Virtual EdHeadliner: School Improvement Strategies with Principal Jason Gallagher

In our most recent Virtual EdHeadliner, Principal Jason Gallagher from the 2019 School on the Move winner Harvard-Kent Elementary joined President and CEO Marinell Rousmaniere for a conversation on fostering an environment for positive school climate as a catalyst for school improvement.

With nearly two decades of school improvement work alongside Boston’s educators, we have empirically learned core elements of driving and sustaining improvement: Strong leadership and shared ownership, Meaningful teacher collaboration, Effective use of data, Academic rigor and student support, and Effective family and community partnerships. While these essential components are clear, the challenge of weaving together these elements to put into practice is complex and important to shine a light on.

Located in Charlestown, the Harvard-Kent serves nearly 400 students in Pre-K through 5th grade. The Harvard-Kent serves the highest percentage of children living in public housing of any Boston school. It is home to a specialized program for students learning English as well as a therapeutic program for children with emotional disabilities.

Listen in on the conversation as Principal Jason Gallagher discusses his path in education that has shaped his leadership style and desire to create authentic relationships within the whole Harvard-Kent community. Principal Gallagher covers the pivoting to remote learning amidst COVID-19 and the work he and his staff have carried out in sustaining success as they expanded to a Pre-K through 6th school this year.

Live from the Café Podcast: The Missing ‘M’ in STEM Education

By Marinell Rousmaniere


During the Social Impact Connect conference at Venture Café, I had the opportunity to moderate the conversation around the Missing ‘M’ in STEM Education. The discussion goes to the core of mathematics education and proficiency that drives achievement in Science, Technology, and Engineering careers. I was joined by a cross sectional panel that dove into the nuts and bolts of math teaching and learning through their years of experience and research. The panel included Julia Bott, Principal at the Ellis Mendell School in Boston Public Schools, Aparna Rayasam, Vice President of Engineering at Akamai Technologies, and Justin Reich, Assistant Professor & Director at MIT Teaching Systems Lab.

The following are a few highlights from the discussion, the full conversation is available here. Portions have been edited for clarity.


Marinell: Mathematics is often an overlooked aspect of STEM yet is instrumental to unlocking potential in S, T, E – Science, Technology, and Engineering careers. What gets lost when math is overlooked? Why do you think giving math education more attention is so important?

Aparna: This is a multi-dimensional problem that manifests in different ways. When I compare notes with peers in other industries, we are seeing that more and more things we do rely on machine learning, data science, AI, and other technological tools to assist with our solutions. When you scratch the surface and remove the buzzwords, all these things stand for advanced math. A phrase industries don’t use enough is “true math experts”. Twenty years ago, complex techniques including neural network and applying mathematical models was in the domain of academia and educational experts. Large enterprises like Google and Facebook have democratized these techniques, so they are widely available now; the difficulty is finding the correct application which requires a knowledge of mathematical theory. Enterprises like ours, who want to move faster, want individuals who have this mathematic foundation. There is a supply and pipeline problem for experts who can truly understand this data.

Julia: When you look the data, a third of students are proficient in Math by 8th grade within Boston, which reflects the national average. That has grave implications for the future success of our students. Through a college and career readiness lens, if students come in thinking of themselves as mathematicians, learners and thinkers, someone who gets the answer quickly in the elementary grades but begins to struggle as they move up grade levels as problems become more complex that has terrible implications for college and their future careers. Students who are already marginalized by race, social economic factors, and other barriers experience these implications at a higher magnitude.

“Having an adaptive teacher with skills, knowledge and pedagogy and even thinking that math is not about getting the right problem but about productive struggle with problem solving and perseverance is groundbreaking”

Justin: An alternative to the student who is ‘good’ at math – as someone who gets the right answer quickly – is the student who sticks with it or struggles and perseveres. Studying math learning across the world, this is the case in other countries. Being ‘good’ at math is being at the board and struggling with something and not getting the answer quickly. These issues as Julia points out are identity issues, how do you get students to feel good about themselves as they persist when with struggling against these puzzles?

Math is central and a gatekeeper to all other STEM activities. In the absence of a fundamental understand of Algebra I, it’s hard to comprehend biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, and all these other STEM-related areas.

Aparna: That’s a great point. Productive struggle in the industry is lacking as well. You have to respect the problem. If the problem was solvable in a couple of days, we wouldn’t need the individual to think through it. We need to cherish patience and perseverance.

Marinell: Math proves to be one of the strongest indicators of long-term success. Getting those foundations early in school matters a lot as you move up through concepts and formulas to more advanced courses. When you look deeper in the data, math achievement becomes a significant indicator of future earnings.

