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BPS makes changes at alternative high school

Board chair says district made unilateral decisions

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
BPS makes changes at alternative high school
BPS officials have made changes at Greater Egleston High School while the school’s headmaster is suspended with pay.

Nearly two months after Boston Public Schools officials canceled the enrollment of 104 students from Greater Egleston High School, many remain off the school’s rolls, and the school’s board has yet to meet with department officials.

Enrollment has declined at the school this year, observers say, as the interim headmaster appointed by BPS in October has instituted changes to the school’s curriculum and instruction that have substantially altered the school’s ability to meet its mission — to educate students who are unable to work within the time constraints of a traditional high school.

Specifically, students are now required to be in school five days a week and the school’s internship program has been suspended. Previously, students were able to blend in-classroom instruction with online courses, allowing them flexibility in their work and childcare schedules.

The changes were instituted after BPS officials removed Headmaster Julie Coles, who was placed on paid leave in September. BPS officials have not given an explanation for why Coles was removed, but said they have launched an investigation into enrollment issues at the school.

The changes that substantially altered the way the school educates students came without warning, says Greater Egleston High School Board Chairman Anshul Jain.

“Students, parents and families have a right to know whether the model of school they applied to will still exist,” he said. “For a student to come to a school and find it completely divergent from the school they were in two months ago — how can you plan for the future?”

A governance issue

Greater Egleston is a pilot school, but changes instituted by the district or interim headmaster Stephanie Sibley were not approved by its board.

“In the pilot school system, governing boards must review and evaluate any proposed changes,” Jain said. “No changes were ever brought before our board.”

Jain said he raised the governance issue with BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang in October and received assurances the board would be consulted. Yet Sibley has continued to make changes at the school without consulting him, Jain said.

BPS spokesman Dan O’Brien said in a written statement that the department would work with the Greater Egleston board.

“BPS looks forward to working with the Greater Egleston governing board on issues pertaining to the school. Because there is an ongoing internal investigation into recent practices at Greater Egleston High School, BPS is limited in what information the district can provide publicly at this time,” the statement reads.

O’Brien says students were unenrolled in September and were asked to re-enroll because the department was not sure they were eligible to attend.

“Students were asked to re-enroll at the BPS Re-Engagement Center to ensure that they were eligible to attend Greater Egleston and were following necessary requirements to obtain a degree,” he said in an email to the Banner.

O’Brien also indicated that Greater Egleston is working with BPS to restructure its suspended internship program.

A wider issue?

Greater Egleston is one of three alternative schools serving older students that have undergone upheaval in recent months. In August, students at Dorchester Academy were encouraged to transfer from the school after BPS officials laid off three administrators at the school, which serves students in danger of dropping out.

Last week, officials at alternative school Boston Adult Technical Academy were told that students who are turning 22 this school year would be counseled to complete their high school education in programs outside of BPS.

“Our goal is to graduate the students who enrolled here,” said a teacher at BATA, who spoke to the Banner on the condition of anonymity. “We don’t want to just drop them in the middle of their education process.”

BPS officials rescinded that directive last Wednesday, the teacher said.

Under BPS guidelines adopted in September of 2015, students unable to obtain a diploma before their 22nd birthday are to be referred to over-age alternative education programs. But schools such as Greater Egleston and BATA were established to work with students who are in danger of not obtaining a diploma, including students who have already turned 22.

The sudden enforcement of the new guideline this year caught teachers and administrators at alternative schools by surprise.

“We’re still trying to get the district to put something in writing,” the BATA teacher said. “It’s not clear why that hasn’t happened,” he said. “We have never once received a communication about changes to the curriculum, schedule or mission of the school. Everything we have learned, we have learned because other people have told us.”

Jain says the city should ensure that students enrolled at Greater Egleston and other alternative schools be given every opportunity to graduate, even after their 22nd birthday. That goal, he says, is aligned with the mission of Greater Egleston.

“The city of Boston has the bandwidth to offer incentives to newcomers,” he said, referencing the tax incentive package city and state officials offered General Electric. “I’ve never understood why the city of Boston is under such intense pressure to cut expenses in its schools.”