Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School
|Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School|
|49 Antietam St.
|Number of students||379|
|Color(s)||Green, white and black |
|Athletics||Baseball, basketball, cross country, soccer, softball, track and field|
|Average SAT scores||612 verbal
582 writing (2010)
The Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School (usually referred to as the Parker Charter School by the public, or simply Parker by students) is a public  charter school in Devens, Massachusetts that serves students in grades 7 to 12. It was established in 1995 under the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993, and currently serves 384 students from 40 surrounding towns in north central Massachusetts, including Acton. Pepperell, Concord, Lunenburg, and Westford. As a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools, a leading organization for education reform, Parker is known for its nontraditional educational philosophy. The school takes its name from Francis Wayland Parker, a 19th-century pioneer of the progressive school movement.
Parker was one of the first charter schools created under the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993. Started by area parents and teachers, it received its charter on March 15, 1994, opening for the 1995–1996 school year as an Essential School dedicated to the principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools. CES founder Ted Sizer was involved in its founding, and he served as co-principal with his wife Nancy in the 1998–1999 school year. Every five years the school is reviewed by the state to see whether the school's charter should be renewed. Parker's charter was renewed in June 1999 and again in 2004. In 1999, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges selected Parker as a "candidate member school" for accreditation, and it was accredited in 2002.
Parker also is home to the Regional Teachers center (renamed the Theodore R. Sizer Teachers Center on the school's tenth anniversary in 2005). Teachers provide professional help to other teachers, give workshops, and take part in educational conferences. The Teachers Center has hosted hundreds of visitors to Parker from dozens of schools in other states and countries since September 2004. The New Teachers Collaborative is a program that allows beginning teachers to earn their teacher certification in one school year. In addition to Parker, NTC places teachers at Prospect Hill Academy in Somerville/Cambridge, Massachusetts and Murdoch Middle Public and Innovation Academy Charter Schools in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Some NTC veterans go on to work in schools around the country, and many remain at Parker. The Teachers Center recently received a $500,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Through the Teachers Center, Parker spreads the essential school philosophy and aids both newly created schools that are looking for developmental help and well-established schools that are hoping to change, including Newton South High School, Brighton High School, and Shortridge Academy (Milton, NH).
As with all Commonwealth Charter Schools in Massachusetts, Parker receives its funding from the local aid accounts of its students' sending school districts. The Massachusetts Department of Education projects that $3,662,559 ($9,767 per pupil) will be withdrawn from the local aid accounts of sending towns in the 2007–2008 school year. Thanks to fiscal responsibility since its inception, the school had accumulated net assets of $2.5 million as of June 2007.
Because Massachusetts charter schools cannot receive state or local funding for facilities acquirement or improvement, Parker has had to find creative solutions to its housing issues. From its opening in 1995 to 2000, Parker was located in a former Army spy-training building leased from MassDevelopment, a semi-private base redevelopment authority. While this facility provided sufficient space, it had quirks such as a lack of windows, a cafeteria, or a gym. In 2000, the school moved to its current residence, a 1950s-era elementary school, also leased from MassDevelopment, until it was acquired in August 2007.
To remedy the lack of space at its current location, Parker recently purchased and installed a 13-classroom $50,000 modular addition obtained from the Wachusett Regional School District. The addition added 25,030 square feet (2,325 m2) to the school's current 46,000 square feet (4,300 m2), meeting all of the school's current space needs besides a larger gym. The total cost of moving, site preparation, and reconstruction was estimated to be between $1.5 and 2 million, for classrooms which would cost $8 million to build new. The "Classroom Campaign" raised the $1 million required by requesting that the Parker community donate money. $325,000 was given by the board of trustees and the Parker Essential Fund granted $51,000. Parents were expected to donate $350,000, alumni parents $225,000, and students, staff, graduates, and friends of the school, $50,000. As of June 2007, $800,000 had been raised towards the goal. The addition will result in only a small increase in enrollment to 375; the number of students is limited both by the school's philosophy and the charter, which limits the school to 400 students. On April 24, 2007, the Devens Enterprise Commission held a public hearing for the expansion request, at which questions about parking, traffic safety, and wetlands on the property were raised. The proposal was unanimously approved by the DEC on May 3, 2007, after the expansion plan was modified to show how additional parking requirements could be met on-site. Construction began in the summer of 2007 and was completed in April 2008.