Julia, as an educator and school leader, why has moving the needle on this issue has been so hard? What has been participating challenging with teaching and learning in math?

Julia: The problem has never been and never will be the children. All children are intellectuals. They all come to school as sense makers, as problem solvers, as thinkers. They have natural abilities to figure things out.

The really hard question then becomes whose problem is it? At schools, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask hard questions about our beliefs in students in front of us, our own content knowledge, mathematical thinking, productive struggle, and perseverance; what is a worthy task and what does it look like to put one in front of children to create this space for them to showcase their ability to make sense and grapple with problems?

What does it look like to train teachers? It was always procedure, procedure, procedure. You had to memorize things. When the upper grades required conceptual learning about numbers, kids fell apart as their mathematical thinking had to be more flexible and the gaps become wider and wider. It became clear we needed support to think differently about how we approach the content and structure of learning so kids can build the skills and competencies to be successful.

“Math is central and a gatekeeper to all other STEM activities”

Justin: As Julia mentioned, teachers doing more math thinking themselves will help them teach it to their students. Moreover, some form of discreetly individualized coaching is proven to help math teaching. One of our observations is that when teachers learn, they have insufficient opportunities to practice that learning. Teachers listen and talk with each other about teaching but very rarely are they able to practice. A stark contrast to other ‘helping’ careers, like social workers – they practice on each other and talk about it practically. Teachers have less of that opportunity.

Our team is always wrestling with innovative approaches to these problems and right now we are wrestling with ways to create practice spaces for teachers to rehearse and reflect on important decisions for teaching. In the fall, we’ve been working with 20 third grade math teachers on a tool we call Eliciting Learner Knowledge, a paired synchronous chat-based game where one individual is given the role of a teacher and the other is the student. A transcript is generated from all these chats and we are able to reflect upon strategies we use to better communicate with students. In the spring, we will be working on “Teacher Moments”, a digital simulation tool meant for individual play on a handheld device that immerses you with vignettes of classroom life.

Marinell: Thank you so much for all of your thoughts, it echoes the way we think of leveling the playing field in math achievement. Our leverage point is largely with teachers – the individuals that have the most impact on student outcomes. Having an adaptive teacher with skills, knowledge and pedagogy and even thinking that math is not about getting the right problem but about productive struggle with problem solving and perseverance is groundbreaking. To be able to bring this kind of thinking to teachers and have them teach math in a different way for their students is a scalable action and advocacy plan to reduce skills and knowledge gaps.


The entire conversation is available here.


Marinell Rousmaniere is the President & CEO of EdVestors.

A roadmap for school improvement

The October 30, 2019 CommonWealth Magazine op-ed by Marinell Rousmaniere, “A roadmap for school improvement ”, highlights the three 2019 School on the Move finalists and describes the common key practices observed throughout the years for school improvement. From the article:

Our first study examining early School on the Move winners documented the common approaches that were taken to garner improvement. Our second research piece looked at what happened to those schools in the years following the prize process, highlighting the steps the schools were taking to sustain improvement. Over the years, we identified common practices shared by winning schools to gain and sustain improvement, as well as the barriers faced by schools in maintaining their success in subsequent years.

Read the full article here and learn more about School on the Move here.

MassINC Gateways Podcast: Bringing accountability to school improvement

By Marinell Rousmaniere


I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Ben Forman, Director of the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute and host of the Gateways Podcast at MassINC. Sparked by their work in local accountability, we spoke in-depth about the examples of Boston Public Schools’ School Quality Framework and the use of arts data to drive change in Boston and now at the state level. The following are a few highlights from the podcast, the entirety is available here. Portions have been edited for clarity.

BF: The (Boston Public Schools) district took a leadership role and tried to put more information out there on each school: how it was performing, what it was offering, and so forth – how did that come about?

MR: I think the effort you’re referring to is the development of the BPS School Quality Framework that I’ve been involved with over the last five years. That effort grew out of the change in school assignment process back in the 2012-13 school year. Boston is different from other cities, in that we’re a choice district. Students, especially those in elementary and middle levels, don’t always go to schools in their neighborhoods. In the past, there was a broad span of geographic area they could choose from and the desire, back in 2012-13 when the system was redesigned, was to bring quality closer to home so students would have access to the highest quality of schools in their neighborhoods.

It was a complex approach – developed by MIT – to creating a set of choices a family could have to ensure students and families had a range of quality within their ‘basket’ of schools available to them. Originally, their choice ‘basket’ was a selection of schools in multi tiers of performance assigned by the state accountability system that was in place.

