Roxbury Prep Chartering Its Own Course
The Skittles wrapper is flattened between a three-ring binder’s cover and its clear, plastic sleeve, the empty candy container as neatly pressed as the blue button-down shirt and khaki pants worn by the girl who savored its contents. With its vibrant palette—Skittles’ slogan is “Taste the rainbow,” after all—the wrapper is the loudest thing in the Roxbury Preparatory Charter School hallway.
Students at this small public school pass in silence so that teachers don’t lose the first few minutes of class to carryover chatter and because, as Roxbury Prep co-director Will Austin put it, “Nothing good happens in a middle school hallway, anyway.”
Despite its location—squeezed into the third floor of the Edgar Benjamin Health Care Center on Mission Hill—and demographics—all of its 258 students are non-white, and 71.6 percent of them qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches—Roxbury Prep is earning a reputation as one of the highest-performing schools in the state. Last year, its eighth-graders tied for 12th in math and 30th in English, as determined by the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, which is traditionally dominated by suburban, mostly-white districts.
“Folks will often ask, ‘What do you do for tutoring programs for the MCAS? What do you do for MCAS preparation classes?’ We don’t have any of those here,” Austin said. “What we do is we teach really well, and then kids do well on the test.”
Now, Roxbury Prep, younger than most of its students, at 12 years old, is planning massive expansion. In the spring, it announced a new partnership with the national non-profit Uncommon Schools and declared its intent to grow to five schools—two middle and one high—and 2,000 students by 2020.
Austin believes charters are uniquely equipped to model methods to close the much-discussed “achievement gap.”
“I think about charter schools not as a short-term solution, but as part of a long-term process of reform,” Austin said. “We are part of a longer-term, broader solution for public education.”