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The Remarkable Turnaround Of The Orchard Gardens School

A student paints at Orchard Gardens School. (Ava Aguado/WBUR)

A student paints at Orchard Gardens School. (Ava Aguado/WBUR)

What happens if you trade security guards for easels and music stands? Can a focus on arts education transform a school? For one school in Roxbury, the answer is, yes.

Orchard Gardens is a big K-8 school, with 900 students. English language-learners comprise half the student body. Ninety percent of the kids come from low-income families. The school was struggling, and the students never scored well on a host of statewide standardized tests. At one time, Orchard Gardens was one of the five worst schools in all of Massachusetts.

All that changed three years ago when Principal Andrew Bott first arrived.

Bott is young. He’s in his 30s. His close cropped hair is starting to go a little gray. The navy blue Orchard Gardens shirt he’s wearing — just like every single one of his students — is snug enough to reveal a little pudge around the waist. But the most striking thing about Bott is his bright, clear, powder blue eyes that radiate kindness, focus and pride.

In 2010 Orchard Gardens was named one of a dozen so-called “turnaround schools” in Boston. The designation is important, because it unlocked $4 million of additional federal funding when the school became one one of several arts and humanities pilot schools supported by the Obama administration. More crucially, it gave Bott the freedom to make dramatic changes not possible in other public schools.

And he did. Bott wanted to change the culture of the school. He extended the school day. And he replaced 80 percent of the teachers. They all agreed to get rid of the security guards who once patrolled the halls. And they helped design the arts-centered curriculum evident in almost every classroom we visited in the school.

(Listen to the segment for interviews with Bott, and several students we met at the school.)

Three years later, there’s no doubt Orchard Gardens has changed.

But it’s time to ask the question about results. Today, in a political climate where schools are measured by performance numbers, Orchard Gardens still has a long way to go. The school’s Spring 2012 MCAS proficiency levels still lag significantly behind state averages in every category and grade.

But if you look at another set of numbers, Orchard Gardens shines. It’s in the top 2 percent of Boston public schools in terms of the rate of student improvement.

The question now is whether that improvement can be sustained. The school’s $4 million federal grant runs out at the end of this month. But Bott is confident the school can stay on track due to the new staff and its commitment to reform.

Guests

Andrew Bott, principal at Orchard Gardens School

Photos


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  • JMTietjen

    As post-secondary educator, I am thrilled to hear this radio report! No matter the intellectual focus, engagement brings joy, meaning, and a sense of intellectual belonging.  Meaningful confidence allows kids (& adults) to face the unknown and solve problems.  Whether that engagement and focus is arts-focused (musical, visual, or language arts), or some awesome science or math project, inviting kids into the discipline  produces better students with the passion and habits of lifelong learners. 

  • Chrismlynch

    Kudos to Andrew and the rest of the staff, as well as the hard working students of OGPS. Upon reflection, I’m wondering how my husband’s physical traits have any bearing on the quality of his work as an educational leader or why Meghna felt obliged to describe his “pudge around the middle”. I found it rude and in poor taste. Meghna’s description of how SHE perceived another’s physical traits did not lend itself to the discussion at hand – turnaround education. After reading the article, and listening to the broadcast, I was left wondering if other reporters would have taken the liberty to describe a female as “going grey or having pudge around the middle”. I venture that such a rude gesture might not have been made with a description of a female educator or other professional.

    • Meghna Chakrabarti

      Dear Christine, 

      First, the broadcast version is the version of record, and the website text is a very curtailed set of paragraphs gleaned from the original radio story.

      Second, absolutely no offense was intended. It is standard journalistic practice to describe people in stories and articles. Part of our duty is to put listeners there, to be able to paint a picture in listeners minds about the people in the story. You very often hear/read descriptions such as “round face”, “long brown hair”, “light wrinkles”, etc. You’ll find that in every story. And yes, I would have written whatever description seemed most accurate for a female employee as well.

      Only two people have taken issue with my use of the word “pudge”. I was simply trying to invoke a minor description using different language than one might usually see. Again, absolutely no offense was intended. Careful listeners will note that that sentence also held within it the important fact that everyone in the school wears the OGPS shirt — an important detail that I believed was best expressed by the fact that even the principal wears the shirt every day. Also, In the very next sentence, the color of his eyes isn’t the central point. The real point of that sentence is that his eyes radiate kindness and pride, as I emphasized in the piece.

      I’m surprised that in a 12 minute story (three times *longer* than usual for radio) that contained nothing but admiration for OGPS, the issue of one word, one sentence description, is the one that people seem troubled by. Surely you can see the bigger picture here. This entire story, every second of it on the air, was about the incredible transformation of the school — a transformation that Andrew Bott is leading. I hope very much that we can keep that in mind.

      Many thanks for reading this,
      Meghna

      • Meghna Chakrabarti

        Apologies for the total lack of paragraph breaks in the comment above. I don’t know why that happened.

    • Meghna Chakrabarti

      Dear Christine, 
      My original reply mysteriously contained no paragraph breaks! Hard to read. So, I’m reposting and hoping this is easier to read.

      First, the broadcast version is the version of record, and the website text is a very curtailed set of paragraphs gleaned from the original radio story.

      Second, absolutely no offense was intended. It is standard journalistic practice to describe people in stories and articles. Part of our duty is to put listeners there, to be able to paint a picture in listeners minds about the people in the story. You very often hear/read descriptions such as “round face”, “long brown hair”, “light wrinkles”, etc. You’ll find that in every story. And yes, I would have written whatever description seemed most accurate for a female employee as well.

      Only two people have taken issue with my use of the word “pudge”. I was simply trying to invoke a minor description using different language than one might usually see. Again, absolutely no offense was intended. Careful listeners will note that that sentence also held within it the important fact that everyone in the school wears the OGPS shirt — an important detail that I believed was best expressed by the fact that even the principal wears the shirt every day. Also, In the very next sentence, the color of his eyes isn’t the central point. The real point of that sentence is that his eyes radiate kindness and pride, as I emphasized in the piece.

      I’m surprised that in a 12 minute story (three times *longer* than usual for radio) that contained nothing but admiration for OGPS, the issue of one word, one sentence description, is the one that people seem troubled by. Surely you can see the bigger picture here. This entire story, every second of it on the air, was about the incredible transformation of the school — a transformation that Andrew Bott is leading. I hope very much that we can keep that in mind.

      Many thanks for reading this,Meghna

  • Chrismlynch

    Dear Meghna,
    I have responded to your thoughts on Radio Boston FB page.
    Regards,
    Christine

Hosts Meghna Chakrabarti and Anthony Brooks introduce us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and bring us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3.

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