The Rollins Griffith Teacher Center of Boston is a nonprofit organization run by and for educators and related personnel. Since opening its doors in 1980, it has continuously served teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators in all of Boston’s schools, including private schools and day-care centers.
The Center was first established as the District Five Teacher Center under a federal grant designed to encourage teachers to articulate their own needs and to plan and develop their own programs. Through a unique relationship with Boston Public Schools, the Center has offered hundreds of conferences, workshops, courses and degree programs since its inception. Timeliness, affordability and convenience quickly became its hallmarks. Perhaps more importantly, the Teacher Center has come to provide a professional community for educators.
In 1986 the Center changed its name to honor its founder and mentor, Rollins Griffith, the first African American district superintendent in the Boston Public School System.
For more than thirty years of existence, the Rollins Griffith Teacher Center has maintained its original mission – to provide professional development opportunities to Boston educators in almost all subject areas and to honor the cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity among Boston’s schoolchildren.
The District Five Teacher Center was the brainchild of Rollins Griffith, who became the first African American district superintendent in Boston at a time when busing was tearing apart the city’s schools. He first spoke about a center in the early 1970s with teachers he visited in the course of his district superintendent’s duties – teachers in whose classrooms he felt Black children were really learning. “He’d come and sit and watch in my classroom. He said he came to see Black children learn,” remembers Elaine Tortora Brigman, the Center’s first full-time director.
In 1975, a group of teachers, administrators and parents began working with District Superintendent Griffith to combine their ideas on how best to serve the teachers of the city in their own efforts to enhance their capabilities. The meetings were open to anybody in the district. “He was ahead of his time. Rollins would call a meeting and everybody was there – just to hear what he would say,” recalls Ann Eubanks, a retired teacher who still serves on the Center’s Board.
“District Five was the poverty district – reading scores were way down,” recalled Mildred Griffith, Rollins Griffith’s widow and herself a founding member of the Center. “Rollins wanted a teacher center to help prepare teachers to help prepare kids.”
The group decided to apply for federal funding under recent legislation that provided grants to teacher-run professional development programs (see “The Teacher Center Legislation” box). The underlying principle of the teacher center legislation was to make “teachers themselves primarily responsible for determining their needs and developing programs,” wrote Elaine Tortora Brigman in An Analytical Study of the Teacher Center (1983). “Centers are places for ‘action research’, providing a setting where practitioners can become more involved in the study of the learning process. They are diverse in scope in order to meet the needs of as many individuals as possible. Centers are dedicated to the growth of those involved, not only as educators but as individuals.”
This philosophy was very closely aligned with the dreams of the group that Rollins Griffith had worked with for nearly five years, and in 1979 the group was awarded federal funding for the teacher center he had envisioned.