Parker's nontraditional educational philosophy is based on the ideas espoused by Sizer and the CES laid out in the Common Principles. Sizer's objections to mainstream public schools include:
- Time wasted going from classroom to classroom.
- Elective courses which distract resources, time, and energy from the core curriculum.
- The inflated importance of sports.
- Unidirectional lecturing of teacher to student.
The Parker School addresses these problems with:
- Block scheduling: Three two-hour blocks a day with the integrated subjects "Arts and Humanities" and "Math, Science and Technology," as well as shorter "Wellness" and Spanish classes. Division III classes are one hour long and more focused on specific content areas.
- A common core curriculum: There are no electives until the student enters Division III (roughly equivalent to grades 11 and 12). Every student takes the same core curriculum through Divisions I and II (grades 7-10). Spanish is the only language offered at Parker. The core curriculum contributes to a sense of unity among the student population.
- A "teacher as coach" philosophy: Students address teachers by their first names, and every written assignment and oral presentation has an intensive draft and revision process so the student can interact with the teacher as much as possible. A result of this is that work is not graded in the traditional way at Parker. Work is commented on extensively and compared to a rubric of standards for a given "division". The bulk of teacher feedback is usually given with the aim of aiding further revision rather than as a final assessment of the student (see below)
- Depth over breadth: At Parker one does not find any survey courses like "US History." Rather, the teachers of Arts and Humanities will choose a few issues of American history to discuss in depth that year (19th century Immigration, Vietnam War, etc.), and then use the tools of a variety of disciplines (art, history, literature) to explore that same topic in greater depth than any one discipline alone would do.
- Advancement based on achievement: There is no social promotion from one grade to the next from year to year; nor are there traditional letter grades. Rather, student work is assessed based on whether it meets the standard and students move between divisions when they assemble a portfolio of work proving that they can produce work that meets the standards of that division (typically after 1½–2½ years). Work that does not yet meet standards is assessed as "incomplete", "just beginning" or "approaching" the standard and students are expected to revise their work continually to show improvement. When students have completed a portfolio of "meets" or "exceeds" work, they complete a "gateway" presentation highlighting their learning and showing they are ready to move forward.
- The advisory system: Advisories (equivalent to "homerooms" in traditional schools) are designed to create close relationships between students and teachers. Advisories have roughly twelve students. Each advisory has a faculty advisor at the head, and for fifteen minutes at the beginning and end of each day, advisories meet to connect and reflect together and discuss the events of their personal lives. An hour a week on Wednesdays is also dedicated to advisory time, usually spent in non-academic activities.
Parker employed about 44 full-time equivalent teachers in the 2006–2007 school year; the average class size is 15 students and the student to teacher ratio is 8.3 to 1. Parker teachers tend to be young, and the school's relationship with the Harvard Graduate School of Education means that many young teachers start at Parker to intern and decide to stay. The teachers are also well-educated; as of 2006, about two-thirds of the school's faculty held advanced degrees, and 95.2% were designated Highly Qualified Teachers according to the No Child Left Behind Act. However, as of 2008, only 65.8% are licensed in their teaching assignment, below the state average. Teacher turnover at Parker is usually perceived as being very high. However, in fact, on average over the past 10 years, 16% of teachers (about 9 out of 56 to 60 each year) have not returned annually, which is less than the 20% national average for public schools. The average years of service for teachers at Parker is 4.5 years, with an average teaching experience of 6.9 years. Some leave to take on leadership roles in other essential schools elsewhere in the country. Though Parker spends a greater percentage of its total funds on its teachers than any school in the state, Parker teachers are paid less than teachers at other local public schools, in part due to the lack of a teachers' union. This is usually perceived as being a reason for high teacher turnover, but according to a report by former principal Teri Schrader, salary is not a significant factor in teacher turnover, with the vast majority of teacher departures being for other reasons.
