Introduction

Chelsea Opportunity Academy is a new high school within the Chelsea Public School system that was founded to meet the needs of off-track students who did not find success in a traditional high school setting. The school was founded in 2018 with support from the Barr foundation.

The school supports its students through five pillars of success:

  • Competency-based learning and assessment
  • Multi-lingual course offerings
  • Holistic instructionFlexible schedules and classroom formats
  • Community-embedded learning that connects students with internships, service-learning opportunities, and work placements

The core values of the school support the mission statement:

  • In our school, we are all learners. Our students and staff understand that COA is a safe space. We value the opportunity to actively engage in learning.
  • In our school, we value each other. We build meaningful relationships and respect the assets that every member brings to our community.
  • In our school, all voices are heard. We strive to listen to each other, understand different perspectives, and learn from one another.
  • In our school, we are fair and responsible. Through restorative practices, we commit to learning and growing from our mistakes.
  • In our school, every day is a new day and a fresh start. Students and staff will approach everyday as a new opportunity to learn and grow.
  • In our school, we work to improve ourselves as people every day. We work together to develop the skills of self-regulation, self-control, and self-advocacy in each other.
  • We are proud Chelsea Opportunity Academy students and staff who embrace our core values and will work together to support, respect, and maintain our school community.

The school currently operates within the Chelsea High School building for the 2018/2019 school year, and is working towards moving its headquarters to the Bunker Hill Community College campus in the future.

The Need

Chelsea High School had several years of data which indicated that over-age and under-credited students frequently dropped out of school and were often unsuccessful in their career paths after high school. Chelsea Opportunity Academy’s design team, which began as a group of educators participating in a dropout prevention program at Chelsea High School, gathered qualitative data from the dropout population and their families to fully understand the need for the new, independent Chelsea Opportunity Academy.

Through interviews and focus groups with students and their parents, the Chelsea Opportunity Academy team developed a better understanding of what the students themselves needed to succeed. For example, one student noted that if school started later in the day, they would be less likely to miss class time in the mornings. The team used this information to shape the design process for Chelsea Opportunity Academy.

Getting Started

With a clearly defined need, Chelsea Opportunity Academy gathered its design team. Made up of Chelsea High School staff, a social worker, and a Center for Collaborative Education (CCE) coach, the team began to create policies and a school structure based on the data gathered during the student interviews and focus groups. This early work led to the development of a mission statement, instructional vision, and core values for the school. Once these early foundations were laid, one of the team’s first steps was to create documents to share the design process with the community. At the same time, the staff began to flesh out a budget for implementation.

This foundational work was largely informed by site visits to New York City transfer schools. With the groundwork laid out, Chelsea Opportunity Academy then began to develop a work plan and the school’s academic pathways. These pathways are tailored to the student and are determined when the student enters the school via an interview that explores the student’s currently completed credits and academic and vocational interests. The team began to create a plan for the new high school, with the CCE coach and Chelsea High School’s assistant principal facilitating meetings.

With a plan on paper, the design team led meetings with the stakeholders and students who participated in the earlier focus groups throughout the design process to ensure that their input was included when developing homework tasks and the school’s curriculum. The vision, mission, five pillars, and other materials were shared with the community as well. The design team kept the process malleable, adapting the plan along the way to allow for flexible class schedules and more time for proficiency-based learning.

Professional Development

The Chelsea Opportunity Academy worked closely with the Center for Collaborative Education throughout the design process. CCE helped to shape Chelsea Opportunity Academy's vision and provided professional development (with the additional help of Springpoint Schools) that helped the school analyze research and create founding documents. The school intends to continue to utilize CCE’s professional development resources on an on-going basis.

The design team also participated in multiple site visits in New York to gain a better understanding of what Chelsea Opportunity Academy could potentially look like in practice. After visiting New York transfer schools, non-traditional high schools that help under-credited students graduate, the COA design team had a clearer vision of what the school model would look like in action. These site visits served as a bridge between the data gathered from COA’s own student surveys to building out the actual school model.

Rolling Out the Plan

By keeping the community involved and hearing from similar schools, Chelsea Opportunity Academy was able to create a final design that ensured students have voice and choice in their learning.

Chelsea Opportunity Academy opened up its doors at the start of the 2018 school year, enrolling 50 students. As students begin moving through Chelsea Opportunity Academy, the staff hope to keep students actively involved with the school’s development. The team will continue to consult with students about design plans, hiring new staff, and other important initiatives as Chelsea Opportunity Academy continues to grow. The team plans to go through continuous iteration, reviewing the model as the school years progress.

Results So Far

Chelsea Opportunity Academy, at the time of this writing, is still in the midst of its first school year. More data on the school’s early days will be made available later in 2019. However, Chelsea Opportunity Academy plans to expand its student body and work towards continued growth, thanks in part to a grant from the Barr Foundation that was awarded in 2018.

An approach to teaching and learning that is flexible and adaptable, adjusting the system to the individual students and what they need to be successful in today's diverse, global world.
Students exercise voice and choice in their learning, embracing their individual strengths, needs, interests, and cultural backgrounds.
The ability to use the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of culturally and linguistically diverse learners as conduits for teaching them more effectively. (Geneva Gay, 2002)
Developed in a way that ensures a barrier-free environment for all students, ensuring that every student, particularly those within historically underserved groups, has what they need to be successful. To be truly equitable, schools must not only have equity of opportunity, but of outcomes.
The process of envisioning, designing, and implementing a school model, either from scratch as a way of redesigning and disrupting the existing educational system, or as part of the transformation of an existing school.