By Dan Shulman
In the city of Boston, the average pay for a public school teacher is about $79,760 a year. At McKinley Middle School on St. Mary’s Street in the Fenway neighborhood, a teacher’s average salary is higher, at about $90,980 for the 2016 fiscal year.
But it’s not the neighborhood that contributes to the difference in average salary. It’s the type of school. McKinley Middle School focuses on teaching children with various behavioral and learning needs. It is one in a network of three schools in the city with resources to handle such students and is one of the highest staffed schools in the city.
“It’s a therapeutic day school serving students with severe social and emotional disabilities,” Principal Anne De Barros said. “They are assigned by their schools within Boston Public School with an Individual Education Plan.”
Most children come into the school with extreme academic gaps and often gain about a grade-and-a-half to two grades in a school year, according to De Barros.
“The students are able to get back on track or close to it,” he said. “Our academic program is very rigorous and accelerated.”
In addition to educational assets, the McKinley School also provides therapeutic and guidance components that don’t exists in regular Boston Public Schools.
“Students meet with therapists daily and often guidance advisors,” De Barros said. “These meetings help students meet academic, social, and emotional needs.
“Companies like Best Team and WEDIKO are called upon for evaluation and therapy, and we also have prescribers who look at prescriptions of our students who are mostly on medication.”
The school not only hires a full complement of teachers and therapists, but a staff of around 40 paraprofessionals – classroom aids – to assist in the classroom.
“Teachers work longer hours and get extra stipends,” De Barros said. “Regular meetings are required by law to go over students’ needs because of the therapeutic nature of the school.”
The many paraprofessionals at the school serve as aids in the classroom for teachers and students who may need assistance.
“The lessons are taught the same in the classroom but some children still have trouble following along,” said De Barros. “That’s where the paraprofessionals come in.”
The school is a restricted environment, meaning paraprofessionals accompany students out of class to the bathroom and triage student needs in the classroom.
Some parents of students said they are thankful for the expansive staff at the school who they said are skilled to help the students develop academically and socially. One parent, Lynn Yarlis, waiting for her child outside after school, said she was “extremely grateful” for the way the school helped her son, Dominic.
“My son has always had difficulty paying attention and was never the strongest reader,” Yarlis said. “He’s been here since October, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
“He comes home and actually wants to read at night.”
De Barros has felt this gratitude first hand, he said, as parents often choose to keep their children at McKinley much longer than necessary given its proficiency in preparing students to assimilate back into regular school.
“Students are assigned here usually for 45 days but can end up staying for an entire school year or academic career,” De Barros said. “Most parents ask that the student stay longer.”
For parents of children with social and emotional disabilities, McKinley provides an educational haven.
“I feel safe with my son here,” said Yarlis. “I’m happy; he’s happy.”