Eliot School Makes a Comeback

By Carlee Wieser
BU News Service

Close to shutting down six years ago, the North End’s Eliot K-8 School had nowhere to go but up.  As Boston’s oldest continuously-run school, the Eliot began with its opening as the North Writing School in 1713 and educated many famous Bostonians, such as Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. However, the Eliot was not living up to its historical name. According to the 2007 MCAS scores, the public school was failing. That’s when Traci Walker-Griffith stepped in as the new principal.

When Principal Griffith arrived, only 20 percent of 150 students were considered proficient in English and Math. The math data did not even count because the school had been accused of cheating. It became a Commonwealth Priority School11.19_NorthEndEducation_CarleeWieser and was put on the list to be considered for closure.

Today, the school has twice the number of students, higher MCAS scores, and a new Innovation status. The 2012-2013 test scores showed 82% of Eliot students advanced or proficient in math and 80% advanced or proficient in English Language Arts. The ELA scores were the best in the city, the math scores overall were the second best, and the sixth graders’ math scores were the highest in Massachusetts.

“Traci’s very innate belief is that every student can learn and every student should,” says Julia Mayer, the manager of development and external relations for the school. “There are no free passes and there are no excuses. Students should be learning and improving everyday.”

Principal Griffith has used this mentality to implement new programs that have helped achieve these MCAS scores. She began an MCAS boot camp on Saturday mornings to give the students better test-taking skills and allow teachers more time to focus on subjects in class. Anne Occhipinti, a mother of a first and fourth grader at the school, took her daughter to three of the boot camp classes. “I mean it definitely got her more comfortable,” she says as her daughter nods in agreement.

The school has also paired with a Boston College program called City Connects that brings a full-time guidance counselor/program coordinator to the school. Principal Griffith’s curriculum also requires that all students take art, theater, woodwork, physical education, and a foreign language once a week. She wants the students to be well rounded and believes they can learn with the support of a caring school, family, community, and faculty.
“The principal knows every kid and every parent by name,” says Julia. “Traci and Lydia [the assistant principal] are constantly giving feedback to their teachers. It creates a mindset in the school that everyone should always be improving. That mindset and bringing in teachers with that mindset is part of what has really made a difference in the school.”

This year the school has been given Innovation status. That gives the school more freedom in its staff, budget, curriculum, and school day. Although the state still provides the money, the school is given the amount of money needed per individual instead of per classroom.

“We got a time collaborative grant to explore extended day this year,” says Julia. “Traci really feels strongly about extending the school day.”

Boston has the shortest school days for an urban district in the country. Principal Griffith wants to work on using the grant and extending the school days to include any extra-curricular activities so that all kids can participate.

“For five years as a public school and now one year as an innovation school, our spectacular students and fantastic faculty have worked hard, grown, and improved,” said Principal Griffith in a recent northendwaterfront.com article. “I am proud to be part of this supportive community and look forward to another year of amazing achievement.”

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