Boston University's Experiment
Unique program brings reforms; but teachers balk at attempts to tie raises to performance. RUNNING A SCHOOL DISTRICT
(Page 2 of 2)
But the school reforms, like the digging of the Panama Canal, went forward slowly. Many eyes are watching the project: the Governor's Oversight Panel, an Executive Advisory Committee (a host of special-interest groups), and the Chelsea School Committee.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Teachers initially were worried that BU would be breathing down their necks. But the university has come in with a gentler hand than anticipated.
Part of that is because of acknowledged mistakes on BU's part.
In a candid lecture recently, dean of education and director of the project Peter Greer admitted that not understanding how the community operates as well as not giving teachers credit for the good they had accomplished, resulted in slower progress.
Cathy O'Rourke, who teaches fifth-grade science at Shurtleff, is in favor of BU's reforms.
``In the first year you had people so skeptical, watching. Restructuring will take awhile. These small successes hopefully will lead to people believing that there will be one big successful system.''
Others are still concerned.
``There's a committee for every letter of the alphabet,'' says Donald Menzies, former head of the Chelsea Teachers Union and the high school band teacher. ``It's an aimless game of bumper pool. They're trying to look good so we'll understand they're sincere in trying to fix things up.''
Another complaint is over pay. The teachers union voted down a new contract recently because portions of raises will be tied to performance and because raises are not retroactive. The contract, approved unanimously by union negotiators, offered a 26 percent raise over the next three years.
While teachers and guidance counselors still do not have phones, and the physical plant is unchanged, BU is shaping the course of Chelsea in visible and invisible ways. Teachers get to take one-week mini-sabbaticals to see model programs in other elementary schools around the city. The university is offering the talents of several of its schools, including public health and social work. Graduate students come in as teachers' aides.
Mrs. Harrington's multilingual instruction in math is one example of the kind of fresh ideas fostered by the university's involvement. Harrington works smoothly back and forth between Spanish and English, knowing which children need more support in Spanish. The children work in groups, sometimes solving the problems together in Spanish, then giving answers in English.
This project is the work of Maria Brisk, an associate professor of education and coordinator of the bilingual education program at Boston University. ``This cooperative style is being pushed these days, and there's research to back it up. It's a good way of getting kids of differing racial and ethnic backgrounds to work together,'' Ms. Brisk says.
Harrington says that Spanish-speaking children sometimes turn their backs on their first language because it's ``not cool.'' But having an Anglo teacher speak Spanish in the class allows them to accept it and not lose their culture.