If you’re not paying close attention you might be missing it. Amid mayoral elections, the search for a new superintendent, a new wave of budget cuts, and state takeovers of schools, the Boston Interim Superintendent, John McDonough, and his team are quietly leading a revolution, one that is transforming the way business is done in this 57,000 student public school district. Through a series of policy changes and reorganization steps, BPS has arguably implemented more reform in six months than the past three superintendents have in over a decade.
Specifically, these actions have altered the way teachers are hired and supported, and how responsive the central administration is to individual school staffing and training needs. What are these changes? They include the following:
Gone is the long-practiced system in which all posted teaching positions were first offered to teachers in the excess pool – the pool of tenured teachers released by their former schools. This often meant that new teachers, regardless of their qualifications, could not be hired until these positions went unfilled – a process that usually concluded in June or over the summer months. Over and over again talented new teachers were either passed over or scooped up by other districts. However, this year BPS will implement open hiring. Schools who demonstrate a commitment to improving teaching practice through evaluation may hire the best candidate for any open position beginning in March.
Full-service teacher support
In the past, teacher hiring/human resources, teacher evaluation, new teacher mentoring and support, and teacher professional development were all viewed as separate functions and overseen by separate departments. This fall, BPS consolidated all of these functions under a new Office of Human Capital. Once fully operational, this office will align all of these areas, allowing for targeted teacher recruiting, hiring, evaluation, promotion and support. Now a school principal can go to one office to request and receive comprehensive support for teachers at all stages of their career —one office that holds all the information in order to best support those teachers. This office will also train principals on effective observation and evaluation of teacher practice, in order to best identify support needs and provide feedback for professional growth.
Competency-based Professional Development
Like many school districts, BPS invests a significant amount of dollars each year in teacher professional development. An ongoing challenge for BPS and these districts is assessing the return on this investment. What knowledge and skills do teachers actually acquire? How does this training improve classroom instruction and benefit children? Under the leadership of the new Office of Human Capital, BPS is moving towards competency-based professional development approaches, in which teachers receive training in content and instructional knowledge and skills related to their grade and subject areas, and demonstrate mastery of this knowledge skill through submission of classroom and student-based evidence (e.g. completed formative assessments, implemented instructional plans, progress in student work, etc.).
While early in the roll out of these new policies, organizational changes and strategies, these developments just may end up moving the reform needle – and ultimately student success –in Boston further than we’ve seen in a long time. For it is great teachers – high quality teachers who are recruited, effectively supported, and retained – that make great schools. The sense of urgency among BPS leadership to increase teacher quality– even as we wait for a new superintendent – is refreshing.
As Interim Superintendent McDonough explains (Boston Globe, 2/5/14):
It is not about us or me or a future superintendent; It’s about the kids who come into our schools every single day. They can’t wait for a new superintendent; they can’t wait for me or for us to do something on a time frame that is convenient for adults.
Based on what has happened in just 6 months, he and his team are true to their words.
Jake Murray is the Senior Director at Aspire Institute. Prior to joining Aspire, he served for four years as a child and youth planner for the City of Cambridge, overseeing strategic planning, quality improvement, and program development for early education, out-of-school-time, and youth development services.