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McKay K-8 School in East Boston Wins $100,000 Payzant School on the Move Prize

School on the Move Ceremony

Donald McKay K-8 School Principal Jordan Weymer (center) holds the Thomas Payzant School on the Move Prize with Acting EdVestors CEO Marinell Rousmaniere during a ceremony at the Boston Harbor Hotel on October 31, 2018. 

On Wednesday, October 31, school improvement organization EdVestors awarded the Donald McKay K-8 School in East Boston the $100,000 Thomas W. Payzant School on the Move Prize. Now in its 13th year, School on the Move recognizes rapidly-improving schools that have made exemplary progress in advancing the academic achievement of all students. 

The McKay School, where 60 percent of students are English Learners, received the award in a ceremony at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Fellow finalist schools, Muriel S. Snowden International High School in Copley Square and the Oliver Hazard Perry K-8 School in South Boston, each received $20,000. Normally finalist schools receive $10,000, but an anonymous donor this year doubled the amount during the event. 

“Great schools like Donald McKay are the beating heart of our city and I applaud the teachers and staff at the school for being awarded this year’s School on the Move Prize,” said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “I congratulate all three school finalists for setting an example that by working together, we can improve outcomes for students and ensure they receive a high-quality education.” 

The 800-student Donald McKay K-8 has experienced significant growth – climbing steadily from the bottom 6 percent of schools statewide six years ago, to surpassing the district average in literacy and math by empowering teachers as the experts and decision-makers in their classrooms and as leaders of the school. The McKay has focused on building trust among teachers, students and families, and meeting the academic and social emotional needs of its English learners, who make up a majority of the school’s population.

Jordan Weymer, the principal of Donald McKay K-8, said his school empowers its teachers to work together to craft their approaches for EL and immigrant students.

“We call it our ‘choice and voice’ culture, where we encourage schoolwide engagement among students, teachers and families to determine the best path forward in our individual classrooms,” said Principal Weymer. “Our school is a reflection of our community, in population and approach. We remain committed to not only improving grades and outcomes for all students, but also to the social and emotional needs of our families and EL students by maintaining a safe and welcoming school community for all.”

Winners' Reaction

McKay School Principal Jordan Weymer hugs school administrator Michael Munroe after learning the school won the 2018 School on the Move Prize.

The McKay’s student population is 89 percent Latino, 60 percent of whom are EL students and more than 50 percent of its students are economically disadvantaged. In order to achieve this empowering and inclusive atmosphere for all students, the McKay refers to their EL students as “Emerging Bilinguals” – emphasizing that their first language is an asset rather than a roadblock.

“All three of this year’s finalists embody the amazing work that principals and teachers are doing across Boston,” said Marinell Rousmaniere, Acting President and CEO of EdVestors. “We applaud and celebrate each of them for the work they are doing to provide Boston’s students with a solid foundation for future success, and other Boston schools with blueprints to continue to improve.” 

The school also partners with multiple community organizations in the area to provide bilingual counseling to students and families, and keep immigrant families informed on their rights. Students at the McKay take much of the community building efforts into their own hands as well, putting on an annual “Immigrant Pride Week” to inform, advocate for and empower the school’s students and families. 

“I’d like to congratulate the Donald McKay on their award today and on the remarkable progress they’ve made in such a short time,” said Laura Perille, Interim Superintendent of Boston Public Schools. “All of the finalists – the McKay, the Snowden and the Perry – are all shining examples of the inspiring, yet less publicized, achievements of individual Boston Public Schools to improve educational outcomes for students.”

In addition to awarding the Prize, EdVestors documents and shares key strategies from School on the Move Prize winners each year. During Wednesday's ceremony, EdVestors highlighted the continuous improvement of the 2012 winner, the New Mission High School in Hyde Park. Five years after winning the prize, New Mission continues to drive change and accelerate student achievement by embracing a school climate that emphasizes three major elements: strong leadership that is intentionally shared among all teachers and staff members at the school; student-focused, data-driven decisions based on holistic assessments of strengths and needs; and an embedded culture of high academic rigor coupled with personalized support. These key strategies and supports fueled New Mission’s rise to the one of the highest performing schools Boston.

“All of the School on the Move Prize-winning schools demonstrate how implementing key practices can lead to significant improvement,” said Dr. Naia Wilson, headmaster of New Mission High School in Hyde Park, the recipient of 2012’s School on the Move Prize. “Our consistent focus on shared leadership by the adults and commitment to instructional rigor for our students has powered our continuing improvement. We never stop pushing, because we know we can always work smarter and better to impact the life trajectories of our students.”

The Thomas W. Payzant School on the Move Prize is made possible by generous support of the James M and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation along with corporate sponsors including Berkshire Bank, BDO, Boston Private, Brown Advisory, Eastern Bank, Eaton Vance, Eversource, Fidelity Investments, Insource, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, jetBlue, LEGO Education, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Microsoft, Plymouth Rock Assurance, Rodman CPAs and State Street Bank among other generous companies, foundations and individuals.