Saturday, May 04, 2013

UPDATE: Not Quite the Goodnews Story... (scroll down)
Now This Is What We Are Talking About!
How To REVERSE the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Fire School Cops and Hire Art Teachers

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Orchard Gardens, a school in Roxbury, Mass., had been plagued by bad test scores and violence -- but one principal's idea to fire the security guards and hire art teachers is helping turn it around. NBC's Katy Tur reports.

By Katy Tur, Correspondent, NBC News

ROXBURY, Mass. — The community of Roxbury had high hopes for its newest public school back in 2003. There were art studios, a dance room, even a theater equipped with cushy seating.

A pilot school for grades K-8, Orchard Gardens was built on grand expectations.

But the dream of a school founded in the arts, a school that would give back to the community as it bettered its children, never materialized.

Instead, the dance studio was used for storage and the orchestra's instruments were locked up and barely touched.

The school was plagued by violence and disorder from the start, and by 2010 it was rank in the bottom five of all public schools in the state of Massachusetts.

That was when Andrew Bott — the sixth principal in seven years — showed up, and everything started to change.

“We got rid of the security guards,” said Bott, who reinvested all the money used for security infrastructure into the arts.

Orchard Gardens a one-time 'career killer'  In a school notorious for its lack of discipline, where backpacks were prohibited for fear the students would use them to carry weapons, Bott’s bold decision to replace the security guards with art teachers was met with skepticism by those who also questioned why he would choose to lead the troubled school.  

“A lot of my colleagues really questioned the decision,” he said.  “A lot of people actually would say to me, ‘You realize that Orchard Gardens is a career killer? You know, you don't want to go to Orchard Gardens.’”

But now, three years later, the school is almost unrecognizable. Brightly colored paintings, essays of achievement, and motivational posters line the halls. The dance studio has been resurrected, along with the band room, and an artists’ studio.

The end result? Orchard Gardens has one of the fastest student improvement rates statewide. And the students — once described as loud and unruly, have found their focus.

“We have our occasional, typical adolescent ... problems,” Bott said.  “But nothing that is out of the normal for any school.”

The school is far from perfect. Test scores are better, but still below average in many areas. Bott says they’re “far from done, but definitely on the right path.”

The students, he says, are evidence of that.

‘I can really have a future in this’
Eighth grader Keyvaughn Little said he’s come out of his shell since the school’s turnaround.

“I've been more open, and I've expressed myself more than I would have before the arts have came.”

His grades have improved, too. Keyvaughn says it’s because of the teachers — and new confidence stemming from art class.

“There's no one particular way of doing something,” he said. “And art helps you like see that. So if you take that with you, and bring it on, it will actually help you see that in academics or anything else, there's not one specific way you have to do something.”

Keyvaughn has now been accepted to the competitive Boston Arts Academy, the city’s only public high school specializing in visual and performing arts.

“All of the extra classes and the extra focus on it and the extra attention make you think that, ‘Hey, oh my gosh, I can really have a future in this, I don't have to go to a regular high school — I can go to art school,'” he said.

Chris Plunkett, a visual arts teacher at Orchard Gardens school in Roxbury, Mass., spoke with NBC's Katy Tur about the success of the arts program that led to an inspiring turnaround for students.
Chris Plunkett, who has taught visual arts at Orchard Gardens for the past three years, said the classes help develop trust between the faculty and students. During one particularly memorable project, he asked his eighth graders to write a memoir about a life experience and what they learned from it and then create a self-portrait.

“I couldn't believe how honest and candid they were, and how much I learned about them,” Plunkett said.  “I mean it was really, it was one of the most incredible things I've seen in eighth graders.”

Noting that kids need more than test prep, he added, it may have seemed “a little crazy” to get rid of the security guards to hire art teachers but “I definitely feel it was the right move in the end.”

Yes, Too Good to Be True
4 May 2013

Earlier I posted a story about an elementary school in Massachusetts where the principal fired the security guards and expanded the arts program….and, voila! The school miraculously improved.

The title was, “Could This Be True?”
Sadly, it was not true.

According to our friends in Massachusetts, the principal fired most of the teachers and the enrollment of the school changed, raising its socioeconomic profile.

No miracle.