- James Nehring (1996–1998)
- Theodore and Nancy Sizer (1998–1999)
- Gregg Sinner (1999–2001)
- Teriann Schrader (2001–2010)
- Diane Kruse (Interim Principal 2010-2011)
- Todd Sumner (2011–Present)
- Suzy Becker (born 1962), author, entrepreneur, and social activist
Parker draws about 365 students from the surrounding area in north central Massachusetts. Students come to Parker because they (or their parents) are looking for a better education than the one provided by the local public schools. Applicants often fall into one of two categories: academically successful students frustrated by the lack of opportunity and challenge in the local public schools or students whose personalities, attitudes, or learning styles have proven to be incompatible with the mainstream public schools and are looking for an alternative.
Because Parker consistently receives enrollment applications at a level several times the number of openings available (there were 287 applications for 65 spots for the 2006–2007 school year), admission is by random lottery; some applicants are placed on a wait-list. (The exception is for siblings of current Parker students, who are guaranteed a spot.) Application is open to residents of 70 Massachusetts towns in 46 school districts, but, in practice, the student body is somewhat self-selecting. The school's isolated location in Devens, a decommissioned army base in central Massachusetts, and the lack of school busing, mean that any student attending needs to have a ride to and from school. This makes it difficult for low-income students from nearby urban areas such as Lowell and Leominster to attend.
On its website[dead link], Parker claims that "the socioeconomic, ethnic, and educational characteristics of the student body closely reflect the general population of the region." While this is true to the extent that the surrounding area is mostly white, there are significant minority and low-income populations in the area that are not really represented. The student body is almost exclusively middle- to upper middle-class white: in the 2007–2008 school year, the student body was 92.6% white, 0.3% African-American, 4.5% multi-racial, 1.8% Hispanic, and 0.8% Asian. Only 0.3% of students came from low-income families and 10.6% had Special Education needs (IEP), compared to 16.9% in the state.
Parker students generally perform well on educational achievement tests. On the Stanford Achievement Tests, students in the classes of 2009 and 2010 scored between the 80th and 90th percentiles nationally in various subjects, on average. Nearly all Parker students take the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), and the average score among the class of 2007 was 601 Critical Reading, 559 Math, 575 Writing, for a total average score of 1735, the 75th percentile nationally. Parker's 2006 average Critical Reading score of 607 (the school reports 619) ranked #7 in the state. On the 2007 MCAS test, Parker 10th-graders ranked tied for #19 on English and tied for #45 on Math.
The role of the student government is laid out in the Parker Constitution, which was created in the first month of the school's operation. Parker strives to follow the tenth Common Principle of the Coalition of Essential Schools, democracy and equity; students are able to be involved as much as teachers and parents in the decision making processes of the school. This is manifested in frequent community discussions about important topics, in the two student representatives to the Board of Trustees, and in the two student representative bodies.
The legislative body is the Community Congress (CC), which meets every Wednesday for one hour. The CC is made up of one representative from each advisory in the school, and is led by three co-advisors and an alternate elected by the student body at the end of each school year. Within the CC, there are various groups that deal with different aspects of school government, including the STAF (Student Teacher Activity Fund) Committee, which distributes community-benefiting mini-grants; the Spirit Committee, which organizes dances and other school spirit activities; the Green Committee, which oversees recycling and works to make the school more environmentally friendly; and the Public Relations Committee, which writes a bi-weekly newsletter for the Friday Announcements.
The CC's counterpart, the Justice Committee (JC) is also formed of one member from each advisory, and meets on Wednesday for an hour. The main purpose of the JC is to mediate minor disputes between members of the Parker community (more serious cases are dealt with by the principal). The JC also oversees the election for co-advisors.
Parker has numerous clubs and activities, which meet either during "choice block," a weekly 1-hour period for which students sign up for an activity of their choosing, or after school. Parker has a student jazz band and has been home to several student bands over the years, most notably The Demons of Stupidity, Schmendrique, and Crevice. Several times a year, students and teachers showcase their music and poetry skills at Café Wednesday. There are usually about two play productions a year. Parker also has a Destination ImagiNation team; a Parker team went to the Global Finals in 2005 and 2006. Other groups include a Mock Trial team and a rocket club that reached the 2006 and 2007 national finals of the Team America Rocketry Challenge. In the past, there was a math team that participated in the Worcester County Mathematics League. Parker mock trial made it to the state finals in 2002 and state semi finals in 2010.
