By Steve Wilkins, Head of School 2005-2021
An initially controversial choice enables Carroll to reach more students—and to create more impressive student outcomes than ever before.
At Carroll, our students and their families are at the heart of every decision we make—even the tough ones. We’re committed to their wellbeing above all else.
That’s why our vision of how best to help students with language-based learning differences, such as dyslexia, goes well beyond mainstream views of how best to teach students with learning disabilities—and why our vision didn’t align with the mandates of Massachusetts’ Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
We see the exponential growth in our students each day, and set our ambitious goals for their futures beyond Massachusetts’s basic individual educational plan (IEP) goals—goals that aim no higher than simple grade level performance. It was that gap that led to our decision in 2014 to begin a five year, deliberate withdrawal from the public funding system. And nearly six years later, we’ve seen that decision bring a stronger sense of social justice to our community, and greater access—across socioeconomic strata—to a Carroll education.
It may seem counterintuitive to refuse millions of dollars of publicly supported tuition, but it’s part of what we’ve achieved together by thinking differently. Here are just a few of the ways Carroll’s decision has benefitted hundreds of children across Greater Boston:
- Financial assistance has grown from $900K in 2014 to $3M in 2020. A quarter of Carroll families now receive need-based assistance to attend Carroll-- dramatically increasing the socio-economic diversity of the Carroll community.
- Carroll’s student population has increased from 400 in 2014 to 442 in 2020
- Carroll’s educational offerings have expanded to include a focus block for every student, a flex block for all, cognitive development work for each student, expanded use of technology, and creation of STEM design centers on each campus
- Carroll has developed a more intentional and focused training program that prepares teachers and tutors to work with children with dyslexia, rather than the broader and more generic training required of faculty in “approved special education” schools
My children are living proof in both their remarkable progress and attitudes that Carroll is nothing short of exceptional for dyslexia education. Financial aid enables my children to access this extraordinary education. It has made a dramatic difference for our family.
Cindy Morrison, Parent of a 4th and 8th Grader
When we first announced our intention to withdraw from state funding, we heard concerns that Carroll was abandoning students who could not afford to pay our tuition. We understood those concerns, but we could see an opportunity to provide even more support for those families.
Public funding was being disproportionately distributed to families who had the financial means to live in wealthy communities, acquire legal assistance, and hire advocates to help them secure funding. The end result was that funding was, in large part, providing access for those who did not necessarily need financial support to attend Carroll.
The toughest part of that equation was that the structure of public funding made it impossible for Carroll to provide sufficient financial assistance to those who truly needed it. Now, in 2021, our approach to providing financial aid has made the school far more accessible to a broad range of families, from a broad range of communities.
We also heard the concern that, without state mandates in place, who would hold Carroll to high standards around teacher certification, class sizes, and individual educational plans?
Today, Carroll is delivering more impressive student outcomes than ever before. We have set the bar higher than state mandates would ever demand. Our accountability comes from our promise to our families that we will deliver an education that gives their child what they most need. Rather than a set of written objectives on a document from the public school special education department, we see our responsibility as a contract between our parents and Carroll School.
It is a living, breathing, constantly evolving set of practices that are reviewed with our families at least four times a year. In fact, we track student progress daily and share data with parents as a core practice.
By thinking differently, and holding ourselves to a higher standard, we’ve seen both measurably positive outcomes in our student progress, and an ongoing, strengthened commitment to our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
As a trustee, I have had the pleasure of participating in a fantastic evolution under Steve’s leadership: Carroll has transformed from a remedial school that served as a stepping stone for students to return to other schools, into a complete school where students (and their parents!) want to be part of our community as long as possible.
Richard C. Waters P’11, Chair, Board of Trustees
This article is part of a series from Carroll Connection, A Timeline for Transformation: 2005-2021.
- Carroll Connection 2021-22