Strengthening the Dearborn
December 10, 2014
To the Dearborn 6-12 STEM Academy community,

For the last several months we have worked closely together to build a great future for our students and this school. As you will recall, over the summer we expressed our great concern that after four years in Turnaround (Level 4) status and a series of reforms, the Dearborn still had not demonstrated the kind of rapid academic progress we needed to see. This put the school at significant risk of being declared Level 5, which would have meant state receivership. Like you, we wanted to develop a turnaround solution that would rapidly improve opportunities for students while keeping the Dearborn out of Level 5 status. This meant we needed to take decisive action. We are pleased to let you know that we are ready to move forward.

We heard you when you expressed concern this summer and fall that our initial proposal would have meant the Dearborn would become a “citywide” school, rather than a locally-focused school that primarily served students and families in the Roxbury community. What’s more, your voices have reminded all of us that the Dearborn truly is a promising place that draws its strength from the people, partners and advocates who have helped push all of us forward for years.

This fall we worked with the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education to help us set the Dearborn on a different path. We believe the work we are doing together is a model for how Districts and the state can work together on school improvement strategies in the future. Rather than being placed into Level 5 status, together we created an opportunity to keep the Dearborn as a local BPS school. The Commissioner set clear expectations that he believes must exist to ensure rapid turnaround, which included a requirement that we select an operator/receiver for the school. We established a group of community stakeholders, put out a public call for operators, held an open deliberative process and have reached the point where it is time for us to make a decision.

The stakeholder group recommended a short list of operators to me. Although no single operator received unanimous support, the proposals we received from BPE and Mass Prep Network stood out for the stakeholder group as ones with the most potential to succeed for Dearborn students. My own analysis concurred with these results. It is affirming that, after this extensive process, that we have reached the point of making a choice between two strong organizations with excellent proposals.

I have chosen BPE as the external operator that will join with the Boston Public Schools to achieve, with the community, great outcomes for Dearborn students -- outcomes that we know that students and families both expect and deserve.

BPE, formerly the Boston Plan for Excellence, is a Boston-based organization that has had a partnership with BPS for the past 30 years. It has made a commitment to the Roxbury community. BPE has played a significant role in reform efforts within the Boston Public Schools. It has been a critical partner in district-wide systemic reform, and has been associated with successful turnaround efforts in our high schools. BPE is also a state-approved Receiver on DESE’s list of providers with turnaround experience.

BPE is committed to developing a turnaround plan for the Dearborn that depends on listening and learning from students, parents, and the Dearborn community that has supported them for many years. I know they will hit the ground running, and will bring great talent.

Although BPE is the same umbrella organization that operates our Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School (and which partnered with us on our initial proposal for the Dearborn this summer), the proposal accepted by us today is fundamentally different. It is much stronger, is driven by community input and a transparent process, is focused on the Dearborn as a standalone school and -- most significantly -- allows the Dearborn to remain a local school serving students in the Roxbury area using the Home-Based enrollment system we use today.

I also want to express my appreciation to Mass Prep Network. This group has created quite a bit of excitement within BPS and in the months ahead we will explore opportunities to formalize a relationship with Mass Prep to assist in other schools’ turnaround efforts.

We will set up opportunities for families and staff to meet with BPE in the weeks ahead to discuss and help shape the turnaround plan. We envision a three-year turnaround partnership between BPS, BPE and the Dearborn, with an opportunity to extend the partnership if that is our shared desire as a community.

We believe that our plan is a very strong one -- powered by a community process that included BPS, the Boston Teachers Union, community organizations, parents and students. We could not have reached this point without you and you have my thanks. The Dearborn will remain a BPS school operated by BPE and will continue to serve all of its current students and will welcome incoming grades under the same Home-Based system we offer today. The Dearborn will operate under a clear, powerful turnaround plan that will serve all students while expanding opportunities and educational excellence for everyone.

I am grateful to you for your partnership.

John McDonough
Interim Superintendent
Previous posts:
REQUEST FOR SUBMISSIONS (RFS) for the procurement of education improvement services to assist in the turnaround of the Henry Dearborn Early College STEM Academy. An RFS package of information is available. Completed submissions will be due not later than Friday, October 24, 2014, at 4:00 PM (Boston Time).
This document guided a community-focused conversation to inform the preliminary proposal to be submitted to DESE on Friday, September 12th
  • On Friday, September 12 we submitted a proposal for an intervention plan to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) for the Dearborn that we believe will achieve dramatic academic transformation, but which is different than the in-district charter proposal we had initially brought before the School Committee. This recommendation has been informed and supported by our community engagement process. The goal of this proposal is to maintain the Dearborn as a Level 4 school (so that it remains in the BPS) while demonstrating external intervention, accountability, and community engagement to transform the school. 
  • Today, the Dearborn faces an enormous challenge. New leadership, teachers and community partners are working very hard every day. We want it to stay a Boston Public School so we can deliver on our promise of a world-class Dearborn 6-12 STEM Academy that serves students and families in the core of our city. Averting a state takeover is not our only objective. This intervention proposal harnesses the passion and dedication of the Dearborn community so we can develop and implement an academic plan that is bold, innovative and transformative for all students.
Update from the Superintendent, September 5, 2014: (en Español) (Cape Verdean Creole)

To the Dearborn STEM Academy community,

Welcome to a new school year! Our teachers, school staff and facilities teams worked hard over the summer to prepare the Dearborn’s temporary home here on the fourth floor of the Burke High School. We know that transitions like this one are never easy and we appreciate your flexibility as we build a new, state-of-the-art Dearborn STEM Academy building at the Greenville Street location. This is the first new school building in Boston in many years and we are proud that it will be in the heart of our city, serving the students and families who have set a clear vision for the Dearborn’s success.

Today, however, the Dearborn faces an enormous challenge. As I shared with you over the summer, we have seen some academic progress here but not enough. Our teachers are working very hard every day. Thanks to them and our community partners, the Dearborn is a school that is safe and welcoming. Students and families are dedicated to learning – but unfortunately we remain deeply concerned that based on academic data, the state may designate the Dearborn a Level 5 school as early as this month. This would mean a state takeover.

We want to prevent this and keep the Dearborn within BPS. This is why I recommended in July that we partner with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School, which is a BPS school, to create an in-district charter school here at the Dearborn. We have six schools of a similar type in BPS already and I believe it would have sent a strong signal to the state that we are serious about delivering on the Dearborn’s promise. Dudley Street and BPE are important partners that are dedicated to improving outcomes for our city’s children. They have a proven track record of doing so successfully.

Since then we have heard clearly from our community that although everyone agrees the Dearborn must transform, the feeling is that we must transform together. This means developing a plan that we shape collaboratively, with an eye toward strengthening the future of the Roxbury-area community. In fact, this has been the story of the Dearborn for many years: This is a school that has been shaped by you, strengthened by you, and that must now deliver for you.

My goal in July was to spark an urgent community conversation. We presented a bold academic solution that I hoped would avert a state takeover. Thanks to you, the conversation has taken hold and ideas are flowing. Mayor Walsh and I believe that we should take advantage of the energy and passion you have demonstrated by working with you to develop and implementing an academic plan that is bold, innovative and transformative for students. This means adjusting course and taking a risk. The risk is that the state might not agree with our strategy. It could still declare the Dearborn a Level 5 and put changes in place that we cannot control.

Our hope is that instead, the state will see what we see: that the Dearborn is home to a community that cares deeply about students and families – and that this team will do whatever it takes to push our school and our students forward. I will keep you posted as we get the job done together. Let’s get to work.


John P. McDonough
Interim Superintendent