Posts Tagged: Boston Bar Association

A Win for Access to Justice: Supreme Judicial Court Adopts Ruling Urged by BBA

It’s always a great feeling when the BBA weighs in on an issue and the Court is in agreement, but it’s especially gratifying when the issue at hand will have an immediate and beneficial impact on improving access to justice.

In a decision with potentially far-reaching implications for disputes involving the guardianship of minor children, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled this week that indigent parents are entitled to a court-appointed attorney whenever their children may be taken from them.

This position was urged on the Court by an amicus brief to which the Boston Bar Association signed on.  As noted by Justice Francis X. Spina on behalf of a unanimous Court, “[T]here is every reason, given the fundamental rights that are at stake, why an indigent parent is entitled to the benefit of counsel when someone other than the parent … seeks to displace the parent and assume the primary rights and responsibilities for the child.”

The Court took the position, as the amicus brief argued, that this right to counsel — which already applied in adoption cases and when the state seeks to remove a child from a parental home — ought to be extended to privately-contested guardianship matters as well.  In the case before the Court, a mother was not represented by an attorney when her grandmother, who had her own attorney, won guardianship of her child.

The BBA agreed to join the brief in support of a right to counsel in large part because of its longstanding commitment to the principle of access to justice for all.  The amicus brief directly cites three BBA task force and working group reports, including most recently Investing in Justice, the report of the BBA Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts.

The BBA’s Amicus Committee is chaired by Mark C. Fleming of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.  The BBA’s policy for filing amicus briefs and procedures for submitting amicus brief requests are available here.

Q&A with the Court Management Advisory Board: Glenn Mangurian Covers the Latest Report

The Legislature created the Court Management and Advisory Board (“CMAB”) in 2003 as an independent group of professionals who could bring management expertise, knowledge and experience to bear on the challenges facing the court system. The CMAB reports it findings to the Justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, leaders of the Legislature as well as the Chief Justice and the Court Administrator of the Massachusetts Trial Court.

BBA Week spoke with advisory board member Glenn Mangurian about the most recent report.

Q:       What are the main findings of the Advisory Board’s report?

Mangurian: Over the past 11 years, the Massachusetts Trial Court has been on a difficult but essential journey as it seeks to transform itself from an unevenly-performing, decentralized, often autonomous set of “islands of justice”, managed according to anecdote, intuition and habit, to a consistently high-performing system, managed according to modern best practice disciplines.

The Massachusetts Trial Court is on the move and headed in the right direction.  The Trial Court is addressing the consequences of the fiscal crisis of 2008-2012, and implementing and adapting to the structural changes made by the 2011 court reform legislation. Court management is “under the spotlight”. This focused attention to management “raises the bar” on execution excellence and follow-through at all levels.

The Trial Court must confront additional challenges such as the growing importance of specialty courts to address evolving judicial needs of the public and the scarcity of resources. Regardless of court funding levels, the public expects to be treated with respect and dignity in our courts, and to have its business handled in an expeditious and orderly manner.

The Trial Court “has a lot on its plate” for the next five years. The recent partial restoration and relative stability of the essential funding of the Trial Court is having a significant impact on court management and is important to further court management improvements.

Q:       What do you see as an important call to action as a result of these findings?

Mangurian: The 21st century Trial Court requires increased cross-disciplinary teamwork, active learning and innovation, and expansive talent and leadership development.  To assist the Trial Court in solidifying the progress made to date and preparing for the management challenges that lie ahead, the CMAB believes the Trial Court should focus leadership responsibility and overall accountability in three areas:

  • Knowledge management and decision analytics

The Trial Court should concentrate significant management attention on policy development, best practice sharing and training related to all aspects of evidence-based, data-driven decision-making.

  • Experience of court users

The Trial Court should work to improve the experience of court users having a wide range of perspectives, issues and concerns, and to measure the courts’ performance in this regard over time.

