Chelsea Schools Shine Bright Among Urban Districts

It’s an across-the-city success story, a cause for celebration for parents of Chelsea schoolchildren, a nod for a “great job” by the hard-working principals and teachers at all the schools – from the John Silber Early Learning Center to Chelsea High School – and a final tribute to the exceptional leadership of retiring Supt. of Schools Dr. Mary Bourque – and her administrative team at City Hall.

Here are some of the noteworthy accomplishments for a school system that has, for one reason or another, not received its due recognition statewide for what Dr. Bourque called, “this little scrappy school district, the Chelsea public schools and how it is really pushing and redefining urban education”:

Chelsea achieved the highest categorization earned by the state’s urban districts, that of “Substantial Progress Toward Targets”

Grades 3-8 English Language Arts average student growth percentile exceeded the state target

Chelsea’s criterion Reference Target Percentage increased 12 points and is the highest in the District 5 Partnership

Chelsea High School’s mathematics average student growth percentile increased 14 points and Advanced Placement Calculus scores outperformed the state and the globe

Chelsea English Language Learners improved 13 points showing “Substantial Progress”

Chelsea’s “Lowest Performing Students” improved 22 points in elementary and middle schools and 19 points in high school.

Dr. Bourque said the road to today’s successes began in 2011.

“We’ve been underfunded all these years, that’s why the Mass. Student Opportunity Act (that would add $1.5 billion to education funding over the next seven years) was so important,” said Bourque. “But during these years of underfunding, we’ve always gone after grants and the grants helped us to do the turn- around work in our schools.”

Bourque said Chelsea is seeing “a march towards deep transformational change” in the schools.

“Our AP schools have been slowly increasing, our overall criterion reference scores increased in 2018 and 2019 and our English Language proficiency scores continue to increase,” said Bourque.

Chelsea High students are making their mark with their excellent scores in Advanced Placement tests, particularly in Calculus, which certainly illuminates the superb mathematics department at CHS. Eighty-six seniors took AP exams last year.

“We’ve been working hard year in and year out toward these achievements,” said Bourque. “The last four years we’ve has about seventy-two percent of students going on to two-or-four-year colleges. The last three years, we have had over $4 million given in scholarship and awards. That goes beyond what other districts do.”

Being able to Overcome Challenges

There are challenges in the school district. As Bourque notes, for every 100 students who enter in the Chelsea school system, approximately 25 leave within 12 months for various reasons.

“Yet, we’re able to move the needle on opening the doors of opportunity for the students,” said Bourque.

The superintendent said that classroom size “is in a good, reasonable 22-25 student-to-teacher ratio. There are 6,400 students in the district. The school system is seeing an influx of parents with school-age children moving here from East Boston, where rents for apartments have been soaring.

Superintendent says a team effort is producing great results

What does Dr. Bourque attribute to the improved scores system wide and the increasing number of graduates going on to excel in college? One of many shining examples is 2018 CHS graduate Deedee Hernandez, who is now a freshman at prestigious Dartmouth College.

“It’s our teachers, our administrators, our academic coaches, our district coordinators, our assistant superintendents – everybody is just working coherently, everybody is in the boat rowing in the same direction. I’m very proud of our schools.”

Assistant Supt. Kent said, “I would just stress the fact it’s a progression – our students do come and go and we do have a lot of mobility –  the high school does have wonderful scores but it’s coming from a whole system of employment. The success is being built from the ground up.”

Superintendent-Elect Dr. Almi Abeyta will be succeeding Dr. Bourque at the helm of the Chelsea school system. She is ready to carry on the excellence and pursue even greater heights for the district.

“There are a lot of systems and structures in place,” said Abeyta. “The academic work on the instructional side is strong so my job will just be to carry it to the next level. My goal is to continue to work and to make sure we’re steering the ship in the right direction that it’s already been going in.”

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