For the last 15 years, it has been my honor to support Springfield International Charter School (SICS), first as a history teacher, then for the last 11 years, as its principal. As is true for so many educators, these last two years have been the most challenging of my career.
As a charter school, SICS is specifically designed to be a laboratory for effective practices. It is our charge to investigate and demonstrate what works and what doesn’t. During the pandemic, our collaborative laboratory was put to the test as never before.
Looking back to March of 2020, what we first viewed as an unexpected four-day weekend quickly evolved into unknown territory. No one had ever experienced a shutdown like this. All ways of operating SICS had to be completely reworked.
When we realized that our students would not be returning to the school building after the initial four days, we jumped into action—keeping our students engaged and distributing needed technology to as many students and families as possible. Thankfully, this kept us connected and provided a window into the challenges our community faced.
While COVID swept the planet, our relationships with families kept us informed and allowed us to work together to adapt to the circumstances.
As a high school, we are part of a broader K-12 system that helps us get to know many of our families over many years. We were in constant and continuous communication with all of our families, sharing what information we had in real-time. While we may have erred on the side of over-communication, I firmly believe our approach engendered trust and patience as we all figured out how to move forward together.
We have also always relied on strong adult relationships with students to make sure SCIS connects with them in meaningful ways. We put our students’ well-being at the forefront of our planning. The firm relationships we’ve formed over the years offer evidence of our successful approach.
Letting Researchers in to See the Work
Word got out about our successes. When we began to emerge on the other side of COVID school closures and had most of our students back in person, SCIS was invited to join a REMIQS research study. REMIQS (pronounced “remix”) is a project of KnowledgeWorks, a leader in the field of educational innovation. You can learn more about REMIQS by watching this video:
This REMIQS research project offered to help us dig deeper into what works, particularly with resilient and historically-marginalized groups of students. Without hesitation, we jumped at the chance. Taking part in this research will identify and make public SICS’ features, practices, policies, and procedures that help these groups graduate from high school and succeed in postsecondary education.
Here’s What We Hope to Learn
Our faculty and I saw some tremendous opportunities in participation.
First, working with a national organization allows us the chance to hear about what they’ve seen and experienced in other schools across the nation—whether it's academics, school culture, staffing, classroom management, community relations, or other issues. We want to know what’s working well elsewhere.
Second, students will be involved in the study at a deep level. Many will be trained to conduct aspects of the research themselves. The result? Not only will the school benefit from the study, but so will our current students.
Third, the breadth and depth of data and information included are much greater than other research projects we’ve joined. It’s an opportunity for us to take a deep look at our own response to the pandemic and put it in the context of what other innovative schools were doing across the country.
We see this as a chance for individual and institutional reflection and learning—and after the last few years, this is desperately needed.
We are excited to embark on the data-collection process in the upcoming months. We are productively building student interview and data-gathering sessions during our school-elective periods, and our administrative team will be taking advantage of the quieter summer months to pull together school and district artifacts to share with the research team. With site visits occurring next fall and winter, we look forward to sharing findings and implications with our staff, students, families, and community.
I’m eager to see what this study uncovers and pinpoints about our successes and then share those insights with other schools, educators and stakeholders.
Brendan Dwyer is the principal of grades 9-12 at Springfield International Charter School in Springfield, Massachusetts.