Schools scheduled to close under BuildBPS plan
Tuesday afternoon, at the same time city officials were breaking ground on a new high school building for Boston Arts Academy, Boston Public Schools officials were meeting with staff at the two schools in the West Roxbury Education Complex and the McCormack Middle School in Dorchester to announce school closures.
All three developments are part of the second phase of the city’s BuildBPS plans, a ten-year, $1 billion investment aimed at refurbishing and rebuilding BPS schools. The new phase was unveiled Tuesday by Interim Superintendent Laura Perille.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Perille called BuildBPS “an ambitious ten-year building and facility masterplan” and said parents and students would work with BPS to update and expand schools.
“There are some difficult choices, and in some cases unavoidable decisions, along the way,” said Perille.
The West Roxbury Education Complex will be vacated at the end of the year and be razed and rebuilt. Students enrolled in the West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy schools currently sited on the campus will be re-assigned to other schools. Students at the McCormack, which is slated to be renovated beginning in 2020, will be re-assigned to Excel Academy in South Boston, which will expand from grades 9–12 to 7–12 to accommodate the middle school students.
The planned dismantling of the school communities has left a bitter taste for Allison Doherty, who teaches autistic students in the West Roxbury Education Complex.
“They have made few repairs to our building, but yet they recently spent $18.2 million on the athletic fields,” she said. “It’s clear to us that the $18.2 million was not for us.”
Neema Avashia, a teacher at the McCormack, said teachers and staff at the Dorchester school had sought for the last three years to expand to a 7-12 format, in anticipation of the department’s push to eliminate middle schools.
“That plan has been disregarded,” she said. “It’s not on the table. The plan is for the McCormack to evaporate.”
Avashia said the McCormack building, constructed in the 1960s, is not in dire need of repair. The school, with more than 400 students, has better enrollment than other middle schools serving students from wealthier neighborhoods. Avashia also noted that Excel Academy, where McCormack students are to be relocated, is struggling under state-designated turnaround status. She questioned the district’s decision to send students there.
“There is a way to renovate a building without dismantling a community,” she said. “It feels like they’re talking about 21st-century buildings, but not about the people who inhabit the building. To me, that’s shocking. I would rather teach in a crappy building where they care about people than in a new building where they don’t.”
Once the McCormack campus has been renovated, existing BPS high schools will be invited to bid for the location, Perille said. Strong applicants will be required to show that the school will accommodate vulnerable student groups and provide programs for English language learners, as well as students with autism or other special educational needs.
Elementary schools in Dorchester and South Boston will be offered the opportunity to become K–6 schools. Perille said her office will facilitate conversations with those affected by these changes to ensure a solution is mutually agreed upon.
The interim superintendent said the closures may cause short-term disruption, but that consolidating grades and reducing the number of transitions students have to make between schools will greatly improve their overall educational experience.
“In addition to talking about buildings,” said Perille, “BuildBPS represents an opportunity not just to build new buildings but to expand equity, access quality and predictability of school pathways for more students and families.”
While the McCormack school building is in relatively good condition, the West Roxbury complex faced “a facilities crisis brought on by longstanding deferred maintenance,” according to Perille.
The complex’s safety has been in jeopardy for some time, with BPS forced to make emergency repairs and renovations during the summer, particularly to its crumbling roof that was battered during last spring’s downpours.
These temporary fixes have not sufficiently repaired the buildings on the site, said Perille, and as a result it will need to be completely rebuilt. “We have very few choices of how to respond to that building,” said Perille, “so the recommendation that I’ll be bring to the school committee … is driven primarily and particularly by timing, by critical facility issues on that campus.” Plans for West Roxbury Academy and the Urban Science Academy will go to a vote by the Boston Schools Committee on Dec. 5.
“This is the pattern that Boston needs to break,” said Perille. “This is the pattern we are attempting to change as we move forward with BuildBPS, so that going forward these types of rapid closures, or any closures at all, should be happening on a timeline, as we are talking about with the McCormack where we have a responsible amount of time.”
Emphasizing how little space there is in the system right now, Perille did not confirm where the students and families from these schools will be settled, but she said that relocating those in special education programs will be a top priority.
Doherty said teachers and staff in the West Roxbury Education Complex were told that students outside of the specialized classrooms would be assigned to schools throughout the district.
“Everyone will just be dispersed,” she said, minutes before staff at the school were set to announce the changes to the student body.
Doherty said West Roxbury students and staff would likely attend this evening’s School Committee meeting to speak against the planned changes. She noted that schools such as the Boston Arts Academy and the Eliot School in the North End are receiving new buildings while schools serving predominantly low-income black and Latino populations are being dismantled.
“The schools that are getting the money aren’t the schools that serve all kids,” she said. “We’re getting the shaft. We’re being told to suck it up. That’s not going to happen. They need to make this right.”