DTM: University Park Campus School
“Being a school leader is about helping to create powerful learning experiences for your staff and faculty and creating the circumstances where teachers can do the same for kids.”
—Ricci Hall, former principal
- Worcester School District
- Grades 7-12
- DTM awarded in 2005
First recognized as a Dispelling the Myth school in 2005, University Park still leads the way in Massachusetts.
With its high graduation and proficiency rates, University Park Campus School has been one of the top-performing schools in Massachusetts for so long that it is almost taken for granted that it will do well.
But with 82 percent of the students meeting the qualifications for the federal free and reduced-price meals, many of them new immigrants, success is not automatic but rather the result of careful instruction and fierce attention to the needs of each student.
Students begin their career at University Park in the summer before seventh grade at a camp designed to allow faculty members to get a sense of where the students are academically and to orient them to the new standards and expectations. Many of the students arrive behind and need to begin at the beginning with decoding, phonics, and number sense. But even while they work on the basics, reading teachers plunge students into complex discussions of figurative language and literary purpose; math and science teachers ask students to think about complex problems that need to be solved.
In that way, students embark on becoming prepared for college and other postsecondary opportunities even as their basic academic needs are being addressed.
University Park serves a five-block area near Clark University, a selective liberal arts university. For years, university officials had watched the urban devastation that surrounded its campus and worried that enrollment would suffer if the deterioration continued. To help stabilize the neighborhood, Clark founded the school in cooperation with Worcester Public Schools. It has stayed closely involved, allowing University Park students to take college classes on campus, providing professional development to faculty, and encouraging Clark students to teach there.
This relationship is part of what has helped create a stable culture of achievement that has withstood several leadership changes through the years. The school’s founding principal, Donna Rodrigues, left the school in the hands of a founding teacher, June Eressy, who had been a longtime Worcester high school teacher. She, now principal of Chandler Elementary School in Worcester, was succeeded as principal by Ricci Hall, who had begun working at University Park as a student teacher from Clark. When he left in 2012 to become principal of neighboring Claremont Academy, he was succeeded by the current principal, Dan St. Louis, who had also begun as a student teacher from Clark.
Through all the changes, University Park has remained committed to providing students with what the school calls “powerful learning experiences.”
- It’s Being Done: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools (Harvard Education Press, 2007) profiles University Park Campus School.
- Getting It Done: Leading Academic Success in Unexpected Schools features Ricci Hall and June Eressy, two former principals of University Park.
- School website
- District website
- Great Schools profile
- More information about academic achievement in Massachusetts