutes excellent schools for the full diversity of students in Massachusetts. When fully implemented, these high performing personalized learning schools in MA PLN can provide “proof points,” demonstrating how schools can be redesigned around long-established research on how students learn well – through purposeful, active engagement in varied forms of learning that carry relevance and meaning to the learner – rather than traditional models of school design that were primarily organized around principles of efficiency.

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