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Catholic schools to share in $3.25 million grant

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BRIGHTON -- Representatives of the Catholic Schools Office of the Archdiocese of Boston and leaders from Boston Catholic schools came together Dec. 5 at St. Columbkille Partnership School in Brighton with representatives from private and public schools for the announcement of a $3.25 million grant to support collaboration.

The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation presented the money in support of a Boston program called the Boston K-12 Compact. Boston received the funding as one of just seven in this round of awards honoring collaboration in education.

The compact formally links district public schools, public charter schools, and private Catholic schools around common goals to improve teaching and learning for all Boston children.

"The real goal is to significantly boost the number of students enrolled in high-performing schools -- Boston and the other winning cities understand that," said Vicki Phillips, director of education in the College Ready in the United States Program for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, explaining why the foundation gave the grant to Boston.

Since the mayor launched the compact in 2011, all 128 Boston Public Schools, 16 charter operators, and 22 Catholic schools have formally joined.

"Catholic schools joined this compact to share our best practices and learn from our public and charter school peers," said Mary Grassa O'Neill, Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Boston.

Assistant superintendent of academics for the Catholic Schools Office Chris Flieger represents Catholic schools in the compact.

"Boston Compact is a working agreement between the public, charter and Catholic schools in the city of Boston. Those three sectors service over 90 percent of the students in Boston," he said.

He said the compact came together with a focus on sharing best practices while acknowledging that some sectors of the collaborative handle some aspects of education better than others.

"It is a collaboration between the three sectors, between all the schools, to ensure quality education for all students," Flieger said.

In addition to Flieger, three other representatives of Catholic schools sit on the compact's 12-member steering committee: principal of Sacred Heart School Monica Haldiman, regional director of Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy Russ Wilson, and school president of Cristo Rey Jeff Thielman.

"It is nice that there are school leaders on there because they are there day-to-day in the schools, so they know what the challenges and issues are, and the strategies to solve those problems," Flieger said.

He said funds are aimed at an initiative supporting deeper collaboration between educators to benefit students.

"A lot of it is around professional development, to get better teaching in every classroom, to ensure that every single kid in the city has a quality education," Flieger said.

The Gates Foundation awarded Boston the money because of its track record of collaboration and its shared focus on improving education for students with English as their second language (known as English-language learners) students with disabilities, and black and Latino boys.

The compact will use the money to train 250 teachers and administrators to improve instruction for English-language learners, which is the fastest growing population of students in Boston. It will also help launch three more school performance partnerships.

Already, a partnership between Boston Collegiate Charter School, Jeremiah E. Burke High School and Cristo Rey High School has led to changes in lesson plans to meet new federal standards.

Funding will also support an ongoing compact collaboration to coordinate and simplify the enrollment process for families while also creating new ways for all schools to support all students, regardless of language skills or special needs.

"There is competition. Obviously, we are all trying to go for the same students, but in the end we all have the same goal in mind, which is just a high-quality education for everybody. That is what unites us," Flieger said.

Schools are also moving toward a common enrollment calendar and have established shared school showcase events to make it easier for families to compare and select schools.

As part of the compact, teachers and administrators from eight public schools, four charter schools and two Catholic schools regularly visit each other's classrooms to share best practices and learn from each other.

"We launched this compact in part so our great teachers can share what they have learned around educating all students," said Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson.

Educators at Catholic schools remain committed to the overall improvement of education in Boston.

O'Neill said, "We believe it is essential for all students in the city of Boston to receive a rigorous education and collaboration among schools is crucial in this endeavor. This partnership helps ensure a bright future."

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