Target: Andrew Bott, Principal of Orchard Gardens Elementary School
Goal: Applaud the decision to rid school of guards and reinstate arts programs
Orchard Gardens, a kindergarten through eighth grade elementary school, opened in 2003 in the community of Roxbury, Massachusetts. Despite ambitious hopes for the new school, it immediately became a place of violence and constant disorder. Students were banned from carrying backpacks for fear of concealed weapons, the school’s dance studio became a storage room, and musical instruments went untouched. By 2010, Orchard Gardens was in the bottom five of all public schools in the state.
That same year, the school’s sixth principal in only seven years, Andrew Bott, was hired. He began to tackle the huge undertaking of turning the school around, despite doubts from his colleagues who feared the new job was a “career killer.” According to a report by NBC News, “more than 90% [of students at Orchard Gardens] qualify for free or reduced lunch, 25% are learning to speak English, and 25% require Individual Education Plans to meet special needs.” This, coupled with an increasingly “oppressive learning environment,” led to alarmingly low attendance rates and high teacher turnover.
However, in 2010, Bott worked to eliminate the school’s security guards and used that money to hire art teachers. Chris Plunkett, a visual arts teacher at Orchard Gardens, felt that the move to eliminate funding to the school’s security infrastructure seemed “a little crazy.” He went on to state, however, that students require more than just test preparation, and that arts are essential to building confidence and developing a desire for learning. According to Plunkett, firing guards and hiring art teachers was “the right move in the end.”
Under the leadership of Bott, Orchard Gardens has “one of the fastest student improvement rates statewide,” with test scores rising and students becoming less and less disorderly. Individual students have expressed the overall attitude shift of the school, discussing the future of their education as a far more obtainable and desirable goal. Principal Bott concedes, “the school is far from perfect,” with test scores still below average in some areas. However, he remains convinced that the school is “definitely on the right path.”
Applaud Andrew Bott for stepping in and making efforts to improve a school that other teachers were unwilling to help. He has helped to put a focus on education in Massachusetts, as well as the nation as a whole, and has set a precedent for other failing schools across the country to follow.
Dear Principal Andrew Bott,
Education is one of America’s greatest resources. It helps to shape the future of the country and powerfully impacts individual’s lives. By going against current societal trends by firing security guards and replacing them with art teachers at Orchard Gardens School, you have helped to send a powerful message about education in this country.
Orchard Gardens’s rapid improvement from previous years is almost entirely thanks to your determination to turn the school around. Arts programs that had long been abandoned were reinstated and this, in turn, helped to raise test scores and students’ willingness and desire to learn.
The success of students is not only important for each individual, but is also vital to the wellbeing of our country as a whole. By undertaking the task of drastically improving Orchard Gardens School, despite preconceived notions and warnings by other teachers and colleagues, you have helped to set a standard for schools in this country.
Thank you for your work to make Orchard Gardens a better school. By doing so, you have placed an emphasis on the value of education in both the state of Massachusetts and across the nation.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: Username ajari via Wikimedia Commons