Six years ago, Samuel Mason Elementary School, located a block from the Orchard Park Housing Project in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, was on the verge of being closed down. In the wake of Boston Public Schools' 1991 implementation of a controlled choice system, which enables parents to send their child to any school within the district, Mason's enrollment had decreased by half.
Today, the school enjoys a dramatically improved status. With a full enrollment, rising test scores in reading and math, and nationally recognized programs in reading and professional development, Samuel Mason is one of Boston's most successful and sought-after public elementary schools.
What accounts for this transformation? An underlying recognition that education in an inner city environment requires a team approach.
Central to Samuel Mason's turnaround has been the sharing of leadership responsibilities among teachers and staff. Today, just about every area of concern to the school is attended to by teams comprised of teachers and administrators.
One focal point of the school's change efforts has been an increased use of data to track progress in the classroom and make necessary changes. Before each new school year, groups of teachers called "grade level teams" meet to establish goals for their students. The teachers then collect data on an ongoing basis using classroom assessments, observations, and other sources of information.
Both the criteria and results are presented to the Site Based Management team (SBM) during the beginning, middle, and end of the year. This approach has enabled teachers to supplement district and state assessments with measurements of their own design in order to monitor classroom progress.
"Once we began to measure what we did, and held ourselves accountable, we really began to move forward. We included measurements that were meaningful to teachers, that they themselves helped to select, as well as the system," explains Principal Mary Russo.
Teachers at Samuel Mason now take the lead in their own professional development as well. They act as resources for one another in a variety of capacities. Expert teachers assist others through modeling instruction, consultation, teaching in pairs, and mentoring, and some of the classrooms serve as demonstration sites. One teacher, for example, models the effective use of technology for others in the school. Staff members use personal professional development days to visit other classrooms within the school. Within grade-level teams, teachers videotape each other to improve instruction.
When experts from outside Mason are needed, teams interview and select consultants who stay at the school site for a year, working side-by-side with teachers in the classroom. The average Mason teacher now participates in more than 50 hours of professional development per year, up from six hours in 1991. As Russo explains, the reasons for this dedication to Mason's success are clear: "Everyone has good ideas for the children, and when you're a leader of leaders, it's a much better system."