  • Talent development

The building of the Trial Court’s leadership capacity and human capital is of critical importance to the quality, strength, flexibility and resilience of our justice system. Because of an aging workforce and the prospects of increased retirements, there is a growing need to cultivate the next generation of court leaders to ensure continued judicial excellence into the future.

In addition the CMAB recommends the SJC establish a regular and recurring schedule of strategic and operational oversight meetings with the Chief Justice of the Trial Court and the Court Administrator.

Q:       How would you encourage BBA members to use this information?

Mangurian: The BBA has long been an advocate for the judicial funding. The Court Management Advisory Board thanks you for your support of the Trial Court.

We encourage all members to read the report. The report can be accessed here.

The document should serve as a catalyst for conversations among members and with employees of the Trial Court. The CMAB is planning an open discussion with the BBA on the report and work of the CMAB. Stay tuned for the specific date, time and location.

Why I Walk to the Hill

I was a special education teacher before I became an attorney.  My personal experiences in this field opened my eyes early on to the reality that there is a critical need for advocates in all areas of our community.  I was moved by a particular case involving a child with special needs who had been placed in a detention center where he was denied the special education services he needed.  He had no voice, no resources, and no hope.  My opportunity to advocate for this child, and improve his situation, led me on the path I so passionately walk today.  I hope you will walk with me.

There’s no other way to say it. We have an access to justice crisis in Massachusetts. As the BBA’s Task Force on Civil Legal Aid stated, nearly two-thirds of people who seek civil legal aid are turned away because the organizations that provide free legal services don’t have the resources to help. That’s astonishing.

Who are these people being turned away? They are people fighting to protect their home and family from wrongful evictions or foreclosures. They are people who need to escape domestic abuse. They are parents trying to get special education services for their child.

As a former special education teacher and former president of Greater Boston Legal Services, I know firsthand how inadequate legal aid funding hurts honest, hard-working people. That’s why on Thursday, January 29th, you’ll find me – along with many others – participating in Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. I plan to visit my state representative and senator, and tell them both that a turn-away rate of 64% has to change.

You might think, “But there’s a fiscal crisis, right? How can we call for a funding increase now?” Here’s something not many people may know: investing in civil legal aid pays for itself, as this week’s Issue Spot explains in detail.

Have you found a reason why you should Walk to the Hill? Meet up with other BBA Members at our 16 Beacon Street office before the event.

I hope to see you there!

My Visit to the Drug Court

I’d been in a courtroom hundreds of times, but I had seldom heard applause. That changed on the day I sat in on sessions at the Boston Municipal Drug Court in Dorchester.

One round of applause was a reaction to a young man’s acceptance into a detox program instead of prison. The surprise wasn’t the applause itself, but its source: joining in was a judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney and a probation officer. All were clearly rooting for this man’s future success.

Massachusetts has 19 drug courts – 18 for adults and one for juveniles. These specialty courts are intended to address the issues underlying criminal behavior. The idea behind it is: if we can successfully treat the addiction, we can reduce the number of crimes – theft, for example – that were committed to support it.

Drug courts provide intensive, supervised probation and treatment, as well as regular drug testing with progress monitored by a supervising judge. Participants meet with the same judge over time, creating an ongoing relationship that can increase chances of success.

Indeed, Judge Serge Georges – whom I observed at the drug court in Dorchester – knew each probationer he saw well. He knew their stories. He shook their hands. He asked after their family members. He treated each with dignity, and praised them for doing well. And this kind of attention and treatment is happening all across the state; you can read more compelling personal stories in Sarah W. Ellis’ article in the new Boston Bar Journal.

The BBA is a long-standing supporter of funding for specialty courts, including drug courts, and my visit only reinforced that position. I’d read the statistics: for every dollar invested in drug court, taxpayers save more than $3 in avoided criminal justice costs; drug courts reduce crime as much as 45% more than other sentencing options. But seeing the faces and hearing their success stories (and the applause!) had more impact than the numbers. For this, I’d like to thank Chief Justice Roberto Ronquillo and Justice Georges for hosting my visit. It was clear to me that they are both passionate supporters of the drug court, and are personally invested in its success.

