Clap School to celebrate its innovative first year

By 
Melissa Tabeek, Special to the Reporter
Apr. 19, 2012

On May 5, at an “Inaugural Founders Celebration,” the Roger Clap Innovation School in Dorchester will honor those who have been a crucial part of creating and implementing the school’s initiative in its first year, including Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson and 30-year Clap School teacher Donna Hill-Harris.

The celebration, which has been organized by a committee including faculty, parents, and community members, is an important first step in creating community traditions around the school, said Justin Vernon, the Clap School principal. “In that way we’re going to be celebrating the presence and the future of the school by honoring the folks that have been contributing to the school’s ongoing history and core values.”

The Clap School’s year will draw to a close in June, and it has been a “fantastic success,” said Vernon of a school whose future was not always certain. In October 2010, the Clap was put on a list of schools to be closed under Johnson’s Redesign and Reinvest proposal. Parents protested the move and the administration allowed it to reopen last year under new management as an innovation school.

The first innovation school in the city of Boston, the Clap is one of 19 innovation schools across Massachusetts, which are similar to charter schools in that they have more flexibility in areas such as budget, curriculum, staffing and the school calendar. This autonomy has allowed teachers to take the Clap School’s mantra of “connecting classroom through community” outside the usual parameters of curriculum.

As an example, Vernon pointed to when literacy teacher Suzanne Raddy took her fourth and fifth grade students to visit the Dorchester Historical Society to write about the history of different tools.

Dr. Patricia Paugh, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and member of the Clap School’s governing board, said that students who are directly involved with their environment stand to experience education with more impact and relevance to their daily lives. “They’re more engaged. It connects them to their lives and can still be academic,” said Paugh.

The school currently has 170 students, nine classroom teachers, two support staff, and four specialists.

The Inaugural Founders Celebration will not only honor and highlight those involved with the Clap School; it will also offer the school as a model for neighboring schools.

Marie Zemler Wu, who has a child in kindergarten at the Mather Elementary School in Dorchester, is on the Founders Celebration Committee. Though she admitted it seemed unusual to join a committee of a school where she does not have a child, it makes sense to her. She joined to connect with families in the neighborhood and to take best practices back to her daughter’s school.

“Boston has this unique way of sending our children to schools so our neighborhood children aren’t necessarily at the same school. We live next to each other but we don’t always know what’s going on down the street,” said Zemler Wu.

The event will include musical entertainment, as well as a live mural and a short film that will show the journey of all involved with the Clap School’s first year.

Gene Gorman, co-chair of the Founders Celebration Committee, said that May 5 will not just be a night to celebrate the first year; it will be a time to display how the school is flourishing. “It’s a way to say we didn’t just survive or get a reprieve. We were really fortunate in that we were given an opportunity to do something different.”