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 seven 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 Executive Director. 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 April 2019. 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 Commonwealth Charter School serving Lawrence because of the opportunity to make a powerful educational and social impact in the Merrimack region. The Merrimack region was part of our twenty-year long term scaling plan because we had developed a school design to serve diverse student populations—especially in gateway communities. Since March of 2018, we had been conducting in depth community research about the educational needs and priorities of Lawrence students and families and connecting with Lawrence schools and community organizations to discuss how Equity Lab could support their goals to bring about educational and social change. We made the decision to withdraw our charter application because we realized that the timeline to open a charter school in Lawrence in less than a year was overly ambitious. While we had invested considerable work in cultivating community connections and partnerships, additional time was required to deepen our relationships with community stakeholders.
Phase 5: May 2019 to Present. While we were still processing lessons learned in Lawrence, an unexpected development occurred: the city of Lynn had dropped to the bottom 10% in district ranking and almost 1400 charter seats were available for 2020. Because of our multi-year work in Lynn and community connections, we made the decision to return to Lynn to open our school. Our experience in Lawrence demonstrated the critical importance of community connections when engaging in the work of equity.