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Dearborn abutters raise objections to demolition, charter school status

Nate Homan
Dearborn abutters raise objections to demolition, charter school status
Interim Boston Public Schools Superintendent John McDonough spoke before the crowd at the Southern Baptist Church. (Banner Photo) (Photo: Banner photo)

Judging from the conversation last week between abutters, former teachers and Boston’s school superintendent last week, it appears that there is little chance of stopping the demolition of the Dearborn School and the construction of a new charter school in its place.

“The facility cost is a different thing than money used to address the Level 4 status of the school,” BPS Interim Superintendent John McDonough said in a meeting at the Southern Baptist Church. “It will be the only school in the state designed to support the improvements and efforts addressing their current problematic standings. The cost of the facility is only related to the improvement efforts in housing the opportunity, potential and promise that it will provide.”

The Dearborn is one of four Level 4 underperforming Boston Public Schools teetering on the brink of state intervention despite improved MCAS test scores and transitioning into a science, technology, engineering and mathematics academy.

McDonough said that the BPS will likely partner with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School to develop the new charter as a preventative measure to avoid Level 5 status, which would automatically trigger a state takeover.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requires Level 4 schools to turn around in three years. Dearborn has been in Level 4 status for five years as of this year and, at present, is lacking a rapid improvement plan according to BPS Chief Communications Officer Lee McGuire.

“If we don’t intervene, the state will move in as soon as this September,” McGuire said. “Other schools in the same Level 4 category have laid out clear plans with the state and other partners for improvement. Most BPS schools are Level Three.”

McGuire said that the state could potentially move in to take the school over as soon as September.

In the meantime, Dearborn students will be housed at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester in a “swing space” with their own floor, rest rooms, and classrooms separate from Burke students.

“Whenever you co-locate schools, there is always a level of concern in integrating the students,” McGuire said. “In this case, I think part of positioning the Dearborn students to succeed in that location is based on prior working relationships between the headmaster and the headmaster at the Burke.”

Amid the discussion of the Dearborn’s academic issues, residents of Winthrop Street voiced concerns over the impact of the demolition of the Dearborn building.

“This is a neighborhood with very old buildings on a very narrow street,” Loraine Wheeler-Payne, a Winthrop Street resident said. “The Dearborn was dedicated in 1912 and opened in 1913. It’s part of the landscape here.”

“This is a historic district with structures built in the mid-19 and mid-20th style. It’s not possible, at the beginning of the 21st century, to build a 19th century building,” Director and Curator of the Museum of the National Center of African American Artists Edmund Barry Gaither said. “What’s here is uniquely here.”

Gaither said that many neighborhoods were torn down during urban renewal after WWII. Residents of the Moreland Street Historic District lament the loss of the architecture and cultural identity.

“It’s irreplaceable. We don’t build buildings that compliment this community anymore,” Gaither said. “Urban renewal taught us that there are two ways to deal with significant architectural structures: Rehabilitate them or to reinvent them.”

The residents acknowledge that a change is needed at Dearborn, but the loss of a traditional building has angered residents.

Elaine Miller taught at the Dearborn for 21 years and said that reconstruction is an inevitable measure. She said the building was in need of serious repair. The mortar on the building was so worn away that the walls were crumbling enough that students and faculty could see the street.

“In a classroom I had, a closet had a pizza-sized hole where water would pour in,” Miller said. “I’d staple fabric too it just to keep the chips of the wall from getting on the supplies I had in there.”

Miller said that she loved the look of the building, and remembers teaching there when it was Roxbury High School, but the need for repairs is evident.

Former BPS teacher and life-long Roxbury resident Herculano Fecteau criticized the superintendent for not doing enough to get the community input on the construction project and the transition to an in-district charter school.

“Winthrop Street is a tiny little 19th century street made for horse and buggies,” Fecteau said. “It’s 18.5 feet long, versus a 26 foot street, as modern streets measure. Why would anyone shove a 21st century building in a neighborhood like this? It’s like taking a size 10 foot and putting it in a size 8 shoe.”