A decade ago, East Boston High School was in the third percentile of schools statewide, teetering on being labeled a turnaround school at risk of a state takeover, with nearly half of all students failing to graduate.
But graduation rates, attendance, and scores on state-mandated exams have consistently risen in the last 10 years. On Wednesday, the 1,300-student campus was recognized for its improvement with the $100,000 School on the Move Prize.
The prize is awarded by EdVestors, a Boston education nonprofit that focuses on arts and math education, career pathways, and racial equity in schools. The other two finalists, Fenway High School and Boston Green Academy, each received $20,000 — double the usual $10,000 award, thanks to a surprise mystery donor — to further school improvement. This is the first year all three finalists for the award are high schools.
At East Boston High School, more than 90 percent of students are classified by the state as “high needs,” those who are from low-income families, have disabilities, or are learning English. EdVestors recognized the school for its early college programs, career pathways, and the sense of community among students, staff, and administrators, prompting an explosion of whoops and cheers from East Boston High students who were in attendance.
“I am happy that our dedication to our students did not go unnoticed and I understand that the journey is not over,” said Phillip Brangiforte, an East Boston High School graduate who now serves as the school’s headmaster. “We will continue to work hard to nurture, educate, and inspire every student who walks through the doors as we are committed to making East Boston High School the best school in the state.”
Under Brangiforte’s leadership, the school also launched alternative programs such as night school, credit recovery classes, and on-campus summer school. He also introduced so-called instructional rounds, where teachers spend days observing and learning from one another.
The applicant pool for the School On The Move prize is narrowed to three finalists by a panel that assesses each school’s evidence of improvement, focus on equity, and relevance to other schools. The selection panel visits each school and spends days deliberating before making the decision.
Liliana Vargas Bonilla, a senior at East Boston High School, said the school will benefit significantly from this award — and as she finishes her last year at the school, she’s proud of the legacy her class will leave.
Bonilla, who plans to attend college as a first-generation college student, said East Boston High School has helped her tremendously in navigating college applications and career pathways.
“I’m so glad the school has led me to knowing the whole process,” she said. “It’s prepared me in so many ways. Not many schools have these programs,” she added, referring to a summer internship she worked at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Esperanza Cruz Rodriguez, who is also a senior at East Boston High School, said representing the school’s signature blue and gold has been an honor. While she’s sad to graduate, she said, she’ll take pieces of East Boston High School to college.
“It’s a great school. We’re like family,” she said.
Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper said East Boston High School is an example of the path to success other BPS should follow. Skipper said throughout the award ceremony that it takes a village to run a school, and Boston is exactly the village BPS schools need.
“East Boston High School is a fine example of strong school leaders, a committed staff, and a community willing to support its students,” Skipper said. “It’s proof that you can go from the third percentile to the 30th percentile.”