The Boston Compact Sector Leaders Weigh In

The Wheelock College Aspire Institute was recently selected as the fiscal sponsor for the Boston Compact, a citywide effort to bring public, charter and Catholic schools together.

Klare Shaw, Special Assistant to Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson, Kevin Andrews, founding Headmaster of the Neighborhood House Charter School and Mary Grassa O’Neill, Superintendent of the Catholic Schools, Archdiocese of Boston shared with us their vision for the Compact, early wins and the challenges that lay ahead.

1. Why does the Compact make sense right now? For each sector? For Boston?

Mary : We have always been very siloed. There has been not much interaction between students, principals and school leaders. [Through the Compact] we have committed to the City of Boston that we all have the same education focus and want to make sure that all children have the same opportunities to develop the skills and access the opportunities to have a very successful life.

Klare: The relationships we already have make good groundwork [for the Compact], and there is a lot of fluidity between the systems right now that didn’t exist before. This is true for leaders, teachers and families who are familiar with the multiple sectors. The mayor reflected that we are one city and schools need to cooperate and accommodate families.

describe the image Kevin: I got involved [in the Compact] because there was too much animosity between charters and districts across the Commonwealth and in Boston. I credit Dr. Johnson and the Mayor with establishing the Compact. Superintendent Johnson was open to talking about how we can work better together rather than as separate entities. With some change in BPS and with the help of leadership in Mayor’s office, there is a sense of urgency that moves us forward and reminds us that we need to serve every child in city of Boston.

“I got involved [in the Compact] because there was too much animosity between charters and districts across the Commonwealth and in Boston.” -Kevin Andrews

2.  What do you hope to achieve? What are you particularly excited about?

Mary: I hope we develop a high level of trust between and amongst educators and in those leading the organizations so that we can be open about what we do well and where we can improve. Each sector is known for particular things, and one thing the education world has not done well is to build on a practice of excellence. We want that practice of excellence to be seen and recognized in all schools no matter which sector it came from.

Kevin: This is always about building relationships. At the principal/teacher level, I hope we see the sharing of best practices, whether with Black boys, English language learners or students with disabilities. I want to look back and say that teachers are working together because of the Compact. We’ve seen pockets of that, but we want to see it more. For example, principals are talking across sectors on their own about how to make schools better.

Klare: The Compact has an intentional focus on the city’s most vulnerable learners. [I want to see] people come together to set priorities about what the city needs in the name of progress.

3. What are you proud of so far? Any early wins? 

Mary: School doors are literally and symbolically open to have folks from all sectors visiting describe the image and learning. No educator who has taken advantage of this opportunity can say he has walked into a school and not learned something. I am excited that some of this has spilled over into emergency planning, for example. We feel we can call and speak with one another, which is unprecedented. It is difficult to find somewhere in the country where this is going on to the same degree.

Klare: I went to a conference convened by the Gates foundation, and out of all of the other locations where similar work is happening, not only was the level of relationship building [in Boston] greater, but also the goals to serve specific student populations were so clearly set out in our compact, was very different than other cities there.

Kevin: [I am proud of the] Mayor coming on board, efforts to bring in the Catholic schools, the school-to-school partnerships and the school showcases. [The philanthropic organizations that comprise] the Boston Opportunity Agenda said this would have been unthinkable five years ago. There are still a lot of naysayers, but I think that group is becoming smaller and smaller.

Klare: It’s extraordinary to see students from all three schools playing music together.

Kevin: Meg Campbell, the Head of the Codman Square Academy (a Commonwealth charter school), was appointed to the [Boston] School Committee. How many other cities have done that?

Mary: In the past, one sector would tear other sector down to raise itself up. Early on, it was decided that we were not about that. I want to give as many kudos as I can to Dr. Johnson because it would have been easy for her to say she didn’t have the time to commit to this effort.

“We feel we can call and speak with one another, which is unprecedented. It is difficult to find somewhere in the country where this is going on to the same degree.” – Mary Grassa O’Neill

4. What are some potential challenges that you anticipate?

Kevin: The true test of the Compact is sustainability, which usually has to do with people and relationships. Who the new mayor is going to be will dictate how successful the Compact is going to be. Who knows what the Superintendent is going to do? How do we become an oasis of something people see as very positive no matter who is in what leadership role?

Mary: It’s very important that we stay focused and produce compelling evidence. This is the beginning of something great that can turn around education for every family in Boston.

Klare: We all continue to have various financial challenges – [a challenge will be] continuing to support and extend activity with appropriate financial support.

5. Is there a full understanding of the Compact at the teacher level?

Kevin: I don’t believe that our teachers are fully aware of what’s happening with the Compact. We have not dug deep enough. Some principals are on board. All charter school leaders and Catholic school leaders aware of the Compact, but I don’t think we are digging down deep enough.

Don West Photography Klare: The School Committee is aware of it, but within BPS other people might not be as polite or may have fear around what the Compact means. But if you speak to some of our principals, they are extremely enthusiastic about the time for reflection and collaboration.

Mary: We cannot overlook that it’s much newer for principals and teachers. I think it will take some time for relationships to mature and develop.

6. What is the significance of the Boston Compact nationally compared to what other cities are doing?

Kevin: Seven cities are being funded for implementation and 16 with planning grants, which might join in phase two. Boston is the only Gates Compact city explicitly committed to serving populations that have been traditionally underserved. It is fertile ground for us right now. We are also only one of two cities to include Catholic schools. All of us represent 83% of children in the City of Boston. We have to thank Gates for national connections and Wheelock/Aspire for local connections. I think Gates believes Boston is a major player in this effort.

Mary : I think if leaders and educators are willing to open up, we can be joined together and become a team. We have a lot of good work to do ahead.

“…the goals to serve specific student populations [are] so clearly set out in our compact.” – Klare Shaw

Kevin: The proof of the pudding is in the eating! I am very much encouraged by the work done to date and really believe that for Boston and all its problems and history, we will be a city that people will point to if they want to see collaboration happen.

Mary: We are excited, enthusiastic and will make this happen. We will make a difference.

This interview was conducted by Jake Murray, Senior Director of the Aspire Institute and Julie Kalt, Communications and Operations Specialist at Aspire. For more information on the Compact, please Visit the BostonCompact website.