Visit to Drug Court

The BBA appreciates their dedication and is proud to support the specialty courts. To learn more, and to stay on top of policies impacting drug courts, be sure to read this week’s Issue Spot.

A Look Back at the BBA’s Accomplishments of 2014

The end of another year provides us with an opportunity to pause and reflect on where we were at the start of the year and how far we’ve come. Anticipation of a new year always marries nostalgia for the past and optimism for the future.

For me, it has been a very rewarding journey. In September of 2014, I assumed the presidency of the BBA, kicking off the program year at the very successful Annual Meeting Luncheon where we welcomed Adam Liptak of the New York Times. In the few months since, I feel that we as an organization have accomplished a great deal. One of our largest projects was the release of Investing in Justice, the report of the BBA Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts. Not only were we able to share its results with our members and the legal community, but we also worked hard to spread the message in the media that there are demonstrable fiscal, economic, and social benefits to providing greater funding for civil legal aid. This has been a huge step towards changing the discussion on this issue as people begin to view legal aid not just as a charity but as an investment.

We’ve also reached out to work with the different branches of government in a number of ways. While meeting with the chief judges and justices of the courts, we learned more about their priorities and how the bench and bar can work in tandem on common goals and initiatives. We have also started conversations with members of the legislature about projects of mutual interest. For example, the BBA recently approved a proposal to expand the Housing Court statewide and is working with the courts and Legislature to make this proposition a reality. Finally, we honored Governor Deval Patrick with the Beacon Award for Diversity & Inclusion for his work in shaping a more diverse judiciary in Massachusetts.

Let’s not forget that earlier in the year, the BBA took a stand against the death penalty in federal cases, issued a report concerning the Annie Dookhan drug lab scandal via the Drug Lab Crisis Task Force, and secured a record number of 64 summer jobs for Boston public high school students through the Summer Jobs Program – among many other successes.

We are proud of these landmark moments from the past year; and we are just as proud of the smaller, daily accomplishments across the legal community that have produced substantive change in the quality of life for our fellow residents of the Commonwealth. All of us are lucky to be part of a community of truly committed and passionate attorneys in our state, and we all benefit in particular from those who dedicate their professional lives to public service.

I could tell you more about this critically valuable public service work, which is very near and dear to me as the former President of Greater Boston Legal Services. But it’s much more meaningful to hear about it straight from those who are in the trenches. We reached out to two of our closest partner organizations – the Volunteer Lawyers Project, an initiative of the BBA, and Greater Boston Legal Services itself – and asked them, “What has been your greatest accomplishment of 2014?” Their answers are uplifting reminders of how the law can serve the people, and we wish them only the best as they pursue their missions into the new year. Here’s what they had to say:

“People from communities of color are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, and their criminal records have devastating economic consequences. I am proud that the GBLS CORI & Re-entry Project helped so many clients seal their records and break the cycle of poverty, unemployment, and/or homelessness. We also had a landmark victory in 2014 in the Commonwealth v. Pon case where the SJC threw out an outdated draconian standard for criminal record sealing by judges, replaced it with a good cause standard, and, in a thoughtful opinion, gave judges modern world guidance on the factors to be weighed in deciding whether to seal records. GBLS is struggling with budget problems and lack of staff to meet client needs. We are grateful to the BBA for hosting CORI trainings and helping us recruit attorney and law student volunteers to help the CORI project stay afloat and continue its important work.” – Pauline Quirion, GBLS

“As always, VLP’s clients have reaped much benefit from our partnership with the Boston Bar Association. The list of projects and initiatives would fill several posts, but this year, we are most proud of the new initiative that will provide an attorney for the day for homeowners facing tax foreclosure in the Land Court. VLP worked closely with the Land Court judges and staff, the BBA Real Estate Section, and the BBA staff to assess the need and the services that would be most helpful to the potential clients. When it became clear that the majority of litigants needing assistance would not be financially eligible for VLP services, the BBA Real Estate Section – along with the BBA staff – stepped in to take over, and have now trained a cadre of volunteers who will assist folks on the verge of losing their homes due to unpaid taxes on a Limited Assistance Representation (LAR)/Attorney for the Day basis.” – Volunteer Lawyers Project

We are looking forward to a productive 2015; here’s to our success in helping to support and improve our community, and have a safe, happy New Year!