It was very clear that educators and families did not think this system was an adequate measure of quality. This led to the launching of the School Quality Working Group charged with the task of defining quality in a more robust way resulting in the School Quality Framework. The key piece about the Framework was that it had 5 domains and was not simply about student performance, the domains covered teaching and learning; family, community and culture; leadership and collaboration; and student access and opportunities within schools. Over the years we have continued to refine the tool and families can rank and prioritize their search criteria and have the ability to dive into the details and features of each particular school.

With the School Quality Framework or with a school or district plan, having a lot of voices is important but having a lot of voices can also equal complexity. That’s a balance point we don’t talk about enough and it’s something that gets in the way. Finding the balance of making sure you have those voices but to cull that down to say “we hear all of these things, they all matter but what are the most important – right now – things we’re going to do.” It’s a critical part of the conversation, both how do we get to a place where people can make those choices and tradeoffs about the key factors and then make that happen at the school level.


BF: ESSA, the state’s accountability system was something many people were excited about, particularly the arts community. In the end, the state didn’t have much room to maneuver – it wasn’t as innovative, it wasn’t an approach that supported deeper learning. The state can only do so much and maybe that’s exactly right, it’s up to the communities to complement when the state must offer a one-size-fits-all approach. Is there still considerable room to have more state accountability? Or is it up to urban communities with complex systems to find their own answers?

MR: There’s always room to improve accountability at the macro-level. One of the ways that happens is through local experimentation with cities leading the way.

Our example here in Boston around local accountability is related to BPS Arts Expansion which EdVestors has been the lead partner on.  Ten years ago we didn’t use the words ‘local accountability’;  it was more a transparent use of data by doing the first-ever survey of what students were actually getting in terms of arts education during the school day. By collecting that data by grade, by school, and publishing that data, we saw change. Just by putting that information out there for school leaders, district leaders, and families.

School leaders looked around and said “wow, the person down the street with the same resources as I [have] is doing something different and we’re getting a message from district leadership and key stakeholders that this matters, so let me think of how I can do things differently.”

It’s really powerful to see the use of data as a motivating force to start the conversation. We buttress that with philanthropic dollars and stakeholder convenings and communications but at the end of the day, we saw the power of that data.

We brought together leaders in the arts space when we saw this opportunity with ESSA. We had advocates in the field who wanted arts education to be part of ESSA but also had this local example backed by data which was able to be used in the state accountability system.

That local innovation can be leveraged to press the system at a macro-level.

The entire podcast episode is available here.


Marinell Rousmaniere is the President & CEO of EdVestors.

Five years later, a school still on the move

New Mission High School was awarded the School on the Move Prize in 2012, and in 2018 New Mission was the first Prize winning school to become eligible after the five-year grace period. Dr. Naia Wilson, New Mission High School’s Headmaster for the past 12 years, spoke at this year’s Prize Ceremony on the impact of the Prize and a decade of sustained improvement at New Mission.

Dr. Naia Wilson celebrates with New Mission High School staff as they are announced winner of School on the Move in 2012.

Dr. Naia Wilson, Headmaster, New Mission High School

When our name was called as the winner of the 2012 School on the Move Prize, the feeling of confirmation was overwhelming. Overwhelming because I knew the intense amount of hard work that people were doing at New Mission. The risk and courage it takes to make the right decisions for the school community had paid off, and it was an honor for our work to be recognized. Five years later, we are still a School on the Move – we are still moving. Our story is that we never stop pushing ourselves to do better.

At New Mission, we have continued and expanded two strategies we were using in 2012. The first is building our distributed leadership model – you have to ensure that everyone is part of the solution. At New Mission, we have empowered teachers to take on new responsibilities and try things differently. Teachers work together to give each other feedback, analyze the data, and share what works. They evaluate one another to support and improve their pedagogy so they can better serve our students. To do this work, you have to leverage teachers’ strengths and experience because they are a vital piece to the puzzle – and our teachers have a deep, deep desire to do the necessary work.

New Mission’s second strategy is a commitment to true instructional rigor. Every single student is expected to graduate with an Advanced Math and English course. It’s the only way to graduate from New Mission. We institute these rigorous programs of study so that our students will do better on SATs, be college-ready, and avoid taking remedial courses once in college. Our scores have been improving because we hold all of our students to these high expectations. We have more students doing better because we expect it from everyone – that is how we keep improving.

The School on the Move award not only affirms the work you are doing is so important, but it also inspires others. All three finalist schools for the Prize are winners because they are making an important impact and they are being recognized. To be nominated is extremely inspiring and affirming and honors the school community, the parents, and the students. The whole school community feels proud and it makes people want to keep working hard. It sends the message that, in our community, failure is not an option and that success breeds success.

