Mission Hill School Under Attack

Dear friends and Colleagues,

 Below you will find a letter several of the Mission Hill founders wrote to explain what’s happening in Boston with Mission Hill School. As you may or may not know it is currently under attack.

This is not the first time that a successful innovative progressive school has met the such a fate.  Too often they have not survived. We made it for almost 25 years. The attack came very suddenly at the end of the summer. The schools leaders,  Geralyn Bywater and Jenerra Williams were suddenly removed and forbidden to publicly speak in their own defense while the local media was given a false version.   Shortly after this, two classroom teachers were summarily removed. Three of the four are long time teachers at Mission Hill. Geralyn was in fact one of the founding teachers

I’ll keep you up-to-date as this saga continues.  I speak, of course for myself.  The letter below speaks for 3 of the schools founders.

The Letter:

As founding members of the Mission Hill School, an internationally recognized Boston pilot school grounded in democratic values, we have watched in disbelief as our former colleagues come under unremitting attack by BPS and in the press. Since the beginning of the school year, two current school leaders and two lead teachers have been removed amid increasingly sensational news stories. In each case of removal, no reason has been provided by BPS. A compounding factor in this case: three of the four staff who have been accused are people of color. 

We do not claim to know the details or motivation behind the sensational accusations being lobbed at MHS staff, but we do know that the accused individuals have been forbidden to speak and the BPS process has been marked by a lack of transparency. Given that journalists are unable to gain substantive input from either party, it is evident that the stories being reported have been unverified and grossly oversimplified. Anyone who has taught or led a school knows that this work is defined by complexity. We urge readers who have read negative allegations against MHS to keep in mind that there is certainly more to those stories than is being portrayed.

As founding members, we know and trust the school and the teachers who have been removed from their positions. We write to share our deep knowledge of Mission Hill’s founding principles and practices in order to provide a more nuanced picture of the school, the former and recently removed school leaders, and the accused teachers. 

The Mission Hill School was founded in 1997 as a pilot school. The school’s mission is to “help parents raise youngsters who will maintain and nurture the best habits of a democratic society – to be smart, caring, strong, resilient, imaginative and thoughtful. It aims at producing youngsters who can live productive, socially useful and personally satisfying lives, while also respecting the rights of all others.”  The school was designed to be democratically governed by elected families, students, staff and selected community reps who are responsible for making major decisions.

Twenty-five years later, there is evidence that this mission has been actualized. Where ability tracking is commonplace, MHS has ensured that all children learn with and from one another. Where strict hierarchies are generally the rule, MHS has empowered all members of the community, creating structures and forums for students, families, custodial staff, administrators, and teachers to engage with one another around important decision making. 

Students at the Mission Hill School learn to think for themselves, to discuss and defend their work. MHS students are invited to bring their whole, authentic selves to their learning through hands on, project based and real-world learning.  Alumni go on to be reporters, artists, political leaders, teachers – several of the graduates now teach in BPS. The MHS education for empowered democratic citizenship is well documented in films, books, and articles. These works are commonly used in teacher education classes not only in the US but throughout the world.

It is not lost on us that the democratically-governed school that we helped found twenty-five years ago is being violently dismantled against a national backdrop in which our democratic institutions at large are also under attack. MHS is an autonomous school that empowers educators and provides historically marginalized students with an education usually available only to those who can afford it. When children can experience democracy during the years they spend in our publicly funded schools, they are far more likely to uphold democratic values out in the world. To those on the outside looking in, we urge you to look beyond the surface accusations and to demand explanations for why a well-established model for democratic education is under attack.  

Deborah Meier was the founding principal of Mission Hill School. Prior to that, she founded several democratically governed public schools in New York City for which she earned the MacArthur Genius Award in 1987. 

Dr. Emily Gasoi was a founding teacher at the Mission Hill School. She is currently a lecturer in the Education, Inquiry and Justice Program at Georgetown University and the vice president of the DC State Board of Education. 

Heidi Lyne was a founding teacher at the Mission Hill School, and a school leader in Boston for many years.  As a Carnegie Scholar she produced a film about the graduation process at the school, and has contributed writing to several of the books written about the school.