Obama praises school despite failure under federal act
by Claire Tierney
Principal Hall of University Park Campus School (UPCS) on Freeland Street has been hard at work sending minority and low income students to college with great success. President Obama recently cited Hall’s school as an example of how the federal No Child Left Behind Act mislabels schools, despite their stellar performance.
Because the school does not meet state requirements, it does not meet the standards of the legislation. Hall’s school boasts staggering statistics, with 100% of students being accepted to college out of high school, and 95% attending college in the fall.
Hall calls the school an “innovation school,” meaning that it receives its funding from the district (as opposed to Clark), and is therefore a public school, but one that does not have to deal with the bureaucracy of the district, giving Hall and his administration them the opportunity to personalize curricula to the students’ needs. Hall says what makes his school unique is the relationship between the students and the faculty.
According to Hall, “we are able to develop really important personal relationships with kids, we get to know families really well. And that, I think, makes a difference. We are different because of the culture here. There is a highly coherent culture here, both around academic and behavioral expectations.” The students work hard, and so do the faculty.
Hall says that he has a really “strong intellectual faculty. The teachers here are what makes the difference. We have a group of very dedicated educators, who don’t just say they believe kids can learn, but truly believe it. It’s a realization that not every kid is going to get there on the same path, or at the same speed, but that every kid is expected ultimately to read, write, think, problem solve, and think critically to get to college.”
Hall doesn’t care what life was like before University Park Campus School, “They shed all [previous expectations] when they walk through this door. Some kids don’t get that until later on, junior or senior year, but they all get it eventually.”
Upon being asked how his unique program could be incorporated nationwide, he seemed skeptical. The Campus School works with Jobs for the Future to implement programs like this around the country with mixed success.
Hall says that what is key to replication is “being explicit about what the replicable aspects of it are. I am always cautious and nervous about trying to cookie-cutter a program. To try to do that is to create a dangerous paradigm.”
The Worcester culture and atmosphere is so unique, and the school has been working for years to create this unique program, and it is not so easily transferable.
According to Hall, “It’s a complicated issue, though not impossible. That vastly underestimates and oversimplifies the process.”
He says what is key is supporting the students, and not just with lip service. “The question isn’t whether they say it; the question is whether they believe it.”
Hall, a former Clarkie, speaks fondly of the support the school receives from Clark University. Clark provides work study opportunities at the school, tutors, and mentors, as well as graduate student work. He describes it as a “top down bottom up relationship with the school,” where his students may exercise in the Kneller center and work in the Library. The high school students may take classes at the University as well, further preparing them for the jump to college.
Hall asserts that the school’s small size, with 240 students in grades 7-12, contributes to the positive learning environment. “There is a palpable culture here with a serious academic purpose,” he said.
It has been this “culture of no excuse making” mixed with a “culture of high levels of support for kids” that has been key to the school’s success. “It’s a relaxed atmosphere, kids who come here are cared for and loved, and we think that they can achieve.”