(Part II and Part III of this story appeared on May 9 and May 11, 2012.)
Two Harvard alumni guide seventh grade students in Classroom 205, home to humanities and Spanish, at the Community Charter School of Cambridge.
A picture of Jeremy Lin ’10, the Harvard athlete turned professional basketball star who rocketed to international fame this spring, hangs on the back wall of the room.
In the front of room, Henry J. Seton ’06 leads students through a lesson on “The Odyssey,” reading from a graphic novel adaptation of Homer’s classic.
“So what is his tragic flaw?” Seton asks with dramatic flair. Many of his seventh graders raise their hands eagerly, hoping that their answers will earn a congratulatory ringing of his small bell.
Seton, who concentrated in Social Studies with a focus on education, is one of the many Harvard graduates—24 of them, according to statistics collected by the city’s three charter schools—who are at the vanguard of the charter school movement in Cambridge.
His students are among the lucky 1,822 who have won lotteried seats at Cambridge’s three charter schools—independent schools that are funded by public money but not bound by many of the state codes that regulate traditional public schools. Driven by a mission of educational excellence, these schools see more students apply each year than they can take in their classrooms.
In their efforts to offer top-knotch public education in Cambridge, these schools—CCSC, Prospect Hill Academy, and Benjamin Banneker Charter Public School—have tapped into Harvard’s resources during their fledgling years. These schools have taken advantage of the University’s academic rigor, student population, and innovative faculty, a relationship that has benefited both the charter schools and members of the Harvard community.
The Harvard Graduate School of Education, ranked the second-best graduate school of education in the country by U.S. News & World Report, has served local teachers as a convenient way to further their education and better serve their schools.
Caleb Hurst-Hiller, who was appointed CCSC’s head of school in March, is one of the many Harvard affiliates working on the front lines of the Cambridge charter school movement.
After graduating from Brown, Hurst-Hiller wanted to immediately explore teaching instead of enrolling in a masters program, he says. He joined the CCSC faculty in 2005 as a founding member. After two years, he decided to pursue a one-year specialized master’s degree at the Ed School. While continuing to serve as a teacher, mentor, and basketball coach at CCSC, Hurst-Hiller studied instructional improvement, education policy, and small schools. After completing his studies at the Ed School, Hurst-Hiller worked as a humanities teacher and was then promoted to principal of CCSC’s upper school in 2009.
Hurst-Hiller says the training he received at the Ed School has benefited CCSC in two ways. First, his academic experience there enabled him to bring new insight to curriculum planning and reform—crucial aspects of the charter school’s mission.
Hurst-Hiller’s time at the Ed School has also allowed him to bring personal connections to CCSC. “I did a master’s program at the Ed School to help network...and I still stay connected,” Hurst-Hiller says. He has helped secure CCSC’s relationship with Harvard—what many Cambridge educators call a “pipeline” between the charter schools and Harvard.
From their inception, Cambridge-based charter schools have been shaped by Harvard alumni. When Prospect Hill opened in Cambridge in 2002, the school had three teachers who had earned master’s degrees from the Ed School, according to Michele M. Meagher, human resources manager at Prospect Hill. These three now comprise the core of the school’s administration, Meagher says.