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BPS places Rox. school on probation

Cites chronic absenteeism, violations

Karen Morales
BPS places Rox. school on probation
Greater Egleston High School building in Roxbury.

Boston Public Schools superintendent Tommy Chang announced last week that he was placing Greater Egleston High School on probation and instituting changes in the school’s faculty, governing board and curriculum.

This action was the conclusion of a three-month investigation that began last October after 104 students at the pilot school were suddenly disenrolled without warning or explanation in the beginning of the school year.

Tommy Chang

In his statement, Chang said that after the independent investigation, they found that GEHS had “regular, chronic issues of absenteeism that was widely known by staff and administrators,” “serious issues about how students receive credit at GEHS” and “few, if any, MCAS appeals” filed with the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Last September, BPS officials had removed Headmaster Julie Coles and appointed Stephanie Sibley as interim headmaster. Chang announced that Coles would not be returning, and that Kevin Brill, the former assistant headmaster for Fenway High School, will take over as interim headmaster during the year-long probation period, with continued support from Sibley.

The superintendent also stated that BPS “will reconstitute the school’s governing structure” because the “school’s current governing board was not appropriately established.”

The Schoolyard News blog reported that the school’s budget for next year was cut from $1.78 million down to $1.26 million for 2018–2019, which is based on the district’s new estimate of student enrollment.

Schoolyard News also reported that Chang sent “excess” notices to half of GEHS teachers, which would allow them to finish the school year but not return the following year.

In a phone interview with the Banner, Anshul Jain, the current governing board’s co-chair, said, “There was a steep budget cut in the works in the school and it corresponds pretty succinctly to the number of students who were forcibly pushed out at the start of the school year.”

He also said, “the district has never once answered why [the students] were disenrolled, what the criteria was for disenrollment. They have never explained or justified this.”

In response to the assertion made by BPS that there were issues of absenteeism, Jain said, “Those are students who are in an online program. It wasn’t logged like normal because they don’t show up to a homeroom. They did the work, there are ample records that actually prove that. The headmaster was never given an opportunity to produce anything.”

GEHS’ alternative approach was intended to help older students who were in danger of dropping out, had to juggle multiple jobs or take care of a family by allowing them to earn credits towards graduation through online coursework.

Jain also refuted the idea that the school was supposed to file MCAS appeals during the 2016–2017 school year to the state.

“If you exhaust your opportunities to pass the test, then you file an appeal,” he said. “The notion that over 100 students should have had appeals filed is completely insane. These are students who still had opportunities to take and pass the test.”

Jain stated that the members of the governing board were able to meet with BPS officials last October, but were never asked to provide further information or documentation.

Meanwhile, under Sibley’s leadership, the school implemented changes such as requiring students to be in school five days a week and suspending the school’s internship program.

“They continued drastic changes at the school level without consulting us and informing [the school’s governing board],” said Jain.

As a pilot school, GEHS has been able to run relatively independently from BPS, including having a governing board elected by parents, students and faculty.

“The district really wanted our buy-in for all the changes, but that was never going to happen because it was the wrong thing to do,” Jain told the Banner.

As for the 104 students who were initially disenrolled, according to Jain, some of them returned to their prior schools, “knowing that their prior school was never the right environment for them, and in some cases, a dangerous environment.”

General crackdown?

Recent changes in other pilot schools may point to a wider issue of BPS officials cracking down on alternative schools.

Last year, the district laid off three administrators at Dorchester Academy and sent notices to students encouraging them to transfer, and informed current students at Boston Adult Technical Academy they might not be able to get their diploma if they turn 22 during the school year, even though BATA was established to help over-age students finish their high school education.

In his statement to School Committee members, Chang said he would provide another public update on Wednesday, Feb. 7 and hold a community meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8 at 6 p.m. at GEHS to discuss the school’s future.