PILP Takes Up the Fight Against Recidivism

If you follow the public service activities of the BBA, you probably already know all about our Public Interest Leadership Program, affectionately nicknamed ‘PILP.’ PILP is just one of the ways the BBA fosters leadership and engagement in public service among young attorneys. Participants receive guidance and mentorship from BBA leaders as they plan and execute a community service project over the course of a year. The PILP classes are tight-knit groups, and past members are always proud of the experience and glad to lend a hand to the current class.

PILP is now in its eleventh cycle and at this week’s Council meeting, the current class – PILP 11 – presented their proposed idea to work on over the coming months. I’m excited to share more information about their project with you. Not only is it a great idea in its own right, but it also builds on and expands the work of a previous PILP class, meaning that it will really deepen our overall commitment to assisting the courts in a very important area: preventing recidivism.

In his recent State of the Judiciary address, Chief Justice Gants of the SJC said, “We need our sentences not merely to punish and deter, but also to provide offenders with the supervision and the tools they will need to maximize the chance of success upon release and minimize the likelihood of recidivism.” We at the BBA wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. That’s why when PILP 9, the class of 2012-2013, brought their idea to implement reentry readiness workshops for probationers in collaboration with the federal district court, they were enthusiastically supported.

Their Community Reentry Readiness Project has been a huge success. After it was overwhelmingly well-received in its first year by workshop attendees, who attended through the Court Assisted Recover Effort (CARE) and Reentry: Empowering Successful Todays and Responsible Tomorrows (RESTART) probation programs, the court requested that the BBA continue the program, which has recently started its second iteration.

PILP 11’s project proposes to bring the community reentry readiness workshops to the state courts – specifically to the Boston Municipal Court in Roxbury through “CHOICE,” an intensive supervised probation program for young adult offenders. The participants in CHOICE are between the ages of 18 and 24, and most have served a short, probation-only sentence. With the support of these workshops, we hope to intervene early in their lives and encourage them to avoid future infractions. As the presenting members of the PILP class explained, these probationers are at a turning point where they can change the path that they are on; the information and the support provided in these workshops could make the difference in which path they choose. We all have a stake in their success and, using evidence-based practices, we can promote proven efforts to achieve that success and reduce recidivism.

I’d like to applaud the current PILP class for responding to this request from the courts, which really strengthens our relationship with the judiciary, and for presenting their plan so thoughtfully and thoroughly. It’s clear that they have carefully considered the needs of these young men and women– for example, adding a workshop on student financial aid – and I’m confident that they will succeed in their endeavor.

The Council unanimously agreed to accept PILP 11’s proposal, so they will be implementing the workshops in Roxbury shortly. Look for more updates on their progress in the coming months!

Understanding the BBA/BBF Relationship

It’s that time of year again: as the old year wraps up, we’re looking ahead to the new. What’s on our plate for 2015? One of the first items is the John & Abigail Adams Benefit, the premier event of the Boston Bar Foundation, coming up on January 31.

If you have never attended the Adams Benefit before, 2015 is a great year to start. In addition to honoring John Hancock for their work to support Boston youth during a full evening of dining and musical acts throughout the entire Museum of Fine Arts, this year the BBF has added a new element called “Late Night at the Museum” – a post-dinner party with drinks, a DJ, and dancing.

