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Principal Fires Guards, Expands Arts and Sees Test Scores Soar

Society & Culture  (tags: abuse, activists, americans, children, crime, culture, education, ethics, family, police, politics, safety, school, society )

- 1844 days ago -
Who would've thought kids would learn better without police breathing down their necks?

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Kit B (276)
Friday May 3, 2013, 8:12 pm
Photo Credit: NBC Nightly News

In defiance of societal trends, a K-8 principal fired all his public school’s security guards and reinvested in the arts, drastically improving grades and test scores in a school that once “had a prison feel,” NBC News reports.

Orchard Gardens, of Roxbury, Massachusetts, was founded in 2003, but quickly fell to the bottom of public schools in the state. Of 800 students, “more than 90% qualify for free or reduced lunch, 25% are learning to speak English, and 25% require Individual Education Plans to meet special needs,” according to the pilot school’s website.

As NBC’s Katy Tur reported, rampant violence and an oppressive learning environment hampered student growth at Orchard Gardens. Students were prohibited from wearing backpacks, for fear of concealed weapons. More than half of teachers didn’t return after a year on the job.

Then came Andrew Bott in 2010, Orchard Gardens’ sixth principal in seven years, and everything changed.

“A lot of my colleagues really questioned the decision,” Bott told NBC. “A lot of people actually would say to me, ‘You realize that Orchard Gardens is a career killer? You know, you don't want to go to Orchard Gardens.’”

Bott completely cut the school’s security infrastructure and revitalized its art programs. Musical instruments were pulled out of locked storage and returned to classrooms. Faculty reopened dance and art studios that had been out of commission for years.

Within a year, the school already saw “significant increases in the numbers of students reading at grade level and the percent of students proficient on grade level math assessments.” And within three, Orchard Gardens completely transformed. Not only have test scores and grades improved—students are also better behaved.

“We have our occasional, typical adolescent ... problems,” Bott told NBC. “But nothing that is out of the normal for any school.”

Orchard Gardens’ refocus is emblematic of studies linking arts education with academic achievement. A 2012 study by the National Endowments for the Arts found that “At-risk students who have access to the arts in or out of school also tend to have better academic results, better workforce opportunities, and more civic engagement.” Chris Plunkett, a visual arts teacher at Orchard Gardens is starting to see that play out.

“They need something more than test prep and more than learning that there’s only one answer to every problem,” said Chris Plunkett. “Even though they don’t realize how much they’re learning and how much they’re strengthening, it’s happening, and I think that transcends into other areas.”

Eighth grader Keyvaughn Little is also noticing the positive effects of less guards and more arts education. Since Principal Bott switched things up, Little’s grades have improved and he’s even been accepted into the prestigious Boston Arts Academy for high school.

“Now that the teachers actually help me and push me on the right track, I can actually see a future for myself,” Little said. “I've been more open, and I've expressed myself more than I would have before the arts have came.”

Principal Bott and his administration are rightfully proud of their school’s renewal. A statement on the Orchard Gardens website suggests other public schools take a hint:

“Our team believes that the exciting transformation of one of Boston’s lowest performing public schools will serve as a national model for school turnaround.”

By: Steven Hsieh | Allternet | NBC report |


JL A (281)
Friday May 3, 2013, 8:33 pm
The research on music improving math learning and performance predated NCLB--nice to see a school basing changes on research and moving funds into education rather than addressing problems created by not providing the students the education they deserve.

Kit B (276)
Friday May 3, 2013, 8:38 pm

Begin teaching music early and math skills will be stronger. This is a simple reallocation of funds, with the best possible result.

David C (29)
Friday May 3, 2013, 10:22 pm
It took courage to do what he did, with some people hoping he'd fail and ready to gloat if he did. More power to him!

Jae A (316)
Saturday May 4, 2013, 8:59 am
Now and then I read something that picks my spirits up and lets a ray of real hope flow through my mind as to the survival and positive progress for mankind...this is one of those storie for me personally.

Thanks kit for sharing this one...awesome find !

Kit B (276)
Saturday May 4, 2013, 9:07 am

Yep, it some times does take courage to do the right thing. This is just basic education, though we learn more all the time about how the brain works, and possible improvements for the class rooms, it is still a classroom and not a prison. We are bombarded by all things wrong in education, we rarely see the articles or hear the stories about what is right with education. If we would get our political and religious agendas out of the classrooms and just allow teachers to teach, and students to learn, things would be far less glum.

Mike S (86)
Saturday May 4, 2013, 9:22 am
Outstanding and inspiring story! Thank you KIt, and great comments all!

Kit B (276)
Saturday May 4, 2013, 9:40 am

Thanks Mike, I do agree.

Thomas P (280)
Saturday May 4, 2013, 1:52 pm
Thanks Kit. I think this should be shared and applied throughout the country.