Here is a comment from EduShyster:

“Barack Obama visited this school just last year–although the principal’s decision to bulk up the arts budget was not the lesson that BO was there to promote. Before Principal Bott got rid of the security guards he got rid of 80% of the teachers. And unlike other schools in Massachusetts where slash-and-burn turnaround efforts have produced very little, test scores at the school have risen, making Orchard Gardens what Arne Duncan might call a SIG-sess story.”

ChemTeacher added this comment:
“Let’s ask Deborah Meier. She has some understanding of the pilot schools in Boston. According to the video, the school originally opened as an empty promise, and the art and music equipment was left in storage.

That was for the old Orchard Garden Children. After those children were replaced with higher socioeconomic children, somebody finally thought of hiring art teachers.

“The new Orchard Gardens replaced a failed, dysfunctional public housing development with a mixed income community of over 200 units of affordable family housing in an inner city neighborhood. ”

The moral might be that we need integrated, mixed income communities, or maybe we can just hire art teachers right away. I’m worried about where the old Orchard Park children are, and do they have art and music there?”

ChemTeacher added:
“This is not necessarily a heart-warming story. Please read the link I posted above. The scores rose because they moved out the old, low-scoring population. Firing teachers didn’t raise the scores. The only way corporate reformers know to dramatically raise average scores is to cheat, or to raise average socioeconomic status. Art and music will save children’s lives and souls, and eventually pay off for their community and nation, but it won’t necessarily work standardized-test-score miracles.

“My guess is that the school was prepared and equipped specifically for the new affordable housing development, and that’s why the arts and music curriculum wasn’t launched until after the old community was gutted.

“Affordable housing” doesn’t mean low-income.”

Another Massachusetts reader sent this story, of a school that got $4 million in federal grants, extended the day from 7:30 to 5:30 pm, and hired a new staff of data-driven teachers. If Arne Duncan wants to give $4 million to every low-performing school, maybe he will see big change.

If they all fire 80% of their teachers, where will we find new teachers? And how destructive is that to the teaching profession? Or is that what he wants?

...BUT... Check out the Comment from... George Buzzetti

May 4, 2013 at 11:25 pm

Thanks for putting out the correction right away. However, this has nothing to do with the fact that the arts dramatically improves student performance. Yesterday I went to a California Joint Committee on The Arts with Chairman Senator Curren Price and Vice Chair Assemblyman Ian Calderon with one of the best set of panelists I have ever had the privilege to listen to. The meeting was "Undereducate-Overincarcerate: Can the Arts Help to Turn this Around?" There is a large book produced on this. It was also videoed and live streamed on the internet so there must be video copies also. If you call Senator Price's or Assemblyman Calderon's offices I am sure you can be provided this information.

If this works in the worst environment in prisons it will certainly work in schools where humiliation also is the cause of many problems. The arts helps to make you a whole person with a different perspective on your life and that of others. It is called "Thinking Outside of the Box." Even Boeing, Northrup-Grumman and JPL believe in this and have grants for the arts. The Boeing lady we listened to say that they believe that children need the arts from birth. I agree. I have a friend, Antonio Villacis, who runs the "Community School of the Arts Foundation" in L.A. and is now in 18 schools where they have taken out the arts and he has reinstated it along with exercise for students, parents and teachers with Zumba. It has made large changes in behavior and performance where instituted. He now has this program in a special education school for the medium to highly disabled students and I have seen and talked with the students and school psychologist and it really changes their lives. Truancy is down, behavioral problems in school are down, performance is up. What more could you want and attitude is also up.

We believe at CORE-CA that especially in poor performing schools that the arts is a methodology to improve the learning capability and understanding of students and to increase their self worth. We are working tirelessly to this end. Today I was at a Town Hall which was put on by Congresswoman Karen Bass which was about "African-American Students in Crisis" and I brought up using the arts to help with this situation especially with the male students who are in the most trouble. I also brought up again the fact that many teachers are being falsely accused of crimes including child abuse and also illegally terminated. As a result three more teachers came to me after the meeting was over and luckily my friend Lenny Isenburg and his lawyer Ron Lapekas who is handling these cases were there and I made sure they connected with them. How can teachers really teach if they are afraid that if someone says boo and falsely accuses them and they will be illegally terminated with their and their families lives being ruined just so that the district can bring in a TFA clone? This happens especially if you are high time, high salary scale and just about to vest in lifetime benefits. Lenny has a data base of over 600 now.

He can be reached at

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