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How Sito Narcisse Transformed the Worst Public School in Boston

Published on 9/28/2011 9:10:00 AM

Sito Narcisse welcomes a woman and her son into his office at The English High School in Boston to discuss the upcoming school year’s enrollment. Narcisse’s nurturing yet demanding attitude is obvious. He asks the young student what his aspirations are for high school and as the boy attempts to answer the question, Narcisse interrupts.

“Young man, look at me in the eyes when you talk to me, okay? We have a shared respect for one another and we show it by the way we communicate.”

The English High School, along with being the oldest public high school in the nation, also has the distinction of being the worst performing school in Boston. So what could possibly attract Narcisse to take over as headmaster?

“It was a challenge put in front of me, but I believe in these kids. It’s not about saving them, it’s about teaching them how to save themselves. It’s up to us, the school administrators, to change how they learn and give them good educational experiences,” says Narcisse.

Ninety-nine percent of the students are African-American and Latino, most of whom come from “at risk” environments and dysfunctional homes. There are 40 countries represented in the student body and 20 languages are spoken fluently. How did this group react when Narcisse arrived?

“Most of these kids can’t see past the fact that a male African-American can be anywhere but prison. Here I am an educated man, coming in to turn this place around, so they were obviously curious,” Narcisse says. “On my third day I had an open house where I introduced myself and invited the students to come with any questions they had. Their two biggest concerns were ‘Who are you?’ and ‘How can you make it better?’ I then replied with ‘Well, what do you want?’ The number one answer was to ‘de-ghetto’ the school.” He smiles.

His tactics are aggressive and not everyone agrees with his vision, but Narcisse feels he took a necessary risk to help these students be successful. He credits his professors at the School of Education in preparing him for this opportunity, as they taught him how to engage students and help understand why pushing hard in schools is important. Many of the concepts he utilizes came straight from his classes.

His commitment to the students is obvious. While walking down the hall, Narcisse calls them each by name. They respect him, they like him. They say, “Dr. Narcisse, you’re crazy…but you love us.” There’s a sense of safety, reassurance, and gratefulness in their tones.

In his few years as headmaster, Narcisse implemented a strategic plan with a focus on culture and community, instruction, and sustainability, and so far the news is good. He has taken the worst public high school in Boston and instilled values in the students that are helping the school make a complete turnaround. His work, however, is far from over.

“There is still much to be done but the graduation rate has increased, more kids attend school, and the average GPA is rising,” he says.

One of the main changes is raising the GPA for athletes. “If they can’t meet it, they don’t play. It’s as simple as that. When I got here a student only needed a 1.67 to play sports; I was stunned. Each year we have steadily increased it: last year it was a 2.0, this year a 2.2. Next year, however, we will be the only public high school in the state of Massachusetts to raise the requirement to a 2.5. We need scholarly athletes and I refuse to budge on this.”

Another change students can expect is a dress code, a first in the Boston school system. He didn’t exclude the students in the process, even bringing in the rapper Wiz Khalifa’s clothing designers to meet with them and design the uniforms. “It’s all about keeping them engaged and interested,” he says. Narcisse feels a dress code will ultimately help students concentrate on schoolwork, instill discipline, help families resist peer pressure by dramatically reducing the cost of school clothes, and create a sense of community and school spirit.

In conclusion, Dr. Narcisse says that he expects nothing but the best for students at The English High School. He hopes to reform the academics, help students save themselves, and get the community behind these bright individuals.

“People don’t know it but 60 percent of our seniors receive college scholarships and some of them continue on to places like Harvard and Columbia. I hope to impact the lives of these young men and women so they can achieve their greatest potential. I want them to learn, have good educational experiences, as well as fun during their four years of high school. I am committed to building on the work of my predecessors and continuing to strive to make this a great academic and cultural institution.”


11/6/2014 10:44:53 AM

Ted Serrant

As a colleague, I am pleased and proud. I know you will continue to succeed at this as you are on the right path - teaching children how to save themselves.
6/24/2012 12:25:46 PM


Nice Job Sito....
6/24/2012 5:13:34 AM


He's leaving Boston now: bailing on the program to go to an easier school. Meanwhile, English High is demoralized and destroyed. Good job, Sito! Failing all those students and firing all those teachers was sure a good use of everyone's time!
6/24/2012 4:18:49 AM

Frank Callahan

For the alternative story, please see the Boston Globe's June 24, 2012 article about Mr. Narcisse entitled "A hard lesson: change can come too fast," - subtitle: "Hired as a savior, the young, new principal upended everything at English High but this: the pattern of failure."
12/19/2011 9:55:45 AM

Andrew Oberg

Sito, congratulations on transforming this school and rescuing these kids. I am very impressed in what you have accomplished in a short time span. Also, congratualtions on your doctorate. We had several classes together and you might remember that I am now working at a Cyber Charter School in Pennsylvania. All the best.
11/30/2011 11:19:34 AM

Betty L. Greene

Dr. Sito, it is a pleasure to see you doing such a splendid job. I have often wondered where you ventured to after you graduated Pitt. We were in several classes together and I did see such great potential in you as a person who would indeed make a difference in the lives of young people. Keep up the good work! Bravo!

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