Where It All Began

Jeffrey C. Riley founded the Acceleration Academies in 2007 when he was the Principal at the Edwards Middle School in Boston, MA. His goals were simple: celebrate the best teachers and accelerate learning for their students by maximizing time during school vacation weeks. One week in the Academies is equivalent to one month of direct instruction with a top-quality teacher. As a result, student growth was striking, particularly for English Language Learners (ELLs). In 3 years, the 8th grade ELLs grew from 0% to 50% proficient on the English Language Arts (ELA) state exam.

When he became Deputy Superintendent in the Boston Public Schools in 2009, he expanded the program to serve 1000 students across 8 schools. For students who participated, the median growth percentile in ELA increased from 39 to 59 points (a 20-point gain) and from 45 to 63 in Math (a 17-point gain).

Upon receivership of the Lawrence Public Schools, he implemented the program as a key part of the turnaround efforts for the district. Again, the results were dramatic. Over 3 years, the percentage of students scoring Proficient or Advanced in Math has increased from 28% to 44% and the number of Level 1 schools has quintupled from 2 to 10.

In 2016, less than 10 years later, the Sontag Prize in Urban Education was created as a non-profit organization with a mission to celebrate teachers and close the achievement and opportunity gaps everywhere, starting with the Chelsea Public Schools.

The Inspiration Behind the Sontag Prize

Did You Know?

The Sontag Prize is named after Frederick Sontag, Jeffrey Riley's former college professor at Pomona College. Watch the video to learn more!

How We Celebrate Excellent Teachers

First-time recipients of the Sontag Prize receive a $3000 honorarium, 2 days of professional development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, an invitation to the Sontag Prize Awards Ceremony, and an opportunity to teach during the Acceleration Academies.

Returning Sontag Prize winners receive a $4000 honorarium and an opportunity to teach again during the Acceleration Academies.

Travel and hotel accommodations for all non-local teachers are provided.

PD Weekend at Harvard


Timeline for Teachers

Applications Due
November 30 at 11:59 pm ET.

Sontag Prize Winners Announcement
Late December

Teaching Assignments Announcement

PD Weekend at Harvard (for first-time recipients)
February 16 & 17

Acceleration Academies
February 18-22 (English Language Arts and Literacy)
April 15-19 (Math and Science)