Of course, the larger message of the Adams Benefit is about supporting our community. All of the proceeds from the event will go directly to grants for legal services organizations that do vital work in our city by assisting those who need civil legal aid in areas such as homelessness, domestic violence, and immigration, but who cannot afford full representation.

As you know, supporting legal services in Boston is also a priority of the Boston Bar Association. The BBF and the BBA are closely linked, and I’d like to take a moment to explain their relationship and how they work together on common initiatives. Simply put, the Boston Bar Foundation is the official charity of the Boston Bar Association. It was started with the goal of making substantive contributions in the areas of access to justice and public service. In both of these areas, the BBF is an integral part of the BBA’s efforts to develop and strengthen opportunities to get involved and give back.

How Does the BBF Do This?

  • Access to Justice: Part of the BBA’s mission is to expand access to justice, and with the release of Investing in Justice, the report of the Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid, the BBA has been very active in this area recently. With targeted initiatives like this, yearly events like Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid, and engagement with legal services attorneys through its Delivery of Legal Services Section, the BBA advocates for increased access to justice year-round. But that’s just one piece; the other is the work that legal services attorneys and organizations do on the ground every single day. This is where the BBF comes in – by providing immediate, direct support to organizations through charitable grants.
  • Public Service: Many of our members are familiar with the ongoing public service programs of the BBA – including the Summer Jobs Program, Lawyer for the Day in Boston’s Housing Court, and the Military and Veterans Legal Help Line – and generously give their time to these causes, which is critical to their success. The BBF funds the BBA’s public service programs through fundraising campaigns and events, the proceeds of which are dedicated to increasing the resources and reach of the programs. It also helps to place Summer Jobs Program students in positions at nonprofits and government agencies throughout the city.

I hope this understanding of the BBF’s work has served to pique your interest. If you’re interested in getting involved, there are many ways to do so. One way is to donate to the BBF’s Annual Campaign; another is to consider becoming a member of the Society of Fellows by pledging your support annually. As a Senior Fellow myself, I can attest to the great sense of community this group of lawyers embraces – and the delightful seasonal receptions!

Attending the Adams Benefit is yet another way to support the BBF and the community, and I assure that you will have a spectacular Saturday evening. I hope to see you there!

Helping Our Children Through Education Advocacy

Anyone who thinks special education advocacy is a niche issue should meet Marlies Spanjaard, an attorney affiliated with the EdLaw Project, an initiative of the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts and the Committee for Public Counsel Services – Children & Family and Youth Advocacy Divisions. You’d be surprised – shocked, even – to learn some of the facts she gave me recently.

For example, did you know that only about half of Massachusetts third-grade students score proficient or above in reading on the MCAS? Or that two-thirds of children who can’t read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up imprisoned at some point in their lives? Yet in spite of this, only 17% of students in grade K-12 across the state receive special education services.

My background in education, particularly special education, has been an important influence on how I approach the legal profession. Working with children is a powerful reminder that there are members of our society whose voices are largely unheard and whose livelihood and success often depend on the assistance of others. Children with disabilities are particularly vulnerable, and when it comes to their education, it is our responsibility to ensure that their best interests are protected.

With this in mind, I have a particular interest in promoting this cause alongside the BBA’s many other public service initiatives. I was therefore pleased to see that Marlies Spanjaard will lead a Special Education Advocacy pro bono training next week. While I hope you will consider attending any of the many pro bono training that the BBA holds, I focus my blog on this one because it’s an area in which attorneys may not be aware that they can make such a substantive difference.

The failure to deliver special education services to children in need has broad consequences, which come with a heavy price tag for the individuals involved, and also for society as a whole. Children who fall behind are more likely to end up as part of the criminal justice system. The Massachusetts Department of Youth Services states, “annually, there are approximately 6,000 juveniles arraigned in court on criminal charges.”  According to the Massachusetts Department of Correction, sending a person to a correctional facility costs taxpayers almost $50,000 per prisoner per year.

