Tech Boston Academy and its principal Mary Skipper got national attention yesterday with a visit from President Obama, Melinda Gates, and Arne Duncan. I had the privilege of meeting Mary Skipper and getting a tour of the school 2-3 years after it was founded. It was obvious that something was different and that Mary was a different kind of school leader, she connected with and encouraged every student we passed in the hall and didn't let the adults tagging along stop her from doing her job. It was obvious the students were focused on learning. We walked into one room and there was a group of students unsupervised, focused and quietly working on PowerPoint presentations.
Tech Boston students' success rate far exceeds other BPS students and everything the president said about why the school works was right. However, reflecting on my earlier visit, it was not only about how things were done, but about the attitude of every student and staff member. It was a sense of community 100% committed to the motto "We rise and fall together," and a willingness to to do whatever it takes to ensure that every student meet high standards.
That organizational culture didn't happen by accident. Mary's leadership and the flexibility to select staff with the same commitment have been critical as well as sufficient resources. Another key factor is a kind of cultural scaffolding. The president may have mentioned that every student gets a laptop. But that was not the whole story. I recall that students "earn" the laptop, they get laptops after they first demonstrate that they have certain skills, knowledge, and attitude to tackle on the responsibility. In this way the students cherish the laptop as a privilege not an entitlement. It also supports the underlying achievement-oriented culture and sense of community. This kind of cultural scaffolding creates a social structure for approaching 100%. Tech Boston has demonstrates that it is possible.
Here is the clip of the president's speech.