Most would think that firing the security staff of a poorly performing, inner-city school is a dangerous idea. But at Orchard Gardens pilot school in Roxbury, Mass., eliminating security and replacing it with a corps of art teachers has sparked a dramatic turnaround, NBC News reports.
In 2003, Orchard Gardens was introduced to its Boston-area community as a school where young students would start at the base level and move up to more expansive views as they grew older, according to Architectural Record. But the school's catchy architecture, with its school-bus yellow, vandal-resistent metal panels, wasn't enough. Six years later, Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools Carol R. Johnson designated Orchard Gardens as a "turn around" school, announcing to a packed auditorium, “For our very survival, we must launch a new era for Boston public schools."
That same year, in 2009, the Boston Globe reported that Orchard Gardens was blighted. The students weren't inspired to achieve. Some 90 percent of students received or were qualified to receive free or reduced lunch. About 25 percent were learning to speak English, and 25 percent required Individual Education Plans to meet special needs, according to the school's website. Standardized test scores hovered in the bottom 5 percent of all Massachusetts' schools. The school was so dangerous that backpacks -- a feature as common to schools as chalk or uncomfortable chairs -- were banned so students wouldn't stash weapons in them, according to NBC News.
Then, in 2010, Andrew Bott ignored the advice of colleagues who called Orchard Gardens a "career killer," and became the school's sixth principal in seven years, NBC News reports. He sought to lead Orchard Gardens' rejuvenation, eliminating the school's massive security structure that drained hundreds of thousand of dollars from its budget in favor of becoming one of eight pilot schools for a new plan created by President Obama's Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH).
“The school definitely had a prison feel,” Bott told NBC, but that would soon change.
The hypothesis was this: “Effective and high-quality arts education can be a powerful catalyst for successful educational reform," in the words of PCAH vice-chair, Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., in a press release published when the program was launched.
Boston’s NPR news station WBUR describes the steps Bott took to restructure the school and staff:
First, Bott did something a principal could not have done without the turnaround label: he replaced 80 percent of the teachers. Then he hired replacements who know how to use data to adjust their teaching quickly. Finally, he expanded the school day. For example, middle school students stay from 7:30 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. The teachers work an extra hour. Bott hired outside nonprofits, including City Year and Citizen Schools, for the remaining hours.
Then, the arts curriculum came in to offer students something more, eighth-grade visual arts teacher Chris Plunkett told NBC.
“[Students] need something more than test prep, something more than learning that there’s only one answer to every problem,” Plunkett said.
He admitted it was a little “crazy” to replace the security staff, but added it was the right move.
In late 2012, after a star turn at the Democratic National Convention and before hosting renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Bott told the Globe, "This program really opens up a world of possibilities for the students.
"They are able to meet the professionals who followed their passion and did a lot of hard work to get there; it sends a really powerful message."
Also on HuffPost:
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
"I wish to God she had had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out ... and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids," Gohmert said of slain principal Dawn Hochsprung on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/louie-gohmert-guns_n_2311379.html"><em>Fox News Sunday</em></a>. He argued that shooters often choose schools because they know people will be unarmed.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R)
"If people were armed, not just a police officer, but other school officials that were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would be an opportunity to stop an individual trying to get into the school," he <a href="http://www.wtop.com/610/3162096/Gov-Is-it-time-to-arm-school-officials">told WTOP's "Ask the Governor" show</a> Tuesday, warning that Washington may respond to such a policy with a "knee-jerk reaction."
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) & State Sen. Frank Niceley (R)
Gov. Haslam says he will consider a Tennessee plan to secretly arm and train some teachers, <a href="http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/12/tennessee-armed-teachers.php">TPM reports</a>. The legislation will be introduced by State Sen. Frank Niceley (R) next month. "Say some madman comes in. The first person he would probably try to take out was the resource officer. But if he doesn’t know which teacher has training, then he wouldn’t know which one had [a gun]," Niceley told TPM. "These guys are obviously cowards anyway and if someone starts shooting back, they’re going to take cover, maybe go ahead and commit suicide like most of them have."
Oklahoma State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) & State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R)
State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) <a href="http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=336&articleid=20121217_336_0_OKLAHO168827">told the Tulsa World</a> he plans to file legislation that would bring guns into schools, calling their absence "irresponsible." “It is incredibly irresponsible to leave our schools undefended – to allow mad men to kill dozens of innocents when we have a very simple solution available to us to prevent it," he said. "I’ve been considering this proposal for a long time. In light of the savagery on display in Connecticut, I believe it’s an idea whose time has come." Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) told the Tulsa World that teachers should carry concealed weapons at school events. "Allowing teachers and administrators with concealed-carry permits the ability to have weapons at school events would provide both a measure of security for students and a deterrent against attackers," he said.
Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R)
Baxley, who once sponsored Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, <a href="http://politics.heraldtribune.com/2012/12/17/florida-legislator-allow-guns-in-schools/">told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune </a>that keeping guns out of schools makes them a target for attacks. “We need to be more realistic at looking at this policy," he said. "In our zealousness to protect people from harm we’ve created all these gun-free zones and what we’ve inadvertently done is we’ve made them a target. A helpless target is exactly what a deranged person is looking for where they cannot be stopped.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)
At a Tea Party event Monday night, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/rick-perry-guns-in-schools_n_2322185.html">Perry praised a Texas school system that allows some staff to carry concealed weapons to work</a> and encouraged local school districts to make their own policies.
Minnesota State Rep. Tony Cornish (R)
Cornish <a href="http://www.kdlt.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=22736&Itemid=57">plans to introduce legislation that would allow teachers to arm themselves</a>, according to the AP.
Oregon State Rep. Dennis Richardson (R)
In an email <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/oregon-state-rep-dennis-richardson-teacher-guns-stopped-connecticut-shooting_n_2317444.html?ir=Education">obtained by Gawker</a> and excerpted below, Richardson tells three superintendents that he could have saved lives had he been armed and in Sandy Hook on Friday: <blockquote>If I had been a teacher or the principal at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and if the school district did not preclude me from having access to a firearm, either by concealed carry or locked in my desk, most of the murdered children would still be alive, and the gunman would still be dead, and not by suicide. ... [O]ur children's safety depends on having a number of well-trained school employees on every campus who are prepared to defend our children and save their lives?</blockquote>
Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett
"And I'm not so sure -- and I'm sure I'll get mail for this -- I'm not so sure I wouldn't want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing," Bennett, who served as education secretary under Ronald Reagan, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/bill-bennett-education-secretary-connecticut-shooting_n_2311774.html">told <em>Meet the Press</em> Sunday</a>. "The principal lunged at this guy. The school psychologist lunged at the guy. It has to be someone who's trained, responsible. But, my god, if you can prevent this kind of thing, I think you ought to."