US Education Secretary Arne Duncan lauded Massachusetts' two-decade effort to improve public education Thursday, and said it was a model for states across the country that have made lasting improvements to schools.
"The good news here is that, over the past handful of years, America's educators have put in place the building blocks not for incremental or one-time change, but rather for improvements that will last a generation — as you've done here in Massachusetts," Duncan said during a morning visit to Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester.
At an event attended by top state and local education officials, Duncan congratulated the Burke on being the first high school in the state to emerge from a state designation of "underperforming."
Duncan, who is stepping down in December after seven years as education secretary, said the school had doubled its rate of English proficiency and brought two-thirds of its students to meet benchmarks in math.
Duncan credited headmaster Lindsa McIntyre with changing the Burke's culture and reducing suspension rates by more than 90 percent. He praised teachers for hard work that included extended school days, visits to students' homes, and collaborations with educational partners.
Duncan had also commended Massachusetts education reforms last month, as the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that the Commonwealth was again first in the nation in student achievement.
Before his speech, Duncan toured the school, visiting a 10th-grade geometry classroom and an entrepreneurship incubator where students are learning to develop and market their own products.
Speaking to entrepreneurship students, Duncan discussed the importance and the challenges of conquering one's own fears.
"If you're scared to do something hard, how do you work through that?" he asked the teens.
McIntyre said her team was able to turn around academic achievement at the Burke through constant commitment, teamwork, a welcoming climate, aligning its practices to state and local education policies, and putting equity "at the heart of every move we make."
"If we keep our eyes on enacting those particular levels, I think we'll continue to advance achievement and increase equity for every boy and girl," McIntyre said.
Thursday likely marked Duncan's last visit to Boston as secretary of education. He will be succeeded by John B. King Jr., a top Education Department official who in 1999 cofounded Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Mission Hill.
"I'm going to miss it," Duncan said outside the Burke. "It's not going to be easy to walk away."