Case Study: The Joseph J. Hurley K-8 School
School-Turnaround In Boston Public
Principal Marjorie Soto leveraged strategies learned in NISL's Executive Development Program to take her school from the brink of being taken over by the state to a finalist for The School On the Move award.
In 2007 student performance at the Hurley K-8 School was among the lowest in the Boston Public Schools district. Only 5 percent of third graders tested as proficient in mathematics, and only 16 percent tested as proficient in English/Language Arts on the Massachusetts state standardized assessment. Without improvement the school was at risk of being taken over by the state.
Today, 65 percent of Hurley students test proficient in English/Language Arts, and 82 test proficient in mathematics--both percentages above the state average, and in math, well above the state average. The community gives the school a four star rating out of five possible stars. What changed to yield such dramatic improvement?
During the 2006-'07 school year, Massachusetts began implementing a strategic initiative to improve school leadership among their 20 most in-need districts. They selected NISL's Executive Development Program to drive this transformation. In Boston Public Schools, Marjorie Soto, the principal of Hurley K-8 School, was in one of the first cohort groups of participants. She attributes many of the improvements she made to the comprehensive approach of the NISL program.
In 2007, only 16% of students were meeting proficiency in English Language Arts, and the rate for mathematics achievement was even lower - a dismal 5%. Marjorie Soto knew she needed to help all of her students succeed. The Hurley school is comprised of 88 percent minority students; 68 percent of the students are Hispanic, and 52 percent--over half of the students--are English Language Learners. 78 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced price lunches, while the state average is 31 percent.
Soto is eager to talk about the ideas and concepts that helped her make Hurley a turnaround school. She credits NISL with both helping her in "... establishing a clear mission that was measurable, meaningful, and doable" and increasing the urgency to get there. "There was a very clear message that the house was on fire and we had to stop trying to put it out with little buckets of water. We've gone from a yearly sense of urgency to a monthly sense of urgency.” She also learned strategies to marshal this sense of urgency into changes in school culture." I learned to try to target my naysayers to buy in and become the folks who would help me spread the buy in. In order to have something that was sustainable, and really to change the culture of a school, you had to have so many various pieces in place. And I felt like I finally received a road map to do that."
The roadmap allowed Principal Soto to not only strengthen her leadership skills, but to implement specific initiatives to improve learning. Among these were transforming how data was used. "We no longer spend time explaining poor results, but instead look to the data to inform how we teach. And there's a framework in place, there's a process that we go through.” Armed with data and a new understanding of best practices in the content areas, Principal Soto set about improving instruction in Science and Math. “You have to have a clear vision for what you want your kids to know and be able to do at the end of the day. I learned what a scientist really is, and what classes that create scientists really look like. The experiments, the questioning. It's been extremely influential in what I've done in the last few years, in creating our science/technology/engineering and math program."
"NISL was the first program of its kind that really connected to the work in a very comprehensive way. In the university program, you talk about a lot of operational stuff. But it was never presented or connected in a way, tied to a mission, tied to a vision of what you were trying to accomplish, as a strategic move to realize the overarching goals that you had."
The culture of The Hurley School has changed, instruction has changed, and most importantly, student learning has changed. The data reflects this. Soto says, "When I started working with NISL, our school was performing far below the district average. Since then, we actually have grown four times greater than the average Boston public school" and now the school's scores are above the state average. The Hurley School has recently been a finalist for the Thomas W. Payzant School on the Move prize, awarded to those Boston public schools identified as significantly outpacing other schools in terms of student achievement growth. Soto summarizes the transformation well. "We were a school that was in danger of being taken over by the state…they were always threatening. And we're certainly not there anymore. We're a school that people everywhere are saying, oh, I hear your school is really good."
Hurley K-8 School
Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) Results % at or above proficient on the:
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