Orchard Gardens: Getting It Right

Much of what we hear in the press these days about our public education system focuses on what is wrong. We seem barraged almost daily with stories of dysfunctional schools, unions warring with administration, the high drop-out rate, misspent resources, and on and on. So it comes as a breath of fresh air when the press takes a break from reporting on the negative to highlight schools that are getting things right.

Recently, the Boston Herald published a multi-part series on four schools in the city that have each in their own way found success in either turning around a struggling school or in establishing a school with high performance from the start. (The four schools profiled are the UP Academy, the Joseph Lee elementary school, TechBoston Academy and the Orchard Gardens K – 8 school.) Though brief, these accounts do give readers a very clear sense that not all urban schools are spinning their wheels. Instead, these four schools have each proven that with strong leadership and with the right combinations of resources, schools can be highly effective at doing what they are supposed to be doing. As Carol Johnson, the Superintendent of Boston Public Schools, describes: “You see great leaders. You see teams of teachers working together. You see them using time flexibly to meet the needs of individual students to give them the extra time that they need. And you see a climate and a culture of high expectations.”
And it is true. These schools are remarkably similar in their approach to advancing students’ learning. And, not surprisingly, their approach and the strategies they employ align very tightly to what NCTL has identified as effective practices, captured most methodically in our publication, Time Well Spent: Eight Powerful Practices of Successful Expanded-Time Schools. In one video (below), you can witness the principal of the Orchard Gardens, Andrew Bott, nonchalantly call out the “time, people, data” triad as the organizing principle of his schools’ work. (Incidentally, NCTL is releasing an in-depth case study of Orchard Gardens in a couple months, so if you like what you see in the Boston Herald piece, please join our mailing list to make sure you receive a more detailed account of this school’s impressive turnaround.)  
Tolstoy wrote famously that “All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The same might be said of schools. While dysfunctional schools each seem to demonstrate in their own unique way how to be ineffective, successful schools really do look like one another, at least in the way that they seek to organize their educational program. And they look similar because, when all is said and done, we do actually know pretty well what it takes to educate children effectively. There is no need to re-invent the wheel. It certainly takes alot l of hard work to make schools work well, but, thanks to occasional press pieces and our many NCTL studies, finding out what the work should look like is just a few clicks away.