Gov. Deval Patrick dropped by the newly-opened Roger Clap Innovation School in Dorchester on Tuesday seeking to draw attention to it as a potential model in closing student achievement gaps.
The Roger Clap became the first innovation school to open in Boston after parents fought back against the efforts of Boston Public Schools administrators to close down the Harvest Street school. Administrators relented and allowed the school to reopen under new management.
In August, the Patrick administration awarded the school a $50,000 innovation implementation grant to train teachers. The money comes through the state’s “Race to the Top” program funding and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Innovation schools, which are similar to charter schools in their autonomy and flexibility in hiring, budget, and scheduling, were created under the Achievement Gap Act of 2010.
Patrick toured the Clap, which houses grades K through 5, with principal Justin Vernon and Patrick’s education secretary, Paul Reville, in tow.
The school, one of 18 innovation schools across the state, has 180 students, 9 classroom teachers, 2 support staffers and 4 specialists.
At a K-2 class, Patrick stopped to read the children’s book “Yes We Can,” a narrative about friendship between anthropomorphic animals. During a fourth grade class, he watched as students came up with ideas about what a successful governor does. (The suggestions from students included “solve economic problems,” “make fair laws,” and “help people get jobs.”)
Patrick asked the students to send a copy of the compilation to his State House office. “I can work on that list,” he said.
Patrick also sat down with school administrators as they explained the differences between the Clap and other public schools.
“It‘s been a really rich visit and an encouraging one in the sense that we see some wonderful examples here of this principal and his faculty trying some new things, to reach kids we‘ve been leaving behind, and I am so, so proud to see another example of the results of the achievement gap bill taking shape,” Patrick told reporters afterwards.
Vernon told the Reporter the Clap has a longer school day by 30 minutes and a two-week summer program for pupils in the first through fifth grades. Administrators also plan to use data to identify where students are weak and match them up with the appropriate teacher.
Students are also allowed to draw on the desks and the walls within the school via a new dry-erase paint called “IdeaPaint,” created by an Ashland-based company.
Weekly progress reports will be sent home to parents, and the school is holding regular town halls in order to engage the community, Vernon said.
A steady stream of politicians have dropped by the school in the last month, including Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and Mayor Thomas Menino. The mayor and Superintendent Carol Johnson were at the school last week to kick off the 2011-2012 school year.
As Patrick was walking from one class to another, one parent who was at the school moved to shake his hand. “You guys did this,” Patrick told Kenny Jervis, who was among the parents who pushed to keep the school open. “You guys did this.”