WHERE DID THEY COME FROM?
Any organization ... needs to rethink itself once it is more than forty or fifty years old. It has outgrown its policies and its rules of behavior. If it continues in its old ways, it becomes ungovernable, unmanageable, uncontrollable.
Peter Drucker, "Really Reinventing Government"
NEITHER Sarah Kass nor Ann Connelly Tolkoff looks like a subversive bent on undermining public education. Kass came to the Boston area from teaching in the Chicago public schools. Tolkoff was a suburban school committee member and teacher. They met in the Chelsea, Massachusetts public high school where they both taught. Chelsea was so educationally moribund that its school system was taken over by the state and placed under the control of Boston University in the hope that B.U.'s hard-nosed president, John R. Silber, could salvage it.
After a two-year struggle in Chelsea, both Kass and Tolkoff were desperate for a change. They wanted to teach in a place where learning would be the top priority. Kass recalls that "The public school system ... couldn't deliver. The system wouldn't give. We felt like we were banging our heads against the wall. We thought that what we needed was a 'zero-based approach' to public education — none of the old rules or regulations apply and judge us on how much our kids know and can do. Ann and I wanted to create a different kind of school where we were free to teach young people to be literate citizens in a democratic society."
When Kass and Tolkoff heard about the Commonwealth's new charter law, they knew it was the opportunity they had been seeking. Tolkoff saw the law "as a chance to start from scratch. We no longer had to do things the old-fashioned way." They decided to submit a proposal to start an urban high school with a strong core curriculum and emphasis on civic education, using the city of Boston as a primary educational resource. Kass says that she and Tolkoff "weren't opting out of public education, but opting in—in a different kind of way."