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Principal fires security guards to hire art teachers — and transforms elementary school

ROXBURY, Mass. — The community of Roxbury had high hopes for its newest public school back in 2003. There were art studios, a dance room, even a theater equipped with cushy seating.

A pilot school for grades K-8, Orchard Gardens was built on grand expectations.

But the dream of a school founded in the arts, a school that would give back to the community as it bettered its children, never materialized.

Instead, the dance studio was used for storage and the orchestra's instruments were locked up and barely touched.

The school was plagued by violence and disorder from the start, and by 2010 it was rank in the bottom five of all public schools in the state of Massachusetts.

That was when Andrew Bott — the sixth principal in seven years — showed up, and everything started to change.

“We got rid of the security guards,” said Bott, who reinvested all the money used for security infrastructure into the arts.

Orchard Gardens a one-time 'career killer'

In a school notorious for its lack of discipline, where backpacks were prohibited for fear the students would use them to carry weapons, Bott’s bold decision to replace the security guards with art teachers was met with skepticism by those who also questioned why he would choose to lead the troubled school.

“A lot of my colleagues really questioned the decision,” he said.  “A lot of people actually would say to me, ‘You realize that Orchard Gardens is a career killer? You know, you don't want to go to Orchard Gardens.’” Share your Big Idea with NBC Nightly News! Your ideas may be featured online -- or on our broadcast.

But now, three years later, the school is almost unrecognizable. Brightly colored paintings, essays of achievement, and motivational posters line the halls. The dance studio has been resurrected, along with the band room, and an artists’ studio.

The end result? Orchard Gardens has one of the fastest student improvement rates statewide. And the students — once described as loud and unruly, have found their focus.

“We have our occasional, typical adolescent ... problems,” Bott said.  “But nothing that is out of the normal for any school.”

The school is far from perfect. Test scores are better, but still below average in many areas. Bott says they’re “far from done, but definitely on the right path.” The students, he says, are evidence of that.

‘I can really have a future in this’ Eighth grader Keyvaughn Little said he’s come out of his shell since the school’s turnaround. “I've been more open, and I've expressed myself more than I would have before the arts have came.” His grades have improved, too. Keyvaughn says it’s because of the teachers — and new confidence stemming from art class.   “There's no one particular way of doing something,” he said. “And art helps you like see that. So if you take that with you, and bring it on, it will actually help you see that in academics or anything else, there's not one specific way you have to do something.”

Keyvaughn has now been accepted to the competitive Boston Arts Academy, the city’s only public high school specializing in visual and performing arts.   “All of the extra classes and the extra focus on it and the extra attention make you think that, ‘Hey, oh my gosh, I can really have a future in this, I don't have to go to a regular high school — I can go to art school,'” he said.

Chris Plunkett, a visual arts teacher at Orchard Gardens school in Roxbury, Mass., spoke with NBC's Katy Tur about the success of the arts program that led to an inspiring turnaround for students.   Chris Plunkett, who has taught visual arts at Orchard Gardens for the past three years, said the classes help develop trust between the faculty and students. During one particularly memorable project, he asked his eighth graders to write a memoir about a life experience and what they learned from it and then create a self-portrait.

“I couldn't believe how honest and candid they were, and how much I learned about them,” Plunkett said.  “I mean it was really, it was one of the most incredible things I've seen in eighth graders.”

Noting that kids need more than test prep, he added, it may have seemed “a little crazy” to get rid of the security guards to hire art teachers but “I definitely feel it was the right move in the end.”

by Anonymousreply 2105/03/2013

Nice story, OP. Thanks for posting.

by Anonymousreply 105/02/2013

Great article. Just be aware that because of Obama's misguided Race to the Top and Common Core initiatives, the art teachers will soon be fired.

It's all test prep in the schools now. Luxuries like art, music, history, science, gym are slowly vanishing especially for low income students.

by Anonymousreply 205/02/2013

Because Republicans bitch so much about paying taxes, R2. Where do you think the money for such "luxuries" comes from?

But of course you want to pin this on Obama.

by Anonymousreply 305/02/2013

When the Pubbies are pulling the purse strings, arts and education always suffer.

by Anonymousreply 405/02/2013


That's because the GOP doesn't want people educated. Their party base is in the southeast, particularly Alabama, and their core states including neighboring Mississippi which make up the majority (but not all) of the Old Confederacy. Texas remains their No. 1 because of its population. Outside this geographical area, the plains and the interior mountain states, in spite of their small populations, are also their lifelines in presidential electoral politics.

Encouraging education, let alone arts in education, is not in the best interest of the Republican party. Making the electorate obedient workers, and letting however many of them continue to think the U.S. is a "Christian nation," is a gig the Rs feel they need to continue working.

by Anonymousreply 505/02/2013

It's a combination of Republicans and Democrats who are responsible for the focus on test prep. The Repubs with the purse strings and Obama with the misguided education policies. It's so boring when people see everything is such a knee jerk way.

by Anonymousreply 605/02/2013

I find it confusing when OPS' post the link and [italic] THEN [/italic] the article in it's entirety.

Very unsettling.

by Anonymousreply 705/02/2013

I appreciate an OP who posts the article and [italic]THEN[/italic] adds the link at the end so we can check to see if there are photos, illustrations, and/or comments regarding the article.

Thank you OP. Thinking people appreciate your efforts and don't find it confusing.

by Anonymousreply 805/02/2013

the overwhelming success of this school and many other schools is the on the shoulders of the volunteers that help out at the schools in the classrooms.

Don't forget to support schools and to volunteer!

by Anonymousreply 905/02/2013

"I can really have a future in this, I don't have to go to a regular high school — I can go to art school"

Oh no... setting him up for a life of unemployment :(

by Anonymousreply 1005/02/2013

Um, no R10. Arts high schools still require students be taught and pass the core subjects.

by Anonymousreply 1105/02/2013

This story moved me.

I loathe people who don't understand the importance of public education in America.

by Anonymousreply 1205/02/2013

[quote]the GOP doesn't want people educated.

That's right. Educated people would not buy their constant lies. You have to be stupid to pay attention to people like Lindsey Graham and Rush Limbaugh.

by Anonymousreply 1305/02/2013


by Anonymousreply 1405/03/2013

Or who fall for the lie of charter schools, like Obama.

by Anonymousreply 1505/03/2013


by Anonymousreply 1605/03/2013

I like their attitude.

by Anonymousreply 1705/03/2013

Public schools need to be able to kick out the uncivilized savages. If they could do that the other students would thrive.

by Anonymousreply 1805/03/2013

You've missed the point r18. These "uncivilised savages" will only worsen without an education. When we provide an education to these "savages" suddenly they are far less likely to turn to crime or crawl through your window looking for drug money. They're kids who need direction not useless adults who give up on them. If they're allowed to find their passion you will see that there is no such thing as "uncivilised savages". All of it proven in the story above.

by Anonymousreply 1905/03/2013

r19, I went to school with some of those uncivilized savages. I didn't see much improvement in them. They just fucked it up for the rest of us. Send them to a boot camp style "school" where their lives will be rigid and miserable. The rest of the students can go to a school with a lot of freedom and actually be free to learn.

by Anonymousreply 2005/03/2013

Perhaps you went to a shitty school r20, and so your school didn't know how to manage those kids. It is a skill and not every teacher has it. Schools, like this one in Roxbury, need teachers who see the potential where no one else can. Not all those kids can be saved, but the ones who are teetering on the edge need education not to be kicked out and branded a loser before their life has begun.

by Anonymousreply 2105/03/2013
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