Alternative High Schools: Systemic Challenges and Promising Practices



“It is not always a straight line to the finish line for our students.”

~Tommy Welch, BPS Academic Superintendent for High Schools

Who are the students that attend alternative high schools in Boston?

To name a few...

  • A 17 year old who is repeating 9th grade for the third time.

  • A 16 year old who is just returning from a year of DYS lock-up.

  • A 19 year old who is back in school after having dropped out for two years.

  • A 20 year old who just arrived to the U.S. with limited English skills.

The Parthenon study delves deeper into this topic by creating four categories of students, based on their age and credit completion, who are enrolled in the alternative high school network:

2015-16 Alternative HS Student Enrollment Snapshot

2015-16 Alternative HS Student Enrollment Snapshot

As this chart illustrates, the journey for these students to receive a high school diploma will not be made any easier by one-size-fits-all solutions. There are vastly different needs that must be addressed within each of these four categories of students, let alone across them.

In our last podcast, we learned about the work that’s being done by Manny Allen and his team to re-engage students by helping them find purpose in their education. This week we are joined by Tommy Welch, the Academic Superintendent who oversees the schools and programs that are set up to operationalize Manny’s message.

Tommy’s interview with Jill touches on a number of promising practices that are underway in the alternative high school landscape, as well as the systemic challenges and opportunities that our school system and city have not yet taken on. He pushes us to consider new ways of measuring outcomes for alternative high schools so that we don’t miss opportunities to shine a light on what’s working along a path for students that is not often a straight line to how we define success.