This is where the early assistance of an attorney in securing any necessary special education resources can really make a difference. Our pro bono training on Monday will prepare attorneys to help a family navigate the legal system and advocate for them – whether it’s an issue of guiding them through the special education eligibility process or advocating for specific services that a school district may not agree that the child needs. Rather than trying to solve the problem once the child has already started to fall behind, an attorney can work with the family to support their child more immediately after a need has been identified. For low-income families whose children are at risk, this can absolutely change the trajectory of that child’s future.

We talk a lot about pro bono and public service work at the BBA, and we do so because there are so many ways to get involved and it is so important to offer our skills in this way. Particularly around this time of year, I think it’s extremely fitting to think about ways that we can give back to help those who may be less fortunate, or less able to defend themselves. With a new year and a fresh start coming up, there is no better time to consider expanding our commitment to serving others.

An Update from the Trial Court

Last week was a busy one at the BBA. Not only did I spend Tuesday as Principal for the Day, but later that evening, the BBA Council had the chance to hear directly from Chief Justice of the Trial Court Paula Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence – the dynamic duo who lead the Trial Court department. We know that they have extremely busy schedules, so we appreciate the time they took to discuss the status of the courts and give us a sneak peek at what might be in store for the future.

One Mission: Justice with Dignity and Speed,” the court’s strategic plan, has been in place for over a year under Chief Justice Carey and Court Administrator Spence, and through its emphasis on collaboration both internally and with other outside agencies, it has moved the courts forward in leaps and bounds. While change is still ongoing, there are a few significant updates from the discussion that I’d like to share as we continue our own advocacy for the courts:

  • Specialty Courts: The number of specialty courts has been rapidly expanding and is sure to continue to do so; in fact, a portion of the Trial Court’s funding for the year was specially earmarked by the Legislature, indicating lawmakers’ support for the specialty courts. Chief Justice Carey was emphatic about the great work and successes these programs achieve, challenging all of us to attend a specialty court graduation and not cry. One year into a three-year plan, eight new specialty courts have already been added, and, by the end of the year, we are slated to see a total of thirty-five. In addition to expansion, the Trial Court is working to standardize specialty court operation and study outcomes so that we can better measure their effectiveness. This can help us find ways to maximize the effectiveness of the specialty courts in response to specific challenges, such as the opiate crisis, and ultimately reduce rates of recidivism.
  • Technology: This is another area in which we can expect continual change from the courts as they update their systems and move toward becoming more streamlined, efficient, and user-friendly. They are moving to an all-digital system and are aiming to become 90% digitized within the next few years. Already, we can expect to see new features being set into place. For example, in Bristol and Barnstable Counties, attorneys can already find dockets and documents online. In January, they will implement e-filing for civil cases in certain demonstration sites and will soon begin to offer digital preservation of documents. The courts will also completely install MassCourts, the electronic case access tool, for the Superior Court by June. The Trial Court is committed to making its operations more user-friendly and accessible to the general public.
  • Security Screening: Under the guidance of their Director of Security Jeff Morrow – formerly of NCIS – the court has identified security issues in the courthouses and is working to address them. It may mean stricter security measures for all, but this will likely be a worthwhile trade-off for the added peace of mind. I found this particularly striking as the courts are hoping to maintain a dialogue with the bar to figure out the most effective way to ensure the safety of all who enter any courthouse.

We also heard more about the court service center that recently opened at the Brooke Courthouse, which has assisted over 3,000 litigants since June. New court service centers are in the works for all major courthouses across the Commonwealth. We are proud that our most recent Public Interest Leadership class had the opportunity to work with the courts to develop materials for the center and help it to launch – it’s a great example of how the bench and bar can collaborate on issues of mutual interest. It is a privilege to work with powerhouses like Chief Justice Carey and Court Administrator Spence, and we’re looking forward to lending our support as the year progresses. This stated mission of “justice with dignity and speed” is one that we share wholeheartedly.

Being Principal for the Day

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.

LTRS1

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.

LTRS2

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!’