Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Boston Teachers Union pilot school preview – Nov. 10

When we toured the Parkman building last year, it was still in use by the Young Achievers school, which has since moved to Mattapan. The Boston Teachers Union school hadn’t hired any teachers and still didn’t have a curriculum. It seemed like a big question mark. So seeing the school in action today felt a lot more concrete and less like a concept for an interesting school.

As a pilot school, the BTU school is still part of Boston Public Schools, but it has more freedom when it comes to curriculum and budget matters. Among the biggest differences between the Union school (as I saw it referred to in school literature) and standard BPS schools:
  • The school day is 30 minutes longer (8:30-3:00).  
  • Instead of principals, they have co-lead teachers. These teachers will probably teach about one period a day and spent the rest of their time on administrative tasks.
  •  Instead of TERC Investigations, BTU uses the Think Math curriculum in the lower grades. The co-teachers said that TERC is good at teaching math concepts, but perhaps not so great at teaching math skills. I’ve heard other BPS parents say that some kids pick up TERC concepts just fine – it’s the parents that have the most trouble.
  • They plan to use an advanced work curriculum for all students in grades 3 and up, but this won’t be an official advanced work school in which students from other schools transfer in for AWC.
  • The reading curriculum is based on authentic literature. Tolstoy, here we come.
The BTU school has one regular ed classroom each for K1 through grade 3, plus a primary transition classroom. The upper grades (6-8) will have two strands. Eventually, the school will fill in (K-8) as more students move up to higher grades.

All students have Spanish three times a week. For K1 kids, those are just 20-minute sessions. When we went into the K1 classroom, the Spanish teacher was leading them in a silly song about body parts. The students knew the words and were really getting into it. Many students come from Spanish-speaking homes, but the teachers said that those parents were also eager for their children to have more formal Spanish instruction.

Students also have music every day.

Science and social studies are integrated into the curriculum, rather than having special teachers assigned to those subjects. History lessons start at the K1 level. I feel like social studies and science often get left behind in this age of testing.

The building has a beautiful auditorium/gym. There is no gym teacher, per se, but they do have a full-time Playworks coach who provides guided activities. K1 has Playworks once a week.

Later in our tour, the K1 students came outside for recess. I know I shouldn’t be, but I was so surprised that 4-year-olds could possibly have recess that’s not crammed into their lunch hour.

They have an apple tree in the school yard, as well as two raised garden beds. They hope to add more beds. Students recently picked radishes that were planted by their predecessors. The compost bin did not make the move to Mattapan with Young Achievers, but it looked like it could use a good turning. Say the word, and I’ll be over there with my pitchfork. They hope to have people from the nearby community gardens help with this underutilized area.

Their library is definitely a work in progress. They had a few books on the shelves and were planning on fund-raising to get more. They don’t have a librarian.

There is no art teacher, and I wasn't clear on whether they would be hiring one later. Art is currently integrated into the curriculum. The K2 classroom had a puppet theater set up. Although school had only been in session for nine weeks, there were many student projects hanging in the hallways.

Several classes have already been on field trips to the arboretum and Spectacle Island.

One thing that sets this school apart from most other BPS schools is that it has on-site after-school care for K1. This is a major draw. Schools have to have a separate license for four-year-olds, so K1 kids are usually bussed to separate after-school programs, even if the school offers after-school care for older students. The Union school has on-site after-school care for older children as well, all run by the YMCA.

They also have a half-time nurse. Lunches are trucked in to their cafeteria.

It occurs to me that it might be slightly easier to get into this school than some other popular schools (provided you get a decent lottery number, of course). Because the school still has empty grades, there won’t be as many siblings filling kindergarten seats next year. (Siblings get priority in the lottery.)

In summary, there’s still work to be done, but it seems they have a decent foundation for a school.


Anonymous said...

We were 45 on the wait list for K1 as our first choice so I'm not sure I'd categorize this school as easy to get into.

Michael Pahre said...

On the BPS School Preview Time flier, this school was the only one that didn't have any dates/times listed for school visits (like yours). All other BPS schools had three visiting dates on the schedule.

Instead, it says to call to schedule an appointment.

Do you know what's up with that? Are they getting many visitors this way?

Regarding the hours of the school day... As a pilot school, they can extend the hours. My understanding -- possibly mistaken -- was that the BTU wanted to demonstrate with this school how they could achieve success without as many extra hours that some pilots have written into their work contracts.

By adding 1/2 hour per day, that adds 90 hours overall to the annual schedule. Add to this: parent-teacher conferences, two days prior to opening day, professional development, etc.

I thought the average number of extra hours for pilot elementary schools is something like 80, so this school appears to have significantly more work hours than other pilot elementary schools. Hmmmm...

Geeky Mama said...

Anonymous, you're probably right, especially with only a single strand in the lower grades. Sorry about your wait list number.

Michael, the BTU was just a little slow getting their school tours scheduled. There are more tours scheduled for Dec. 10 and Jan. 12. BPS updates that flier every so often so check back: http://bostonpublicschools.org/files/SPT%2009%20Elem%20English.pdf

I emailed the school to find out about this one today. There were about 30 parents there.

Karen Zgoda said...

Interesting. I live right down the street from the BTU and have taken great interest in the school's transition. When I have young ones in a few years I am hoping to walk them to BTU!