We cannot ever let go of the School on the Move Prize in Boston. It shines a bright light on three hard working schools and helps spread the incredible work in our schools by our teachers, students, and families. The work is never done, and we know we always can work smarter and better for Boston’s students.


Read more about New Mission’s improvement strategies in the full case study here and to learn more about the School on the Move Prize click here.

School on the Move Prize Winner Featured in East Boston Times

The November 7, 2018 East Boston Times article by John Lynds, “Well Deserved Honor:Donald McKay Becomes First Eastie School to Win Prestigious Thomas W. Payzant School on the Move Prize”, highlights the strength of the school community of the 2018 School on the Move Prize Winner, the Donald McKay K-8 School. From the article:

The McKay is a K-8 school where 60 percent of students are English Language Learners (EL). The 800-student Donald McKay K-8 has experienced significant growth – climbing steadily from the bottom 6 percent of schools statewide six years ago, to surpassing the district average in literacy and math by empowering teachers as the experts and decision-makers in their classrooms and as leaders of the school. The McKay has focused on building trust among teachers, students and families, and meeting the academic and social emotional needs of its English learners, who make up a majority of the school’s population.

“We call it our ‘choice and voice’ culture, where we encourage schoolwide engagement among students, teachers and families to determine the best path forward in our individual classrooms,” said Weymer. “Our school is a reflection of our community, in population and approach. We remain committed to not only improving grades and outcomes for all students, but also to the social and emotional needs of our families and EL students by maintaining a safe and welcoming school community for all.”

The McKay’s student population is 89 percent Latino, 60 percent of whom are EL students and more than 50 percent of its students are economically disadvantaged. In order to achieve this empowering and inclusive atmosphere for all students, the McKay refers to their EL students as “Emerging Bilinguals” – emphasizing that their first language is an asset rather than a roadblock.

Read the full article here and learn more about the School on the Move Prize here.

The winner of the 2018 School on the Move Prize is….

Donald McKay K-8 School!

From L to R: Aaron Weitz – 6th Grade ELA; Melissa Rodriguez – Parent; Maya Taft-Morales – 4th Grade; Susan Huang – Partnerships; Kate Loftus-Campe – School Psychologist; Dean Grubb – Reading Intervention; Yolande Thomas – 1st Grade; Anthony Roman – Physical Education; Michael Loconto – Chair, Boston School Committee; Mike Munroe – Director of Operations; Jordan Weymer – Principal; Marinell Rousmaniere – Acting President and CEO, EdVestors; Laura Perille – Interim Superintendent, Boston Public Schools; Wendell Knox – Chair, EdVestors’ Board; Jim Stone – Chair, School on the Move Selection Panel; Rahn Dorsey – Boston’s Chief of Education.

Congratulations to the Donald McKay K-8 School, the winner of the 2018 School on the Move Prize! The announcement came Wednesday morning at EdVestors’ 13th annual breakfast celebrating improving schools at Boston Harbor Hotel. In recognition of the school’s dramatic improvement, the McKay received a $100,000 prize, public recognition, and the chance to share its improvement strategies with others. Check out the stories in Boston GlobeWBUR, and East Boston Times to learn more about the McKay.


Hear about the Donald McKay K-8 School in their own words

At the 800-student Donald McKay K-8 School in East Boston, a focus on the engagement of students, teachers, and families drives the culture of “voice and choice.” The McKay credits its improvement to empowering teachers as leaders and experts; a focus on building trust among teachers, students, and families; and meeting the academic and social-emotional needs of its English learners who make up a majority of the school’s population.

Finalist: Oliver Hazard Perry K-8 School

At the Oliver Hazard Perry K-8 School in South Boston, a sense of shared ownership and commitment to continuous improvement sets the tone for a positive, supportive, and accountable culture. As a small school serving 250 students, the Perry credits its improvement to strategically using its key resources of people, time, and culture to drive improvement; meeting students where they are by providing targeted small-group support; and creating ample opportunities for teachers to collaborate and learn from their peers.

Finalist: Muriel S. Snowden International High School

The 500-student Muriel S. Snowden International High School, located across three buildings in the Back Bay, engages students in a rigorous and global-minded learning experience. Snowden High School credits its improvement to creating multi-dimensional systems of support for students; empowering teacher leaders to experiment and learn together; and building a strong school community and culture.

Click here to learn more about the Prize.

