As a new school term starts today, Sept. 6, Principal Jamel Adkins-Sharif will look around as the students file into
the Blackstone Innovation School, and it will be a morning of movement.
That movement aligns with the momentum that the school is experiencing, he said, as they build upon the excitement from his first year at the school. All of it, he said, leads to a great community school in the neighborhood that he believes is a great option for parents everywhere.
“I think we are a school on the move that’s headed upward,” he said. “I know we are not naïve about the challenges and understand the things that need to improve at our school. We acknowledge that our students are a whole lot more than that a test score, that we try to develop the whole child…to make sure they will do well in all their endeavors, whether that is giving a public speech or on a science test…We feel we are on the uptick.”
The Blackstone School is a K-8 with a large Spanish-speaking population nestled on Shawmut Avenue near the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and serves about 600 students with approximately 90 staffers. The school has faced it’s challenges, but things were moving in the right direction two years ago, and Adkins-Sharif seemed to be a school leader that was able to knit together all students and parents into a community.
That is evident in the fact that the parent participation rate went up, according to the district, from 11 percent to 37 percent last year.
That happened on the backs of several different community efforts, including a partnership with IBA that brought many different programs into the school. It also emerged into a fundraiser for children in Puerto Rico who were victims of Hurricane Maria last year.
Adkins-Sharif has instituted many different programs in his first year, and a philosophy known as ‘Ubuntu,’ or ‘I am because we are’ (a phrase that was used a few years ago by the Boston Celtics as well).
“What Ubuntu is all about at the Blackstone is we are all part of a community and we should be supporting each other in good times and bad,” he said. “That notion of inter-connectedness is at the heart of Ubuntu. It’s woven into everything we do here.”
Adkins-Sharif, 50, took a long route to the South End, growing up in New York City. He began working as a pre-school teacher in Queens, but hungered to help students on the margins in New York. That led him to a Special Education job at a public school in Brooklyn where it was “baptism by fire,” he said.
However, he found success there and enjoyed reaching those kids. Soon, he became a dean in a middle school in New York, but wanted a challenge and wanted to find more upward mobility in his job.
That led he and his wife – who is a college professor – to Springfield, where he helped to plan and open a public charter school there. However, after a run there, he and his wife hoped to land in Boston. He got a job at the Tobin School K-8 in Cambridge, and then at an alternative school in Randolph. Finally, last year he was able to become a principal at the Blackstone.
What he’s found in the South End is a growing group of parents who are willing to send their kids to the Blackstone, as well as a community without children who want to support the school they often see, but don’t know.
Adkins-Sharif said that’s just another movement that he’s happy to see.
“We have 600 kids that come from all over Boston and this group wants to help the school to succeed as South End neighbors,” he said. “They just want to do good by the community.”