Three principals search together for ‘common practices’ to share

Principals representing three models of education— public, private, and charter schools— participated in a cross-sector conversation earlier this month on Dec. 16 about what schools need to do to provide rigorous academic instruction to all students regardless of background or achievement.

The discussion, which took place at the offices of the Boston Foundation, was moderated by the city’s Chief of Education Rahn Dorsey, who called the conversation “critical but also timely,” noting that “all schools are working to identify and institutionalize common practices that will personalize and, where needed, individualize instruction and support.”

The panel comprised Thabiti Brown, the head of Codman Academy in Codman Square, Nick Cuomo, the principal of St. John Paul II Catholic Academhy in Neponset, and Khita Pottinger, the principal of the Martin Luther King, Jr. K-8 Inclusion School. The three educators said they hope to share common practices and in so doing serve as a pilot initiative for similar cross-sector partnerships.

Speaking about the “all too rare” collaboration, Brown stressed that “it’s not about politics. For them to come to Codman and give me feedback about what is and is not working, that is beautiful. That is the work we need to do for all children in the city of Boston.”

He then took up the wide range of challenges his charter school faces, particularly after the school expanded last year to include kindergarten and elementary school grades.

For his part, Cuomo discussed how a single class of students can represent a wide range of learning styles and educational needs. Describing his school community as “mission driven,” he said that he tries to assist his teachers in creating multiple ways of teaching one topic without being overwhelming.
One of the challenges Cuomo identified was being able to serve students with special education needs without the federal funding that public schools have access to.

Pottinger said that she strives to provide as much professional development for the educators at her school as possible. She noted that professional development can help teacher to meet students where their individual needs are and not “teaching to the middle.”

At the King School, one of the goals is to foster students who are passionate about social justice in their communities, Pottinger said, posing the key question: “What are the metrics for being a good person in this society?”

Both Brown and Pottinger said that, unfortunately, some of the students that are underserved in their schools are the ones who are outperforming their peers academically.

Brown said that at Codman, students who are quick to pick up a lesson and understand concepts end up being “classroom helpers” and working to help their peers understand a subject, which he acknowledged was a strength of sorts for the school community but a disservice to those few achievers.

“People hear so many things,” said Pottinger, “but when you step foot in Codman and see the students who used to attend the King School, it makes you realize that we really are serving the same students. There is opportunity for alignment around a singular focus, and we are not actually that different.”