Academic Turnaround of a Public Junior High
Boston's Timilty School stimulates learning with cluster teaching, extended class hours. EDUCATION
WHEN Hippolyta, Theseus, Bottom, and Puck were late coming to the Timilty Middle School in Roxbury, Mass., the teachers didn't panic. Here, teachers structure their own time. They just continued teaching until another school's cast of ``A Midsummer Night's Dream'' showed up. Such flexibility is helping to vault this 450-pupil junior high into the national limelight as a ``school that works.'' It's part of an experimental program called ``Project Promise'' that involves team teaching and extended hours.Skip to next paragraph
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Earlier this week, the Carnegie Corporation of New York cited the school for its team teaching in a report called, ``Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the 21st Century.'' Timilty is also one of 218 middle schools selected by the United States Department of Education for a Secondary School Excellence Award; it's the first inner-city secondary school in New England so recognized. It's won many local trophies for academics, including a Paul Revere silver bowl (also awarded to Archbishop Tutu, Pope John Paul, and Corazon Aquino) given by the mayor; and a city award for greatest number of books read independently in the summer.
Rolda Lawrence, a seventh-grader and honor-roll student, says she didn't read much before coming here. ``Now I read books every day; they get you hooked on reading.''
Four years ago, the school's standardized test scores in reading and math were in the lowest quartile. This year it is first in reading scores out of 22 middle schools in the city. ``We haven't heard about math yet,'' says principal Mary Grassa O'Neill. No student has ever been expelled from Project Promise, and suspension has been cut to less than half what it was the first year of the program.
Mrs. O'Neill smilingly calls Timilty the ``Avis of middle schools,'' because it always seems to be No. 2: It's second-highest in teacher attendance and second-lowest in retention rate (percentage of students held back).
But it may just be the Avis attitude of trying harder - and of thinking it's the best - that has propelled this school forward.
Project Promise, which was brought to Boston by school Superintendent Laval Wilson, is based on a similar program in Rochester, N.Y., for remedial students. Since Timilty's test scores were so low across the board, Dr. Wilson wanted to employ the project schoolwide.
``It felt good to have it applied to the whole school,'' he says. ``Kids need more help. You give them more time on tasks and you'll get better progress.''
Students attend school from 7:40 a.m. to 3:10 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Friday they get out at 1:40 in the afternoon. Saturday, it's 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. State law prohibits schools from mandating Saturday classes, so attendance is voluntary. O'Neill says that for some parents, the longer school hours involve a sacrifice. ``Many count on older kids to take care of younger ones, visit grandma, do grocery shopping, or to have part-time jobs,'' she says.
``On Saturdays we come to have fun, but you learn, too,'' says seventh-grader Chaka Meredith. ``It was my decision to come. My parents wanted me to babysit, but they respect this.''
Attendance on Saturday, says O'Neill, has gone from from an average of 45 percent to 65 percent. And she's anticipating an even greater turnout next year when Boston public schools start a new choice plan. Timilty received three times the number of applications other schools did. ``We asked parents not to choose us unless they could buy into the Saturday program,'' she says.