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Gains Seen in B.U.'s Oversight of Chelsea Schools

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In its first year of managing the public school system in Chelsea, Mass., Boston University hired a superintendent of "exceptional ability" and negotiated a promising contract with the teachers' union, but it fell short in its efforts to raise money for the project, the first-annual report on the unprecedented partnership has concluded.

The report paints a picture of a school system in radical transition: It says the district's 10-year management contract with the university has affected everything from the district's budgeting process to playgrounds at its elementary schools.

In writing the summary, Peter R. Greer, dean of the university's school of education and chairman of the management team that oversees the project, drew on reports from teachers, administrators, staff members, parents, Chelsea residents, professors, and student volunteers from the university.

"The data in this report provide evidence of the substantial achievements in the Chelsea schools in the first year of our collaboration," Mr. Greer writes. "We believe this evidence disproves the claims of detractors, both those who opposed the formation of the partnership and those who seek to thwart its promise now."

"We have not done everything right," Mr. Greer adds, "but the Chelsea/Boston University partnership has clearly begun to move the schools in the right direction."

Fund-Raising Gap

Shortly after the university contract with the district took effect more than a year ago, the management team hired Diana Lam, an area superintendent in the Boston school system, to serve as superintendent of the Chelsea schools.

In June, the university and the Chelsea Teachers Union signed a contract that will raise teachers' pay 26 percent over three years. It also includes an incentive system to pay bonuses to high-achieving teachers and a new evaluation system. (See Education Week, Aug. 1, 1990.)

The negotiations over the new contract were complicated by "incorrect assumptions" that the partnership with the university would make tax increases unnecessary, the report says, or that the university's endowment could be tapped to meet expenses in Chelsea.

In fact, the report notes, it is not widely understood in the community that the money Boston University raises for the project must be used for specific programs, not for salaries, textbooks, or basic school facilities.

The city "must provide more than the 17 cents per tax dollar--the lowest figure in the state--it now allocates for education," Mr. Greer writes.

Although the university hoped to raise $3 million in the first year, it only raised $2.167 million.

In an interview, Mr. Greer said many corporations and foundations prefer to "back a good horse" rather than take a chance on an experimental program.

The fund-raising gap made it impossible for the Chelsea management team to begin preschool and early-childhood programs on the wide scale that had been planned, although elementary-school programs were expanded.

Of the money raised, $800,000 paid for the installation of computers in each of Chelsea's six schools. They are used for instruction and administration and have enabled the district to computerize its budget for the first time, the report says.

Other Achievements

Other major achievements cited in the report include:

  • The university's school of public health, working with the district and other community agencies, developed a comprehensive health-services plan that will provide students with counseling, immunizations, dental care, nutritional services, and weight counseling.
  • The university's school of social work put together a drug-education workshop for students and developed a plan for coordinating services with parents that began this fall.
  • More than 200 b.u. students and staff members participated in a tutoring program that is credited with helping to reduce by 50 percent student failures in the third quarter of the school year.

But, the report notes, the tutoring program received more requests for assistance than it could meet, and suffered because of the difficulties students had traveling between the university and Chelsea and with fitting the tutoring work into their schedules.

A fraternity at Boston University also "adopted" an elementary school, painting a mural depicting the students in professional occupations and restoring its playground.

Objectives have been established for reading, writing, math, science, and social studies in kindergarten through 8th grade, and teachers are to be trained this year in techniques for meeting them, Mr. Greer said.

The management committee has decided to make music a central component of education in Chelsea, in the hope that it will help students develop self-discipline and will draw parents into the schools to hear their children play.

High School Restructured

Chelsea's high school has been restructured into three separate schools: a traditional high school, an alternative school for students at risk of dropping out, and a "renaissance school" in which teachers work in teams and set their own schedules.

The superintendent developed the programs to eliminate the pervasive academic tracking in Chelsea, Mr. Greer explained.

The project also has launched an intergenerational literacy program that is teaching 66 adults to read and write and has taught 137 how to teach their children to read and write.

During the current school year, Mr. Greer said, the emphasis will be on intensive staff development for teachers.

"The results are good in terms of teachers working hard," he said. "What we're looking for is student achievement."

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