The BBA is always looking for ways to reach out to the greater Boston community and understand how the legal community can support and interact with a wider network. Education is a huge priority for us: we proudly hold the Law Day in the Schools program, Summer Jobs program, and Financial Literacy program every year to educate Boston public school students of all ages on issues ranging from the role of democracy in everyday society to professional development and fiscal responsibility.
One other program that I have the privilege of participating in as President of the BBA is the ‘Principal Partners’ program (formerly known as ‘Principal for the Day’), run by the Boston Plan for Excellence. For years, the BBA President has been invited to visit a public school for the day to learn more about its structure, curriculum, and challenges. This week, I paid a visit to the Mary Lyon Pilot High School in Brighton to find out what it’s like to see the school from the top.
The Mary Lyon Pilot High School is only one part of the Mary Lyon school system. What started in 1992 as a K-5 program for special education students with emotional and behavioral impairments gradually expanded to become a K-8 program. Under the guidance of Headmaster Jean-Dominique Hervé Anoh, the school subsequently added a full high school over the last five years and now spans K-12. The high school has 134 students in total.
Headmaster Anoh – who, by the way, was tirelessly energetic and informative even for such an early hour! – was kind enough to show me around the school and explain its structure. As a former teacher in special education, I found the program fascinating: every single class at the Mary Lyon Pilot High School is fully inclusive, incorporating both general education and students with emotional and behavioral impairments. This is very different from many other schools that claim to be inclusive, but which only place special education students in certain classes and have a separate special education resource center. Headmaster Anoh informed me that the Mary Lyons model is perhaps the only one of its kind in the country.
The students enjoy small class sizes ranging from 15 to 20 students, with two to three teachers and/or aides assigned to each class. The fourteen teachers at the high school are dually licensed in their content areas and special education. The enrollment goal for each class is to have approximately 25-30% special education students and the rest general education students. Structuring classes this way is the most effective teaching model, according to Headmaster Anoh. As funding and the student population have changed, the school has had to adapt. For example, right now the school’s junior class is 49% special education students. This is not optimal, according to the headmaster, but because inclusion is such an integral part of the culture, the school works hard to accommodate students of all backgrounds and emotional and learning capabilities.
The school also focuses on ability-based learning and grades students on their achievements while taking care not to penalize them for their disabilities. For example, Headmaster Anoh told me about a student who transferred into the high school from a different school system. This student was a repeating ninth-grader based on his low overall grades, yet he had achieved high scores on the MCAS and on his final exams. When the headmaster asked him why this had happened, the student explained that whenever he handed in his homework late – not out of laziness or procrastination, but due to a learning style that compelled him to revisit each assignment to try to complete it perfectly – he had points deducted. At Mary Lyons, work is graded solely on its academic value, so the student was able to succeed in this setting and is now attending Curry College on a full scholarship.
The Mary Lyons Pilot High School has a rigorous academic curriculum, which is unusual for a school serving a large population of special education students in an inclusive setting. In 1992, when the program was first trying to transition from a special education program to an integrated program, the school attracted general education students by offering free before- and after-school care; now, they attract students based on their test scores and overall reputation for excellence. In fact, the Mary Lyons school system consistently achieves high MCAS scores. I visited several classes at the school and found students hard at work on calculus, physics, AP statistics, advanced history courses, and other college prep subjects. Another fact that I found particularly notable is that the school’s demographics reflect a population that is roughly one-third Hispanic, one-third black, and one-third Caucasian – but unlike many other schools, there is no significant achievement gap between these groups.
Overall, I found the experience to be enlightening and enjoyable. It is encouraging to see a successful academic model that empowers teachers and students of all learning levels to achieve their fullest potential. My thanks to Headmaster Anoh and the Mary Lyon Pilot High School for inviting me to be ‘Principal for the Day!’