E.D. Study Examines Chelsea's Value As School-Reform Model

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From the outset of their involvement in Chelsea, Boston University officials have viewed the project as a potential national model for urban school reform.

A new federal study of the first year of the partnership raises a host of fundamental questions about the project that the study's authors believe have implications for school reformers nationwide.

The study was conducted by Pelavin Associates of Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Education Department, at the request of B.U.

It commends the university for its "family schools" approach, for beginning "a broad range of activities'' on behalf of Chelsea's students, and for hiring Diana Lam, who resigned her position as superintendent last spring to run briefly for mayor of Boston.

The B.u. management team Was less successful during the 1989-90 school year in raising money to support the project--falling 27 percent behind its goal of raising $3 million--and in establishing a good working rapport with the community, the study says.

Theodore Sharp, chairman of B.U.'S Chelsea management team, said the report "did a decent job on our strengths and weaknesses."

In an appendix to the report, the researchers ponder the implications of the lessons learned during the first year of the reform effort.

For example, although B.U. officials pride themselves on concentrating on issues like curriculum . and students' readiness to begin school, the study warns that "process considerations" are just as important as substantive programs during the initial stages of a major change.

"This is particularly true if the initial agreement is born in conflict," the study says, "and when the mainstays of the district and the community--in this case, the teachers and Hispanic leaders-may be among the original and strongest opponents, whose support must eventually be won over to achieve success."

The authors also wondered whether:

  • An outside entity would have been willing to provide support without assuming control of the school system, given Chelsea's "patronage and lack of administrative capacity."
  • The university will be able to build "internal capacity and ownership" among teachers and administrators to sustain the programs on their own.
  • A family-school approach can succeed without stimulating the city's economy and building support for education among business.
  • The B.U./Chelsea partnership will continue to serve as a catalyst for organizing parents and the community and eventually result in the transfer of political power to elected officials who are more representative of Chelsea's diversity.
  • The results of the partnership will justify elected officials' decision to relinquish control of the system.
  • Vol. 11, Issue 04, Page 16

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