In May of 2012, a diverse group of professionals with a deep commitment to educational equity and social change, met for the first time to discuss their vision for a new charter school in Massachusetts. The team was convened by Frank DeVito, a life-long educator. For over twenty years Frank has been committed to educational equity as a teacher, school leader, and education consultant. He served as the CEO of the Fenix Center for Innovative Schools, a non-profit organization that worked with schools and districts to develop and sustain innovative programs. Frank had a dream to create a lab school that could exemplify best practices and serve as a catalyst for systemic changes in public education in MA and beyond. He recruited individuals who were invested in diverse MA communities and were involved in innovative professional projects that spanned education, art, technology, science, health/human services, media/communications, and business/finance.
The Equity Lab Charter School Design Team invested six years to develop and refine our school mission and educational model. The process involved the following phases:
Phase 1: May 2012 to February 2014.
The design team conducted a deep dive into the research-based educational practices that led to our desired student outcomes: completion of higher education, economic viability, and commitment to social change. The team originally envisioned opening Equity Lab in Lynn, MA. We completed a needs assessment of Lynn parents to learn about their educational priorities and aspirations for their children. Our school design was informed both by extensive educational research and the needs of Lynn families.Phase 2: March 2014 to January 2016.
We visited Big Picture Schools (our school support partner) across the country, successful urban schools, and high performing Massachusetts Charter Schools. The purpose was to see where elements of our school model had been successfully implemented in cities that served diverse populations.
Phase 3: February 2016 to January 2018. The XQ Super School Project provided an important platform to publicize our school design on a national level. Laurene Powell, the widow of the late Steve Jobs, co-sponsored a national competition to design innovative schools for the 21st century- the XQ Super School Project. Out of 700 school design proposals submitted, our design was chosen to advance to the final round. In February of 2017, the NewSchools Venture Fund awarded Equity Lab a highly competitive grant (NewSchools Invent Grant) to support school planning and team capacity building activities. The Equity Lab team formed a non-profit (Equity Lab Charter Schools Inc.) as a vehicle to support school planning and start-up activities. The NewSchools Invent grant allowed Frank DeVito to shift to a paid position as the school’s Chief Executive Officer and to provide a planning stipend to the school’s founding principal, George Papayannis. In June of 2017, the Barr Foundation awarded Equity Lab a planning grant to support school planning activities. The grant allowed Equity Lab to contract professional developers and school practitioners to support school planning and launch activities.
Phase 4: February 2018 to present. During the 2017-2018 charter application cycle, Jeff Wulfson, the Interim Commissioner of the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, had planned on awarding Equity Lab a charter for Lynn because our application "substantially met the criteria for approval." However, the commissioner could not award a charter to Equity Lab because the Lynn Public Schools had exited the lowest 10% in district ranking-- eliminating available charter school seats because the charter school statute required a reduction in the net school spending cap from 18% to 9%. After careful consideration, we decided to open a regional charter school serving Greater Lawrence because of the opportunity to make a powerful educational and social impact in the Merrimack region.