By Seth Daniel
Revere High School (RHS) struck gold again, as it was announced on Monday that it was named a national School of Opportunity Gold Medal award winner.
The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), based at the University of Colorado Boulder, sponsors the Schools of Opportunity project, which identifies excellent public high schools that actively strive to close opportunity gaps — the differences in opportunities and resources that drive the well-known achievement gaps.
RHS was one of only eight schools nationwide to receive the Gold Recognition Award, and one of only two schools in New England. Another 12 schools nationwide got Silver Medals for showing promise in the areas measured, with one of those schools being the Boston Arts Academy.
“I think it’s a matter of pride for the parents, teachers and kids,” said Supt. Dianne Kelly. “We spend so much time hearing nationwide about how bad public schools are and this is one thing that’s so positive. It’s nice to have someone come from a different part of the country, look at your school, and recognize that you are doing something right.”
Said Principal Lourenco Garcia, “We are just so proud of our staff and students. The culture of unity and support as well as the effort we put into building relationships create an environment where all students can achieve great things.”
The last time Revere High won such an accolade was in 2014 when they became one of the Best Urban High Schools in American by the National Center for Urban School Transformation – an educational think-tank out of San Diego State University. With this latest award, Revere High has proven that it continues to achieve at a high level, but really that to solve complex social problems that occur in urban areas, it has innovated in ways that other schools should look to copy.
“Schools play a key role in a student’s life and learning, and we should hold up excellent schools as exemplars,” said Kevin Welner, NEPC director and project co-director. “Students’ learning arises from more than just what happens in school. Research suggests that about one-third of variance among students’ test scores can be attributed to schools, with the remainder likely due to poverty-related factors. Because schools play this important but not controlling role in measured learning, the Schools of Opportunity project rejects the idea that test scores identify the nation’s best schools.
“We instead offer an alternative way of assessing school quality—one that focuses on the day- to-day practices that schools choose to use,” he continued. “We call attention to research-based practices to support all students and their teachers, thereby creating engaged and successful learning environments.”
Applications went through four levels of screening by review teams comprised of researchers, teachers, policy makers and administrators, who looked at school practices that fell into categories, such as create and maintain healthy school culture; broaden and enrich school curriculum; use a variety of assessments designed to respond to student needs; and support teachers as professionals.
The greatest innovation that NEPC focused in on was the Newcomer’s Academy, which began in 2013 when schools like Revere began seeing a surge of young people coming from other countries who had not been in school for quite some time. With little English skills, students were put into a special academy to ramp up their English skills in an intensive curriculum – with the goal of moving them in about one year to the regular classroom.
“They said, basically, that the entire country should be doing what we’re doing at Revere and especially in regard to the Newcomer’s Academy,” said Kelly. “Our goal is to meet students where they are and help them find success no matter where they came from or where they are at. That’s the first step.”
Many of the students in the Newcomer’s Academy have landed in Revere from places that are war-torn or unstable, and so their education has been inadequate or interrupted. When those students first began arriving in the Revere schools, they were put into a regular education classroom, and Kelly said it just didn’t work out.
“These are students largely with interrupted education and it doesn’t make sense to take a kid in that position who doesn’t speak English and put them in a regular high school classroom. It was a no-win situation. We saw they would come a year or two and drop out. Our dropout rates were suffering and they weren’t getting educated. It wasn’t benefitting anyone.”
More than 90 kids have benefitted from the Newcomer’s Academy, with most having transitioned out to regular classrooms. Once in regular education, they have follow up meetings with the same guidance counselor for all four years – just to make sure there is someone following up with them who knows their complex history.
Last year, the Academy had 25 students. By January, seven had moved to a classroom, while more arrived during the year. By the end of the term, 20 transitioned to regular education, one graduated and four continued on this year in the Academy.
There are 11 students now in the Academy and Kelly said they expect about 20 before the year ends.
For more information about the Schools of Opportunity project, including descriptions of all recognized schools, visit opportunitygap.org.