Past Member (0)
Saturday May 4, 2013, 1:53 pm
I saw something about this on TV last night. Mr Bott is amazing and it's wonderful to see someone do something so positive for the children he obviously cares about. I wish we had more school leaders like him. I'm sure there are a lot of kids who do too!

Jaime A (52)
Saturday May 4, 2013, 2:20 pm
Noted, thanks.

Elaine Al Meqdad (283)
Saturday May 4, 2013, 2:30 pm
And then again, who would have thought that kids would come to schools looking to kill other kids...thus having a police presence simply may have prevented such from happening. I suppose at the end of the day when all is said and done, it goes to show where in these crazy days, one's priorities lie!

pam w (139)
Saturday May 4, 2013, 3:27 pm
I wish him well!

Robert B (60)
Saturday May 4, 2013, 5:56 pm
This goes to show that children NEED and WANT creativity and knowledge. Not a prison like environment.

Kit B (276)
Saturday May 4, 2013, 6:14 pm

I agree with that Robert, children live what they learn.

Judy C (97)
Saturday May 4, 2013, 7:06 pm
This story is excellent. I'm a big proponent of the importance of the Arts. The oppressive atmosphere of the schools with guards is demoralizing to students. The vitality of the arts lifts children's spirits and enhances brain functioning and development. If everything is drudgery, children become dull. Children have amazing enthusiasm when they are respected and treated right, rather than as criminals in the making.

Kit B (276)
Saturday May 4, 2013, 7:10 pm

Thank you, Judy. With that attitude you would be an excellent teacher.

Sherri G (128)
Sunday May 5, 2013, 1:57 am
Can't say it better than Judy. Sent stars to everyone's comments because they were excellent. Can't send another star in 24 hours to you Kit but thanks for the story.

Craig Pittman (52)
Sunday May 5, 2013, 4:30 am
A ray of sanity in the education system. The Arts are anything but frivolous as the results at this school clearly show. My day just got even better having read this story. Thank you Kit.

Mitchell D (87)
Sunday May 5, 2013, 8:26 am
I signed a "thank you" note to Bolt, on ForceChange, the other day.
I hope this program continues to succeed, and that other schools pick up on the message.

Arielle S (313)
Sunday May 5, 2013, 10:03 am
Bravo! School should be fun, not scary - would that a million others would follow suit.

Bryna Pizzo (139)
Sunday May 5, 2013, 10:11 am
Thank you! Will wonders never cease. There is hope in the nation. Unfortunately, those who want to eliminate science will not stand for this because it increases the number of thinking individuals, and it doesn't improve the sale of guns.

Theodore Shayne (56)
Sunday May 5, 2013, 10:12 am
It is said that children who play an instrument or are involved in some type of music increase their learning ability by 11 points.

lee e (114)
Saturday May 25, 2013, 10:42 am
What sort of "mentorship" does a "police state" offer? In our life we take chances, and have to believe that regardless of the crazies in the world, we cannot allow them to dictate our freedoms, we have to move on from a state of fear and research more what builds the state of freedom and love of intellectual pursuit!

Dee C (229)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 7:39 am
Andrew Bott – Orchard Gardens
Principal Statement:

"I have never been so excited to be a part of Boston Public Schools as I am now. Opening only seven years ago, Orchard Gardens has struggled from the very beginning. While the student mobility rate is low, approximately fifty percent of the school staff turns over each year. Additionally, there is extremely high turnover in school administration – I will be the sixth principal in eight years. Because of this, the students and families at Orchard Gardens have never had the consistency and focused school vision that are necessary for both students and a school to thrive. As a result, the failure rate on the MCAS exam is one of the highest not only in Boston Public Schools but also across the Commonwealth. Through the time I have spent in the school, I also know that the students are like all students in Boston -- truly amazing. Despite the continual turnover, the hallways are quiet and common spaces are calm. Orchard Gardens also has the most impressive school facility in Boston. While this will be hard work, I firmly believe that the turnaround at Orchard Gardens will be both fast and significant. This will take the dedication of an experienced teaching staff willing to come together to lead this work. In just a few short years, we will become one of the highest performing schools in Boston Public Schools.

I have had many professional experiences that I believe will serve me well at Orchard Gardens. Prior to coming to Boston, I taught bilingual Spanish 5th and 6th grade classes in the Houston Independent School District. In Boston I completed a one year principal training program at the Hernandez K-8 School and have spent the past ten years working in Boston. I have served as the principal of both the Mather Elementary School and the Rogers Middle School.

I believe the key to success is a common vision, embraced by the entire professional staff of a school. With this common vision, I believe teacher leadership and professional flexibility are the keys to success. As teams, teachers must have the flexibility to make professional decisions about curriculum, lesson planning, assessment analysis, student support, and intervention services in order to truly turn around student performance. Most importantly, however, I believe that a successful staff must have fun working together and be willing to support one another through all aspects of this challenging work."

He sounds like the best thing that happened to that school..It's great news..
Thank you Kit..
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