Three years after taking over the reins of the Mario Umana Middle School Academy, Principal Alexandra Montes McNeil will be honored Thursday night at Fenway Park for her work helping to turn around a once failing school.
The Boston Society of Civil Engineers as Boston’s Outstanding Educator of the Year will honor McNeil, who took over the school in 2009 from Dr. Jose Selgado.
Once a place that resembled the set of a gritty school drama complete with a cast of gang members and drug dealers, the Umana has transformed into a bona fide educational institution and recently won the national First in Math competition.
Since taking over the school McNeil said her staff have worked on an accelerated agenda at the Umana to have students be more successful throughout the school year.
“I cannot say enough wonderful things about her,” said Boston Public School’s Director of Communications Matthew Wilder. “I used to be involved at the Umana several years ago, before she was principal, and the improvements she has overseen are incredible.”
Wilder added that McNeil has gone out of her way to find opportunities and inspire her students, frequently attending meetings with STEM professionals at night, or arranging rare opportunities for her students to meet inspiring people.
“Every year, the Umana teams keep getting better and better in our Future City Competition, and I am very much looking forward to their efforts this year,” he said.
The MIT, Boston College graduate and formed Assistant Headmaster at Boston Latin has had various members of her family work in the Boston Public Schools for over 30 years. With her experience working with parents and communities across Boston, McNeil has been able to inspire the Umana community with more parental involvement. By engaging parents McNeil the Umana staff has laid the groundwork for their students to become lifelong learners.
The Brighton native, who is a first generation Cuban American, understands the meaning of hard work. Her family fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba and came to the U.S. in the 1960s. Her family worked hard, and through education, was able to foster several successful careers in education.
“I am not someone who is going to come in here and change everything but build on the foundation that has been set,” said McNeil in 2009.
McNeil also continued the Umana’s extended day program and recently oversaw its expansion to a K-8 school.
Part of Massachusetts 2020’s (Mass2020) $25 million public-private partnership to improve educational and economic opportunities for kids and adults, in September 2006 the Umana became one of 10 standardized, public schools in five cities to be the first in the country to have extended learning time.
At the time the Umana was at the forefront of education reform in the U.S. and with the extended day the school was able to do things at this school that have never been done.
Aside from enrichment activities and extra circular programs like sports the extended day provides Umana students with 120 minutes more of math a week while increasing English and statistic classes.