Continuing The Work Of Ann Tolkoff '70, Nadine Abraham '08 Helps Charter School Students Reach College Dreams

February 9, 2016
Students from City On A Hill Charter Participate in Mock Legislative Session (REUTERS)

For Nadine Abraham '08, the Wellesley Effect isn't just a concept, it's a reality she sees in action every day.

Abraham is the chief strategy officer of City on a Hill (CoaH), a charter high school Ann Tolkoff '70 founded in Boston in 1995 to serve students from neighborhoods with limited access to high-quality education. CoaH currently has two campuses in Boston and one in New Bedford, Mass. "Seventy-five percent of our students are low income, and 20 percent are students whose first language is not English," Abraham said.

When students arrive at CoaH as first-years, almost half are not proficient in English, and only about 25 percent are proficient in math. Yet by their sophomore year, their proficiency rates are between 80 percent and 100 percent in each of those areas. "This year, we are proud to be the only non-exam high school in Boston to obtain Level 1 status, the highest level in the state, based on our students' standardized test scores," Abraham said. "Additionally, 100 percent of our students scored proficient or above in ELA (English Language Arts), and one of our Boston schools had higher growth in math than any other stand-alone high school in the state."

The secret to that success will sound familiar to Wellesley students and alumnae: a strong academic curriculum and an emphasis on students giving back and engaging in their community in a meaningful way. For example, students have regular schoolwide town meetings featuring student-led debate, and they take City Project, a capstone course focused on public policy.

Abraham, who majored in economics and minored in math, began her career in the private sector, working at several investment banks and a global consulting firm. But she realized her true passion was education. After working at an education-consulting firm for a year and a half, she joined the staff of CoaH.

"In many ways, my desire to work in education is motivated by an appreciation of the education I was fortunate to receive at Wellesley," she said. "I was lucky to have had amazing professors, many of whom I’m still in touch with and have helped guide me as I navigated my path post-college."

As chief strategy officer, Abraham manages the growth of CoaH, which is in the process of expanding its network across Massachusetts and opening more schools. That means working closely with CoaH’s leadership team, other central office staff, principals, as well as city leadership, other charter school leaders, and, as CoaH continues to grow, the Department of Education.

"Wellesley helped prepare me in so many ways," she said. "My coursework taught me to analyze problems in a thoughtful and critical way, and having a strong econometrics background has also helped make the academic/research world much more accessible, helping bridge a gap that can exist between practitioners and academics in this space."

Most important, however, are the values of giving back and serving others, which Wellesley instilled in her. "Too many children today do not have access to these types of opportunities; there is an urgent need for high-quality public education in this country for all children," she said. "It’s exciting to be part of a team that is trying to serve these communities."

The results of such efforts can be seen in the performance of their students. "Last year, 100 percent of our graduates earned college acceptance, with 98 percent earning acceptance to a four-year college, including one to Wellesley!" Abraham said. Loiselle Gonzalez ’19 and Toyin Egharevba ’16, a psychology major, are both CoaH graduates.  

Abraham added, "It's wonderful that a school founded by a Wellesley alumna has another to continue the work, and is continuing to produce future graduates of Wellesley College."