SIGcess at Orchard Gardens

This is a guest post from NCTL's Manager of Effective Practices, Roy Chan

Through the federal government’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, an increasing number of schools are adopting expanded time in their efforts to raise student achievement. Although we’re excited to see momentum build for expanded time, we also know that simply adding time is not enough.  While some expanded time SIG schools have seen tremendous gains in student achievement, others have not. So what’s the former doing differently from the latter?  
We hope to answer that question through our new series, Transforming Schools through Expanded Time—a set of case studies highlighting the transformation of SIG schools demonstrating promising results with additional time.  Our first study, released this week, focuses on Orchard Gardens K to 8 Pilot School, opened in 2003 as part of $30 million effort to revitalize Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. After years of poor student achievement, Orchard Gardens was designated for turnaround status in 2010 and then something remarkable happened. In 2011, Orchard Gardens didn’t just write a new chapter in their story, they wrote an entirely new book.    
The first seven years of Orchard Gardens’ history is not much different from many of the country’s failing schools, but its eighth year ushered in sweeping changes to the school’s leadership, staff, and schedule.  Under the direction of new principal Andrew Bott, the school applied for and received a federal school improvement grant. With that flexibility and funding, the school implemented an innovative improvement model consisting of four components: investments in human capital; intensive use of data; dramatic changes to school-wide behavioral and academic expectations; and expanded learning time for students and teachers.  After just one year, the school has experienced unprecedented gains in student achievement, but test scores only begin to tell the story of the school’s transformation.  In our interviews with students, staff, and even visitors, we heard the same message over and over: the school is a completely new place.  Some attribute it to a new and positive school culture, others point to the school’s strong teachers, others say it’s the leadership and focus around data, and others cited the additional time.  We think it’s all of these things.  Orchard Gardens didn’t simply add time.  They worked tirelessly to create a strong foundation around people, data, culture, and time to successfully turn around a formerly failing school.