Best Schools 2010: These Roxbury Prep Kids Can Kick Your Kids MCAS!
Charter school advocates think they know how to save our students. With charters like Roxbury Prep set to expand dramatically, we’re about to find out if they’re right.
BUT CAN ROXBURY PREP work on a large scale? Evan Rudall, who founded the school in 1999, insists it can — and that charters’ success will help push the city’s entire public school system to improve.
Rudall grew up on Chicago’s South Side, doing everything bad he could think of. He drank, he smoked, he fought, and for his efforts, he got kicked out of middle school. But he also got a second chance: In high school he found salvation in a teacher named Ms. Stein, and righted himself in time to get into Wesleyan and later the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he trained to open a school of his own. After a brief postgraduate return to Chicago, he came back to Boston, committed to the idea of opening a middle school that would help future generations avoid his mistakes. “I packed up my car with about two weeks’ worth of clothes and ended up staying for three or four months to write the charter application,” he says. “I hopped from friend’s couch to friend’s couch, put all the expenses on my credit card. I was living in profound debt…. Everyone was telling me I was crazy.”
Crazy maybe, but the state was impressed. It approved his charter for Roxbury Prep in February 1998, and by the time the school’s opening bell finally rang in September 1999, Rudall says he knew he was onto something. The space was a little funny, with the classrooms featuring wide, hospital-style doors, but Rudall wasn’t concerned with cosmetics. “I walked through every classroom five minutes into that first day,” he says. “Students were in uniform, they were focused and engaged, hands were up answering questions, teachers were teaching and students were learning.” Fast-forward to today, and many of those kids are college graduates. And of the current college-age Roxbury Prep alums, 80 percent are enrolled. By comparison, of the 3,327 Boston Public School students who graduated in the class of 2007, 53 percent enrolled in college. (And that’s not even considering the 42 percent of BPS students who don’t graduate.)
But Roxbury Prep was not the only emerging charter school. In 1993 the state had passed a landmark education bill, which essentially established Boston as a mecca for education reform. With schools like Harvard turning out smart, talented innovators like Rudall, some of the most creative work in the country was being done here. Charter schools have a spotty record nationwide — about half are good, the other half not so much — but Boston is known for having among the best in the country.