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LSOE Program Seen Aiding Local School

Director, Parents and their Sons
Lynch School of Education Director of Urban Outreach Initiatives Catherine Wong, far right, with (L-R) parent Maria Flores, Russell Elementary School Principal Tamara Blake-Canty and parent Jose Flores and the Flores’ sons, Jose Luis and Treyvon.

By Ed Hayward | Chronicle Staff

Published: Dec. 4, 2014

For six years, Lynch School of Education faculty, staff and students have worked closely with the Russell Elementary School in Dorchester, producing a range of innovative programs and supports that are being credited as part of the reason the Russell has risen to new heights of academic achievement.

This year, the Russell earned a Level 1 designation from the Boston Public Schools, marking a dramatic rise from its earlier designation as a Level 4 school.

Russell School Principal Tamara Blake-Canty has developed an extensive network of partnerships focused on academic achievement, health and wellness and parent and community engagement. She said the school’s work with the Lynch School has had a direct impact on the academics and school culture.

“We’re just elated to receive recognition as a Level 1 school for all of the work we’ve done,” said Blake-Canty, who joined the Russell as principal in 2008. “As a staff, we could not have done this without our partners, like BC.”

The partnership with the Russell has been spearheaded by the Lynch School’s Office of Urban Outreach Initiatives, which has worked closely with Blake-Canty, teachers and parents to determine what kind of supports make the most sense for the school, said Catherine Wong, the director of the office.

“The Lynch School’s approach was to listen and really hear what Tamara felt the needs were for the school, then come back to campus and think that through with the Teacher Education faculty here, with other experts, and determine what would be the best matches of support,” said Wong.

The collaboration has included Lynch School faculty Maria Brisk, Patrick Proctor, A.J. Franklin and the recently retired Irwin Blumer. In addition, Donovan Scholars and BC undergraduate education majors have served as student teachers and volunteers at the Russell.

Brisk and Proctor have worked with teachers to develop innovative writing, reasoning and language arts curriculum for the school, where more than half of the students are classified as English Language Learners.

Franklin worked with Blake-Canty in the development of a community engagement initiative and Blumer, a veteran principal and school superintendent, served as a leadership coach. Russell students have visited the BC campus as part of a focus on college exploration. BC’s Office of Governmental and Community Affairs and the Department of Athletics HEAR Program further supported the partnership.

Blake-Canty said the strength of the partnership with BC and other community organizations is based on a single-minded focus on the needs of the school.

“The partners come in knowing that they have to stretch themselves,” she said.

Blake-Canty said the school’s next challenge is moving further up within the group of BPS schools classified as Level 1 performers. Ultimately, she wants the Russell in the top 90th percentile of Level 1 schools.

Wong said the collaboration will remain focused on the needs of the school.

“The next challenge is to sustain the support, because we know it works,” said Wong. “We’ll continue to work with Tamara to see if there are any gaps. Are there things we can bring back to the Lynch School to consider starting something new? Or do we continue making improvements to our current efforts?”

At a recent winter coat and glove giveaway at the school, Maria Flores – the parent of a seven-year-old Russell student – said the school serves its diverse student body by providing a vibrant and caring community with a focus on academic excellence.
“My oldest son has been here since he was four and I’ve seen so many changes,” said Flores. “They have been creating partnerships and the school has improved and grown.”