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Head Master's Report Card Term 1

November 28, 2016

Dear Parents and Guardians:

Today, as Boston Latin students return their first term report cards, it seems fitting that that we should do our own self-reflection and evaluation.
If we were to measure ourselves solely against student progress and engagement, we would receive approbation with distinction.  You can find evidence of very strong academic achievement, winning sports teams, good sportsmanship, and outstanding artistic endeavors documented on our increasingly robust website,  With 54 sports teams, nearly 130 clubs, and numerous scheduled musical and theatrical performances, this is a dynamic school community that is never still.

Nowhere is student engagement better assessed than by a school’s retention rate.  This is tracked through the attrition rate which measures the percentage of students who leave a school in a given year.  In many ways, this is a more accurate indicator of how a school is faring.  This fall, the Massachusetts Department of Education released data that showed that the BLS attrition rate was the lowest in the state for all populations. In fact, last June, over 90% of the students who entered the seventh grade six years ago graduated from BLS all the while succeeding in an increasingly rigorous curriculum.

We are pleased that most BLS students did well first term - but we know that this is just one part of our overall assessment. As we drill deeper, we find that there is much behind those letter grades.  Our newest Assistant Head Master – and our resident data guru, Bethy Verano, is collaborating with the Academic Leadership Team in taking a closer look at these marks and how our students fare, academically and by other measures, for all demographics. Ms. Verano’s work and extensive use of technology will help drive and enhance instruction.  In addition, Ms. Verano is leading efforts to establish a restorative justice model for discipline that complements the systems currently in place at BLS – a process that will allow us to resolve disciplinary matters in a more constructive way.
Assistant Head Master Beth McCoy continues to take the lead in curriculum, instruction, and assessment, working in collaboration with the Academic and Instructional Leadership Teams in a wide range of initiatives.   More information on these initiatives, which include developing a proposal for an advisory program, infusing cultural competency and global awareness into the curriculum, and identifying core values to guide school culture will soon be found on the website.  In addition, a sub-committee of staff and parents is exploring ways to increase student health and performance.

Our skilled faculty also boosted our grades first term:  When we returned to the Latin School, we were amazed by how far the school had come with respect to academic rigor, student support, and the willingness of this faculty to go above and beyond.  School-wide professional development has focused on furthering respect and inclusivity and our young people are reaping the benefits: Already this year, students have participated in two extended homeroom or pilot advisory periods.  During last week’s advisory, students in Classes I, II, III, and V engaged in a team building exercise that involved building towers with spaghetti and marshmallows.  Students responded enthusiastically and teachers reported that the project truly helped their classes to build rapport and collaboration. 

Additionally, nearly all BLS staff members have enrolled in either the YW Boston’s Race Dialogues program or Glenn Singleton’s Courageous Conversations to address racial equity and how best to engage students in respectful conversations.  Both courses demand a significant investment in time, both in and out of school, and we are gratified that so many of our faculty made this a priority.

To support and supplement these efforts, we are indeed fortunate to have as our partner, the BLSA Black Alumni Advisory Committee (BAAC). Over the past few months, the BAAC has met and refined its mission to “assist in creating an inclusive, nurturing and rigorous environment for all current and future Boston Latin School students ...”  For more information on the work of the BAAC,  please check out the website.

Our Student Support Team is exploring ways to best support students academically, while developing healthy, well-rounded adolescents.  In late January, all students will take the Challenge Success survey to gather data on their perspectives around factors such as homework, extracurricular activities, physical health stress, academics, and teacher support in order to prioritize interventions.  We will have more information on this important work in future letters.

Decidedly in the "needs improvement" category is our inability to completely avoid sensationalized stories in the media.  At the end of October, we found ourselves in the Boston Herald, with color photos, as the result of a mild student protest about the enforcement of the school dress code.   Late on a Friday, Mr. Contompasis posted online the policy in the Daily Bulletin.  The language in the dress code was ambiguous about the wearing of leggings and over the weekend, students generated a protest petition with over 1,000 signatures.  Fortunately, we still live in an age where face-to- face communication is viable and optimal. By the end of first period on Monday, Mr. Contompasis had met with the authors of the petition, and together, had clarified the policy in a manner that was acceptable to all. (Mr. Contompasis and Mr. Howland now know more about leggings than they ever wanted to know.)

On the other hand, not all the Herald news was bad. Peter Gelzinis wrote a wonderful article about our senior class officers in the Herald, in early October. 

Finally, we are stepping up efforts to bring more visitors into the school.   We know that the best way for prospective families to learn about Boston Latin is to see the school in action and to meet our incredible young people.   To make this process more user-friendly, we have created an on-line sign up and expanded the number of tours with student guides who speak several different languages.

We hope that you will spread the word and encourage new families to visit.  And yes, leggings are allowed.

With best wishes for a joyous holiday season to you and your family,

Michael G. Contompasis Jerry Howland
Interim Head Master Interim Associate Head Master

Posted on December 1, 2016