During a career that has stretched from teaching to becoming a principal, Beth Looney has seen education and City Connects from all sides.
Now, Looney is City Connects’ Senior Manager for Coaching and Data-Informed Practice, and she’s working hard to change outcomes for students.
“I taught elementary and middle school and special education,” Looney recalls of her early career, “and the longer I was in the classroom, the more I noticed the challenges in education. I felt powerless in doing all that I wanted to for students. I also recognized that it’s hard for one person to change the system.
“I wanted to be able to do something bigger in education.”
Looney taught in Trinity Catholic Academy in Brockton, which is a City Connects school. So she got to see the value of conducting whole class reviews to assess students’ needs and interests.
Looney went on to become an exceptional learner support specialist, helping to identify the academic needs of students who were both below and above grade level at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Mission Grammar School in Boston. A key part of her job was collaborating with the Boston Public School system to weave special education services into a Catholic school setting.
Fortunately, Mission Grammar is next door to Boston’s Tobin School, so Looney’s students were able to get services by walking down the street. And Looney learned about forging partnerships and helping parents navigate the services that their children need.
It was great training for Looney’s next step: becoming a City Connects Coordinator.
“What drew me to City Connects was the opportunity to think about how to do things more holistically and on a bigger scale, because out-of-school factors really do impact children’s school experience.”
When Looney became the principal at Mission Grammar, she saw the value of City Connects from a different perspective.
“As a teacher, you see what’s going on in your classroom, and City Connects helps with that. Coordinators help teachers think holistically about students, which helps teachers become more effective educators, which creates more opportunity and more success for students.”
“But as a principal, City Connects helps you see larger trends, what’s going on in entire grades. Coordinators are also able to pick up things like relationships among siblings that cut across grades. And all of the data that City Connects collects helped our school grow and tied into my own school goals and visions.”
Looney used multiple types of data, including City Connects data, to overhaul her school’s curriculum, making it more equitable and emphasizing anti-racist and anti-bias practices. Teachers had the chance to reflect on their own identities and on the biases that they might bring into the classroom based on their life experiences.
“I think doing that work enabled teachers to have more authentic conversations about children and families. We also wanted to make sure that students had windows and mirrors in the curriculum, so they could see themselves and see experiences that are different from theirs.”
“We also noticed that there was a discrepancy in the number of Individual Student Reviews (ISR) being done for male students of color versus other demographics, and we did a lot of unpacking as a team around why that’s happening.”
This led to a change in teaching practices that lowered the number of ISRs.
What brought Looney to City Connects was the desire to have an ever larger, systemic impact across more schools. Now she’s coaching program managers in multiple schools and districts on how to implement City Connects with fidelity.
She’s also thinking about how to engage principals in making more use of City Connects and its data. And she’s eager to learn more about how City Connects and its outcomes can encourage change at the policy level.
Another key part of her job, Looney says, is reflecting on the practice and encouraging others to reflect on it, something educators typically don’t have time to do. One example:
“I’m curious about City Connects’ impact on student health. I think there’s an opportunity to engage more actively with optometrists to get students’ eyes checked. Brains and eyes are a big issue for me because throughout the pandemic students have had to stare at screens for so long.
“I’m also curious about where City Connects’ focus on the health domain will go in the next five years.”
A key theme running through Looney’s work is that it takes a strong systemic approach like City Connects to address systemic problems.
“We have a huge wealth of knowledge,” she says, “and I’m excited to see all the things that we can do with it.”