Tech Alliance’s Susannah Malarkey on Four Things Seattle Could Learn from Boston, and One Big Northwest Advantage

6/29/10

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a private nonprofit organization, the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, was set up to revitalize a 1.3-mile stretch of the waterfront through art installations, gardens, music and performances, special events, and festivals. Observing how Boston has gone about recapturing “its connection to its water” in the wake of a major highway, Malarkey says, will help Seattle do the same as we prepare to build an underground tunnel and, eventually, tear down the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

“What are they doing to restore the urban waterfront after the Big Dig? You take down a big central artery, and then what do you do afterwards?” Malarkey said. “Our tunnel project is so much less complicated than this. Everyone wants to compare it to the Big Dig, but that really was like constructing the Panama Canal. The big thing for us when comparing is thinking about how to take down the Viaduct and reconnect to the waterfront from there… I think our potential to have a world class waterfront is so high.”

A Different Approach to Public Education

Most cities experience a large and ongoing debate revolving around how the public schools system should be run, and every state, city, and district has its own set of variables. One primary difference between the public school system in Boston and here in Seattle is that Boston schools can opt to become “pilot schools,” which Malarkey describes as “charter schools lite.” Essentially it means a school will be given more independence from the district, may allocate its public funding however it sees fit, hire and fire staff independent from the district, and develop its own governance, policies, and curriculum, while still being held to certain academic standards.

“It’s much more autonomous,” Malarkey said. “They’ve created ways for people to be much more innovative in their school system. And there’s real commitment on the part of business and governmental leadership to support the schools and to support change in innovation in the schools.”

Malarkey had the opportunity to visit one pilot school, Samuel W. Mason Elementary, in Roxbury, MA, and was very impressed by what she saw. In five years, the school was able to recover from the brink of closure, and is now regarded as a national example of a successful pilot program. The school, which serves primarily minority and low-income students, nearly one-fourth of whom speak no English at home, boasts strong reading and after school programs, as well as full summer school. Mason Elementary enlists parents and community members to take an active role in the school, creating an academic atmosphere that engages students, Malarkey says.  And instead of separating special needs kids into different classrooms, they are integrated with the rest of the students, creating a community-oriented environment that fosters compassion and teamwork at a young age.

“There’s no bullying or teasing—none of that kind of stuff goes on there,” Malarkey said. “It was a very inspiring place to go.”

Though Malarkey noted that not all pilot schools are successful, witnessing the students at Mason proved to her that an experimental program done right could be a powerful force in the community.

“The one we visited had done amazing work,” she said. “They were among the top performing schools in the city with all these high-needs kids. It really showed how having … Next Page »

Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at theachard@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theachard. Follow @

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  • Jerry Jeff

    Out of all the variables in student performance, why scapegoat the teachers in (economically) poor school districts? With all the variability in the quality of administration, political interference, parental distraction and non-involvement, language barriers, and neighborhood violence I think it’s willfully simplistic to dump everything at the teachers’ feet. Otherwise an interesting article, and I was pleased to see Northeastern Univ cited as the great program it is.