Despite Ted Sizer's objection to the overemphasis of the role of sports in public high schools, athletics have become an important part of the Parker identity over time. The school now fields teams in cross country, track and field, soccer, basketball, baseball, and softball and is a member of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association. There is a $200 fee to participate in a sport. About half of the student body participates in at least one sport. The Girls Varsity Basketball team has been especially successful, having a record of 118-41 in its seven seasons and making the state tournament each year, and other teams have seen marked improvement. Still, athletics take on a uniquely Parker attitude, emphasizing teamwork, self-improvement, and other ideals compatible with the Ten Common Principles. In the words of one senior athlete, it's not "OK, let's go to the pep rally."
Life after Parker
In the 2006–2007 school year, the graduation rate was 91.1% (100% when including those who would require an extra year to graduate), and 93% planned to attend a four-year college. Among the first three graduating classes, 93% enrolled in four-year colleges, and 85% of those earned a bachelors degree within five years, well above the national average. The tendency is towards small liberal arts colleges and the local University of Massachusetts schools and state colleges. Graduates in the past have matriculated at elite schools such as Brown, Dartmouth, Tufts, Cornell, Williams and Haverford. There have also been a couple of students to matriculate to some of the United States Service Academies, such as West Point, and the Air Force Academy.
- Parker's Massachusetts Department of Education Profile
- The colors were initially forest green and white; black was added a few years ago.
- SAT Performance Report - School and District Profiles: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
- US Charter Schools
- "Who Are We? - Parker School official website".[dead link]
- "Parker School Fact Sheet".[dead link]
- "Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School CES Profile".[dead link]
- "NEASC list of accredited schools". Retrieved 2008-07-06.
- The Parker Way, Winter 2007[dead link]
- Parker School 2006–2007 Annual Report[dead link].
- The Parker Way, Spring 2007[dead link].
- Charter School FY08 Tuition and Enrollment Projections[dead link]
- The Parker Way, Fall 2007[dead link].
- "Friday Announcements, February 2, 2007".[dead link]
- "Parker looking to expand with modular addition". Ayer Public Spirit. 2007-04-27.
- "Parker Charter seeks modular expansion". Ayer Public Spirit. 2007-04-06.
- Classroom Campaign - History[dead link]
- Classroom Campaign - FAQs[dead link]
- Classroom Campaign - About the Campaign[dead link]
- Friday Announcements, June 8, 2007[dead link]
- "Riggs Gymnasium, Parker school expansions approved". Ayer Public Spirit. 2007-05-25.
- "Parker School 2005–2006 Annual Report".[dead link]
- Parker Board of Trustees February 6, 2007 meeting minutes[dead link]
- Parker Region[dead link]
- "SAT Percentile Ranks for Males, Females, and Total Group:2006 College-Bound Seniors—Critical Reading + Mathematics + Writing" (PDF). College Board. Retrieved May 29, 2007.
- 2006 SAT scores for Massachusetts high schools
- "Francis W. Parker Charter School 2007 MCAS Results". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-04-22.
- "The Parker Constitution".[dead link]
- "Committee Information - Official Community Congress Website".
- Parker's rocket scientists - Rocketry Planet
- Parker programs flourish. Worcester Telegram and Gazette. October 6, 2007.
- "A school grows up, learning books aren't enough". The Boston Globe. 2007-02-04.
- Massachusetts Public Charter Schools Association Fellowship Papers about the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School[dead link]
- Meier, Deborah; Sizer, Theodore R. and Nancy Faust Sizer (2004). Keeping School: Letters to Families from Principals of Two Small Schools. Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-3264-6.
- Nehring, James (2001). Upstart Startup: Creating and Sustaining a Public Charter School. Teachers College Press. ISBN 0-8077-4162-0.
- Sizer, Theodore R.; Nancy Faust Sizer. "A School Built for Horace". Education Matters 2001 (1). Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-04-15.
- Wagner, Tony (2008). The Global Achievement Gap. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-00229-3.