School on the Move Prize Winner Featured in The Boston Globe

The October 31, 2018 Boston Globe article by Jackson Cote, “East Boston school honored with Payzant prize for academic achievement”, overviews the rapid progress of the 2018 School on the Move Prize Winner, the Donald McKay K-8 School. From the article:

Six years ago, the Donald McKay K-8 School in East Boston was ranked in the bottom 6 percent of Massachusetts schools.

So staff and students put their heads together. They developed a plan to improve learning and empower students at McKay, where 90 percent of the 800 students are Latino, officials said.

Now the school’s academic performance has improved to the point where McKay has surpassed the district average in literacy and math.

On Wednesday, the school was awarded a $100,000 prize for making big gains in student achievement and for its support for immigrant families.

Read the full article here and learn more about the School on the Move Prize here.

School on the Move Prize Winner Featured in WBUR Edify

The October 31, 2018 WBUR Edify article by Kathleen McNerney, “East Boston Elementary School Awarded $100,000 Prize For Academic Achievement”, highlights the improvement story and foundation of community of the 2018 School on the Move Prize Winner, the Donald McKay K-8 School. From the article:

Principal Jordan Weymer said that 95 percent of students at McKay speak a language other than English at home. Many of their families are immigrants.

“This award shines a bright spotlight on the incredible academic success of students who sometimes feel they need to live in the shadows,” said principal Jordan Weymer. “This is their reward. It is proof that when provided with the loving, respectful, supportive environment, all children can succeed.”

Weymer has been principal of the McKay for the last six years. He said this award will have a big effect on the students, staff and community. “It just goes against everything that’s been said in terms of the labels that are thrown around.”

Read the full article here and learn more about the School on the Move Prize here.

Getting a taste of Boston’s innovation economy: sixth graders apply math skills to create and pitch their ideas for new LEGO® product

By Karen Levin

Last week during Massachusetts STEM week, 23 sixth graders from Gardner Pilot Academy were invited to experience a hands-on, immersive STEM day, generously hosted by LEGO® Education. There was much fun and focus as teams of students designed “the next new and exciting” spinning top ahead of the holiday season! Students applied tools from their math curriculum, discussing market research, sales forecasts, and calculating unit costs to assemble business plans to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. Volunteers from LEGO Education and the Zeroing in on Math Advisory Board joined EdVestors’ staff to provide mentorship and expertise to the students as they worked through the project.

“I really liked the amount of teamwork we did and how much math we did!” – Student, Gardner Pilot Academy

Connecting math to the real world

As an official event of Massachusetts STEM Week, KICKStart Ma+h was uniquely structured to give students a real-world view into what a career in STEM entails and encourage students to consider pursuing a STEM-oriented field.

KICKStart Ma+h is part of our Zeroing in on Math (ZioM) initiative which builds math content knowledge, deepens understanding of grade-level standards, and expands student-centered pedagogical skills. Through partnership with local companies and organizations, KICKStart Ma+h provides students with real-world applications of math, illustrates the opportunities of math-based careers, and builds a citywide community of math advocates.

The results of a post-event survey found most students said they were either likely or very likely to pursue a career using math.

 “This has been the best school day ever!” – Student, Gardner Pilot Academy


And the award goes to…

The panel of judges deliberated, and students waited with growing anticipation. Then, results at last!

Students cheered with excitement and encouragement for each other as teams were recognized for…

Best Pitch:  Team Squirt with their spin-launcher that was priced perfectly to generate parent interest.

Most Profitable Idea: Team Bruce with Hulk Tornado, a low-cost production spinner that garnered a premium price tag.

Most Creative Design: Team Dory with the Halloween-themed Pump-Spin, a great alternative to candy.

Most Interesting Challenge to Solve: Team Nemo with a unicorn-themed top that was compact, easy to build and spun a long time.

“This was a mutually beneficial experience; seeing the students work with each other and the product to solve the challenge was exciting.” – KICKStart Ma+h Judge

Sparking the curiosity of creative minds

Christine Beggan, a 6th Grade Learning Specialist, at Gardner Pilot Academy shared this after the event:

The experience at LEGO Education was incredible! It was inspiring to students, their families, and Gardner Pilot Academy staff that we had the opportunity to visit the local office of a company so central to families right here in Boston. We are fortunate to live in a city with a wealth of opportunities to learn in real-world settings.

At LEGO Education’s state-of-the-art facility, students collaborated in small teams to work through the entire toy design process. Students were engaged, excited, and inquisitive throughout the entire process, and applied math skills to a real-world problem. On the bus ride back to school, when asked who might want to work at LEGO someday, over half the class raised their hands.

Thank you to LEGO Education and EdVestors for this incredible opportunity!

Karen Levin is the Director of Zeroing in on Math at EdVestors. To learn more about Zeroing in on Math, click here.