The Boston School Committee (BSC) received a proposal last month that included the relocation of two Boston high schools, the opening of two new elementary, in-district charter school and the expansion of seats at the Eliot Elementary School in the North End.
In Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Carol Johnson’s “School Facilities Changes” proposal Boston Latin Academy (BLA) will relocate from its Townsend Street building in Dorchester to the Hyde Park Education Complex. The Hyde Park facility that housed the Engineering High School, Social Justice Academy and the Community Academy for Science and Health (CASH) was closed a month ago.
Under the new proposal the Boston Arts Academy (BAA), now located on Ipswich Street behind Fenway Park, will relocate to the Townsend Street facility being vacated by BLA, thus allowing for the expansion of Fenway High School that now shares the Ipswich Street building with BAA.
The proposed expansion of seats at the Eliot Elementary School is designed to accommodate the high demand of North End parents seeking seats at the school. Johnson recommended temporarily acquiring three classrooms at the nearby North Bennett Street School but ultimately as many as 10 new classrooms are needed to meet the projected enrollment capacity for early childhood and inclusion programs.
The proposed plan would not take effect until after the 2011-2012 school year. The school committee will respond to Johnson’s proposal after a yet to be announced community meeting has been held seeking input on the proposed school facilities recommendations.
“A key element of our five-year strategic plan calls for the expansion of schools that work for students,” Johnson said. “This plan outlines a clear path for some of our most successful schools to grow and welcomes more students, some who perhaps never considered BPS as an option in the past. By making these changes we will advance in our journey to close access and achievement gaps for all students.”
But during the public comment period of last month’s school committee meeting, Sonya Brown, a Roxbury resident and teacher at BAA, had a word of caution on school expansions and its impact on staffing and resources.
“If,” Brown suggested, “one of the new strategies of the school department is to try to get students into the popular schools or successful schools — which makes sense — the school department should invest resources in doing follow up studies to [determine] what the increase in the enrollment size actually means for quality of the programming. It would defeat the purpose by expanding so much [if] you actually take away from the successes of the programs.”
Nora Toney, president of the Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts questioned if students now displaced from schools deemed underperforming could really access the schools that are relocated for expansion in this proposal.
She questioned whether the long-standing policy on eliminating the achievement gap was considered when the proposal was developed.
“These high schools are exam schools, pilot schools or have selective processes for admission. The children, who were moved out of Hyde Park High Complex, are not going to have access to these high quality programs. Where are all of the children going who were displaced [after] their schools were closed? Are they reassigned to higher performing schools as promised?”
Critics of the plan who also spoke at the committee meeting questioned why the latest proposal was not included in Johnson’s original plan that was approved unanimously by the school committee last December. That action resulted in the relocation of more than 1,000 high school students, many to middle school facilities requiring renovations and upgrading at a time when the budget constraint was stated as a factor in school closings. To have included the latest recommendations back then would have allowed the public to see a more complete picture of the district’s plan for facilities usage and its greater impact on students.
Though eliminating the excess seat capacity in the district was cited as another factor for closing an early learning center and numerous elementary schools, the new proposal adds elementary seats and recommends the opening of two new elementary schools.
Releasing this new facilities proposal during the summer month of July was met with distrust. Michael McGuire, former student and now a teacher at BLA, questioned the motive for the relocation of BAA. “Why the rush and why the secrecy?” he asked. “… Sorry to say but it seems underhanded to make a major shift in the dog days of summer when few citizens are focused on school matters.”
The next meeting of the Boston School Committee is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 7, 6 p.m. at 26 Court St.