At the end of the school year, it seems, people find themselves inclined to reflect on what they like about their kid’s school. You might suspect that the following five cheerleaders were paid for their comments, but I know that they are not (with the exception of Joe B., whom I’m pretty sure they don’t pay enough), and that my own son’s experience at the high school in Somerville has been similarly good. These comments were offered to a yahoo group called Somerville-4-schools over the last few days:
From Jane B.–
I decided to post this today – the start of summer for those of us with children in the Somerville Public Schools. This year one of my daughters graduated from Somerville High and she will be attending Wellesley College next year. Several people, including some of our school committee members, asked me to write on this site to let those of you with young children know about the successes of the Somerville High Class of 2010. So here goes: This year 5 Somerville High graduates will be attending Tufts University. We also have graduates going to Yale, Cornell, U Mass Amherst,the College of the Holy Cross, Boston University, Boston College, Hamilton College, Union College, Kenyon College, Rhodes College, Fairfield University, New York University, Georgetown University, Wheaton College, Trinity College, Worcester Poly Tech, Northeastern, Bard College and many other highly respected colleges and universities across the country. Please watch class day and scholarship night on channel 15 to see all the scholarships and awards our students received. Not only did the students achieve academically but they are ( for the most part) involved in activities at the school from sports to clubs ( including the new and popular community service club, green club and outdoor club)– there truly is something for everyone at SHS. And many of the teachers lead clubs or coach sports. In other words, the SHS teachers are leaders and mentors to the kids. Last, Somerville High is not that BIG- this year there were less than 300 students in the graduating class. You have to actively try to get lost at a school that size and it doesn’t happen easily. Anyway, for those of you who plan to move before high school or save enough money for private school, please don’t. Please stay in the Somerville School system and make it even better than it already is. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed her 4 years at SHS and I couldn’t be happier or more proud of her fine education from the Somerville Public Schools.
From Brandon W.–
I would like to second this posting, and note that this is not a new nor unusual story. I am a parent of 2 recent SHS graduates, in 2005 and 2009, who also received a great education attending 3 different public schools in Somerville, the Brown thru 6th grade (and hope it stays that way!), the Kennedy for 7th and 8th grades, and then the SHS for all 4 years. My oldest just graduated from Davidson College, a highly selective school similar to Williams but in North Carolina, and successfully competed for a national award known as a Watson Fellowship. This $25,000 fellowship gives him the opportunity to travel over the next year to 3 different continents and 7 countries studying “parkour,” an interest that sprouted from his years at SHS and a very inspiring French teacher there, with whom he remains in touch. And she is only one of the many really dedicated and talented teachers that both my sons enjoyed at SHS! My other son had a tough choice last year deciding between Duke, UPenn, Brown and Harvard, and some of his closest friends are now attending John Hopkins, WPI, UPenn, Tufts, and Yale. These SHS alum will all tell you that they received a great education, both academically and socially, in Somerville schools, and that they particularly appreciated the incredible diversity of the student body, the courses, and the extracurricular activities at the High School. The richness of different cultures, languages, and ethnicities that students encounter on a daily basis at the school is so valuable in today’s multicultural world. The leaders of tomorrow will need a global perspective, skills to interact effectively with all kinds of people, and a genuine tolerance for differences, and Somerville schools offer a terrific milieu to develop these talents.
My humble advice: keep an open mind, investigate all of the options, talk to the teachers, members of the School Committee, the graduating students, as well as many of the long-standing parents, and be a constructive advocate for your student, and it is likely that you will find some really impressive qualities within the Somerville public school system.
From Joe B.–
It’s wonderful to join such good examples. I’ve no children but have been an educator since the late ’60′s, since fading out of two different doctoral programs (in History at Brown and Education at UMass) first in higher education – black colleges, Emerson, Northeastern, UMass-Boston – and then k-16 – in research at Abt and instruction through DYS, JustAStart, and, most recently, Somerville’s evening high and the Jobs program at Full Circle). In all that time I’ve never seen a system transform itself as dramatically, as gracefully, and as successfully.
I first encountered the system when the high school flunked a quarter of its 9th grade. My (then) school committeeman, buying the line of the (then) principal and (then) guidance department and (then) superintendent, explained that students “weren’t prepared.” I offered that it was the schools’ job to prepare them, and 20 years of flunking 25% ought to indicate a systemic failure worth treatment. In fact, when challenged, the (then) principal explained that this 9th grade failure rate gave the system the highest “gain score” (change in MCAS average from 7th to 10th grade) in the state. I pointed out that such a tactic in effect cheated the system, and even got Standard & Poors (who, for the Gates Foundation, rated schools the way they rated investments) fired. The School Committeeman quit, as did all the others (not because of me! but because of handy retirement or other options). Their successors did solve the problem – with early, diagnostic assessments, alternative courses, tutoring, Saturdays, and the Re-direct program. In other words, they faced the problem of the system; rather than blame the students, and they fixed the system – not to make it easier, but to make it better.
From an educator, you should know how rare that is. Most systems – as did Somerville for 20 years – only defend themselves when challenged. They echo the worst of their students, and fight rather than explore the options. Somerville is a system of grownups, ready to show their maturity and learn from experiences, and explore options in the process. Many – most – systems that spend more money merely cushion their failure, cloaking it in diagnostic sham. I’ve consulted with hundreds of them, and was frequently paid as one of the cloaks. Somerville is different. Probably because of its diversity, but, for whatever reason, the leadership really listens and really looks at problems as opportunities for new solutions.
I saw how they solved that 9th grade flunking program close up, because by then I’d joined the High School Council. Long required by Ed Reform, here it is precisely what the law demands – a forum to review and advise and authorize change. It is one of the best examples in the nation. Dialog is open, critical, self-critical and constructive, involving kids, parents, teachers, and others (like me) in exploring creative options. When the school presented their re-direct program to the School Committee, some asked me for an opinion. While the research on “grade retention” is conclusive that it causes 90% of its victims to drop out, I argued that, if they didn’t drop out they had to spend 5 years, and, at $15,000 a year per kid, that “system” cost as much as $1.5million extra. With such a solution the renewed system “earned” an innovation budget. While not a line-item, that kind of innovation is one of the core features of why and how the system is in better shape now than many others in the state.
Parents should know the depth and creativity of this system. Without mentioning wealthy suburbs, it is considerably better than many costing much, much more. That re-direct program was from existing staff, with no additional budget. It reorganized for more efficient and effective purposes. Solutions like that teach your children much more than how long the 7 years war lasted! And such solutions are systemic, not just by individuals. One of the key functions of re-direct is a seniors-tutoring program, where high achieving seniors volunteer to tutor freshmen most at risk. Not only does it work for the freshmen, but also for those seniors, who enter college with far more capacity than their (often better tested) peers. That’s the kind of system that produces much more than test scores, and challenges the best in the nation.
It’s really nice to have someone with your historic perspective on the improvements in the Somerville school system post to the list. Thanks! As a parent with two kids in (now 4th grade) at the Kennedy, its great to continue to hear such positive comments about the highschool, even more so given the huge diversity the school system works with in terms of student backgrounds.