Overview and Challenges
Back in 2007, the Hurley K–8 School was at risk of state takeover. The vast majority of students were not proficient in English language arts or mathematics, making it one of the lowest-performing schools in the Boston Public Schools. Only 16 percent of Hurley students achieved proficiency in English language arts on the Massachusetts state assessment. Mathematics achievement was even lower—a dismal 5 percent. Principal Marjorie Soto knew she needed to help all of her students succeed.
Today, 65 percent of students are proficient in English language arts, above the state average, and 82 percent are proficient in mathematics—well above the state average. The community gives the school a four-star rating out of a possible five stars. What changed to yield such dramatic improvement?
Massachusetts implemented NISL’s Executive Development Program to improve school leadership and drive transformation in 20 high-need districts, including the Boston Public Schools, beginning in the 2006–07 school year. Soto was among the first group of participants in the NISL program. She attributes many of the improvements she made in her school to the comprehensive approach of the NISL program.
Principal, Hurley K-8 School, Boston, MA
Snapshot of Hurley K-8
- 336 students
- 88 percent minority
- 52 percent English language learners
Students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches
Soto is eager to talk about the ideas and concepts that helped her make Hurley a turnaround school. She credits NISL with helping her in “… establishing a clear mission that was measurable, meaningful, and doable” and increasing the urgency to get there.”
“There was a very clear message that the house was on fire and we had to stop trying to put it out with little buckets of water.” Soto says. “We’ve gone from a yearly sense of urgency to a monthly sense of urgency.” She also learned strategies to marshal this sense of urgency into changes in school culture. “I learned to try to target my naysayers to buy in and become the folks who would help me spread the buy-in. To have something that was sustainable, and really to change the culture of a school, you had to have so many pieces in place. And I felt like I finally received a roadmap to do that.”
The roadmap empowered the principal to strengthen her leadership skills and implement specific initiatives to improve learning. Among these were transforming the school’s use of data. “We no longer spend time explaining poor results, but instead look to the data to inform how we teach. And there’s a framework in place, there’s a process that we go through.” Armed with data and a new understanding of best practices in the content areas, Soto set about improving instruction in science and math. “You have to have a clear vision for what you want your kids to know and be able to do at the end of the day. I learned what a scientist really is, and what classes that create scientists really look like—the experiments, the questioning. It’s been extremely influential in what I’ve done in the last few years, in creating our science, technology, engineering and math [STEM] program.”
“NISL was the first program of its kind that really connected to the work in a very comprehensive way. In a university program, you talk about a lot of operational stuff. But it was never presented or connected in this way—tied to a mission, tied to a vision of what you were trying to accomplish—as a strategic move to realize your overarching goals.”
“What really stands out was the opportunity to have professional development that was all around the work that I was doing every day, day in and day out, with my colleagues. It really instilled in me a global sense that I was not alone.”
Principal, Hurley K-8 School, Boston, MA
The culture of Hurley School has changed, instruction has changed and, most important, student learning has changed. The data reflect this. “When I started working with NISL,” Soto says, “our school was performing far below the district average. Since then, we actually have grown four times greater than the average Boston public school.” Today, the school’s scores are above the state average.
In recognition of this dramatic turnaround, Hurley school recently was named a finalist for the Thomas W. Payzant School on the Move prize, awarded to Boston public schools identified as significantly outpacing other schools in terms of student achievement growth. Soto summarizes the transformation well. “We were a school that was in danger of being taken over by the state … they were always threatening. And we’re certainly not there anymore. We’re a school that people everywhere are saying, ‘oh, I hear your school is really good.'”
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NISL-led students gain over a month of learning over peers.
Increase in math proficiency rates above matched schools.
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NISL increased proficiency in math and literacy assessments.