Two Dot charters earn ‘monuments of learning’ awards

The faculty of Dorchester’s Neighborhood House Charter School  celebrate their Effective Practice Incentive Community (EPIC) award. Dorchester’s Boston Collegiate Charter School also won the award. 	Photo courtesy Dominic SloweyThe faculty of Dorchester’s Neighborhood House Charter School celebrate their Effective Practice Incentive Community (EPIC) award. Dorchester’s Boston Collegiate Charter School also won the award. Photo courtesy Dominic Slowey

Two Dorchester charter schools have been chosen to win an excellence award for their high academic standing on MCAS scoring. Boston Collegiate Charter School and Neighborhood House Charter School were among 18 schools chosen nationally and six in Massachusetts to win the Effective Practice Incentive Community (EPIC) award for ranking in the top one percent of MCAS scores. The prize is in exchange for the schools sharing their effective educational practices to benefit other institutions
In honor of their achievements, Boston Collegiate and Neighborhood House will receive $165,000 and $147,500, respectively, to be distributed as a bonus among principals, assistant principals, teachers and teaching aides. Neighborhood House’s Board of Trustees also voted to give bonuses to those who don’t qualify, such as the in-house psychologist and school advisor.

In order to win the award multiple years in a row, the school must improve upon their own test scores; in the past four years, Boston Collegiate has won three times. Executive Director Kathleen Sullivan said the school’s success hinges on challenging the students and maintaining high expectations of them, including offering class on Saturday for those who need extra help.

“I think that the reason we have made these incredible gains regularly over the past several years is due to the focus and just relentlessness of our teachers and our students around ensuring that every minute of the day is spent learning,” she said.

The EPIC award was launched in 2006 by the non-profit group New Leaders for New Schools (NLNS) to identify and reward teachers and educational leaders who are making strides in academics. Since its inception, the program has awarded $2 million to Boston charter school educators, or about one-third of the $6.4 million distributed altogether. The money comes from a combination of the US Department of Education’s Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), as well as private donors.

Other schools awarded included five in Pennsylvania, two each in New Jersey and Colorado, and one each in California, Ohio and Washington D.C. A total of 175 schools submitted applications.

Sullivan estimates 45 percent of her students are economically disadvantaged, and Kevin Andrews, headmaster of Neighborhood House Charter School, estimates more than 70 percent of students at his school have a similar status.

Andrews said what sets Neighborhood House apart from other schools is a staff of high-quality teachers who constantly seek to improve themselves, along with extensive parent involvement.

“We tell parents that you have to be involved in your child’s education,” he said, “and if you’re not involved in your children’s education it wont be the best education they can get, because you’re not involved in it.”

Andrews also attributed some of the school’s success with its partnership with The Achievement Network, a Boston-based non-profit also partnered with Boston Collegiate that runs a testing and assessment program for the MCAS and coaches the schools in assessing scores and eliminating learning gaps among students. Forty percent of this year’s EPIC-winning schools that teach grades 3-8 are partnered with the program.

To achieve such high numbers, Sullivan said the hardest part for an educator is determining how to tailor lessons to reach each student’s individual method of learning.

“I think the biggest challenge is that students each bring their own sort of challenges to the table,” she said, “and so its figuring out how to differentiate every course, every lesson, to ensure that we are making the material accessible to all students.”

Additional state winners included MATCH in Boston ($84,000), which won “gold-gain” status, the highest rank available, and silver-gain winners City on a Hill Charter Public School in Roxbury ($74,000), Community Day Charter Public School in Lawrence ($131,000) and The Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School in Adams ($78,000). Boston Collegiate and Neighborhood House’s winnings are the two highest out of all 14 silver-gain schools.

For Dorchester, Andrews said winning an award for academic stature is a spot of bright news that he hopes could help the neighborhood improve its reputation.

“We have this building, this permanent building here in Dorchester that we bought,” he said, “and we believe this is a monument to our community and our families. That’s what’s really important here.”