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    East Boston school honored with Payzant prize for academic achievement

    Six years ago, the Donald McKay K-8 School in East Boston was ranked in the bottom 6 percent of Massachusetts schools.

    So staff and students put their heads together. They developed a plan to improve learning and empower students at McKay, where 90 percent of the 800 students are Latino, officials said.

    Now the school’s academic performance has improved to the point where McKay has surpassed the district average in literacy and math.

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    On Wednesday, the school was awarded a $100,000 prize for making big gains in student achievement and for its support for immigrant families.

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    EdVestors, a nonprofit school improvement organization, awarded the Thomas W. Payzant School on the Move Prize to McKay in a ceremony at the Boston Harbor Hotel, the organization said in a statement.

    The prize, named for a former superintendent of Boston Public Schools, is one of the district’s highest academic honors.

    The Muriel S. Snowden International High School in Copley Square and the Oliver Hazard Perry K-8 School in South Boston were also selected as finalists and awarded $10,000, the statement said.

    It was the second year McKay has been considered for the prize, which is awarded annually to Boston schools that have made rapid progress in student achievement, according to EdVestors.

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    Sixty percent of McKay’s students are English language learners, and 50 percent are economically disadvantaged.

    “Great schools like Donald McKay are the beating heart of our city, and I applaud the teachers and staff at the school,” said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

    According to EdVestors, McKay has made improvements by “building trust among teachers, students, and families, and meeting the academic and social emotional needs of its English learners.”

    Jordan Weymer, the school’s principal, said its method of allowing teachers to craft their own approaches to teaching English-learners and immigrant students is part of their “choice and voice” culture.

    The school refers to English-learners as “Emerging Bilinguals” to create an inclusive atmosphere and emphasize to students their first language is a strength, not a roadblock, the organization said.

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    McKay partners with several local community organizations to provide bilingual counseling to students and families, as well as to keep them informed of their rights. Students also hold an “Immigrant Pride Week” every year to advocate for families, EdVestors said.

    “We encourage schoolwide engagement among students, teachers, and families to determine the best path forward in our individual classrooms,” Weymer said. “Our school is a reflection of our community, in population and approach.”

    Jackson Cote can be reached at jackson.cote@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jackson_k_cote.