The Thomas Gardner Elementary School was built in 1906 and named in memory of Colonel Thomas Gardner (1724-1773), a political figure and soldier who served in the American Revolution.
Prior to 1997, the Gardner Elementary School had very few resources to address students’ non-academic barriers to learning. Risk factors related to poverty (lack of health care, inadequate housing, abuse/neglect), limited English proficiency and interrupted schooling were having a negative impact on student achievement, behavior and overall well-being. At the time, there were no counselors, social workers or other mental health practitioners in elementary schools in Boston. Therefore, it was primarily the responsibility of classroom teachers to address all aspects of student needs.
Recognizing that no school could tackle these issues alone, principal Catalina Montes reached out to a local university for help. Having begun an effort to create an integrated service delivery system through community partnerships in a local middle and elementary school, Boston College responded to the plea, inviting the Gardner to participate in this innovative project.
As a direct result of this effort, the Dewitt-Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund financed a planning grant in 1997 to expand the initial school-university partnership to include shared responsibility with other local organizations. The Gardner school community participated in an extensive needs assessment, which identified a desperate need for after-school programming, health and mental health support for children, and adult education services for parents.
With the support of Boston College and a planning grant from Dewitt Wallace, the Gardner began to address the identified needs of the school community by pursuing partnerships with outside agencies capable of building programs and providing on-site services. And so the Thomas Gardner Extended Services School was born, including an official name change in 2002.
Upon Catalina Montes’ retirement, Erica Herman became principal of the Gardner in 2005. In June 2006, the school faculty voted to convert the Gardner to a pilot school, earning exemption from many district and union regulations, with autonomy over governance, budget, staffing, curriculum/assessment, and schedule. The Boston School Committee approved changing the school’s official name to Gardner Pilot Academy on December 19, 2007.
In November 2011, the School Committee approved Superintendent Carol R. Johnson’s recommendation to expand GPA to a K-8 school, beginning with the addition of Grade 6 in September 2012, and grades 7 and 8 in the subsequent years.
Today, Gardner Pilot Academy is a model full-service, community school. Services that are typically provided by external agencies in separate locations are now occurring under a single roof. Through active partnerships with Boston College, Harvard University, Boston University, Children’s Hospital, the YMCA, Brighton-Allston Mental Health, the Joseph Smith Health Clinic, and other partners, GPA provides a comprehensive system of health, mental health, recreation and supplemental educational services so that every student may overcome barriers to learning and reach his or her full potential.