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Students slam school closures

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Students slam school closures
Noelle Pierre testifies.

Students, parents and teachers peppered BPS Interim Superintendent Laura Perille and Boston School Committee members with questions about the planned closure of West Roxbury Academy, Urban Science Academy and the McCormack middle school last night during more than two hours of testimony at the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building.

Last night’s meeting of the Boston School Committee came the day after school department officials announced the planned closure of the schools as part of Mayor Martin Walsh’s $1 billion BuildBPS process, through which his administration plans to invest in creating what school officials call “21st century classrooms.” The plan calls for the renovation of more than a dozen schools and the phasing out of all middle schools. McCormack middle school teachers and staff say they have been in discussions with BPS officials for the past three years about expanding to a 7-12 school. Under the plan made public Tuesday, students from the McCormack would be re-assigned to Excel Academy, a South Boston high school that state officials have placed in turnaround status.

Many of the dozens of students who testified last night said that any advantages accruing from the demolition and reconstruction of the West Roxbury campus and the renovation of the McCormack building would not justify the disruption wrought by the loss of the two school communities.

“Teachers are what creates a school environment, not the building,” said former McCormack student Axel Gonzalez.

Many of those who testified questioned why their schools were slated to close while other schools undergoing renovations or receiving new buildings, such as Boston Arts Academy — which is slated to receive a $125 million new building.

The Boston Arts Academy arrangement stands in stark contrast compared with the fate of the McCormack School, a circa 1960s school which has no urgent need for renovations, yet will see its students and teachers re-assigned.

Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang echoed students’ request that the students at the McCormack and West Roxbury school communities be re-housed in interim facilities and remain intact.

“While we know our students deserve new school buildings and facilities, they are not just buildings,” she said. “They are communities of people, who hold relationships, often intergenerational, between students and teachers, teachers and parents and teacher-to-teacher, and it is these relationships that are often the most important keys to student success.”

Students packed the School Committee meeting

In her opening remarks, Perille said that moving forward with the BuildBPS-related plans the district made public yesterday would be her priority. She said the plan focuses on areas of the city with high need for more high-quality schools.

“The proposed multi-year Build BPS plan outlines a framework to expand equity, access to quality and predictability of school pathways for more students and families,” she said.

She said the plan would focus on “locating new or expanded buildings in neighborhoods with high student need and low current access.”

But students, teachers and parents from the McCormack and West Roxbury schools suggested that the loss of their schools would lead to greater school segregation.

“We wonder, is the rush a cover for reinstating segregation?” said West Roxbury Academy teacher Dolores Wood. “Will our school close in June and magically reopen seven years later as a neighborhood school, reflecting the decidedly less diverse population of West Roxbury alone?”

Wood noted that her school building received a “B” rating from the district just two years ago, after the Boston Parks and Recreation Department invested $18.5 million in new athletic fields there.

The district’s plan, to tear down the school and undergo a $100 million, seven-year construction process, won’t benefit the students currently attending, Wood said.

“Exactly what will we get for this huge expenditure?” she said. “And if our diverse students are sent back to Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, where is their $100 million, state-of-the-art high school and its adjacent $18.5 million sports complex?”

BPS Chief Operations Officer John Hanlon later told School Committee members the state School Building Authority denied a request for matching funds for roof repairs.

“The clear implication was that the scope of the work necessary at that building was extensive enough so as to not be worth it for them to fund a new roof,” he said.

Members of the city’s Inspectional Services Division this year confirmed that the building is unsafe, school officials said.

Noah Pierre, a student at West Roxbury Academy, questioned why the schools could not be re-located to other buildings, and asked that the rebuilt school serve the same population currently enrolled on the campus.

“If you have to rebuild it, rebuild it for us, not for other people,” she said. “I really hope this is not a masquerade and that you hear us out.”

Students at the West Roxbury schools also complained that juniors and seniors will be disadvantage in the college selection process.

“We need to be in the same school for two years to get certain scholarships,” said West Roxbury Academy student Dea Shehu. “BPS is promising us support to go to another school. But really, we don’t need support to go to another school. We need our school back.”

“Why are other schools being moved without any trouble, but we have to be cut off from our community that we already know and feel so comfortable with?” said Catari Giglio. “There are many other schools that are in the same or worse condition than ours. Why aren’t they being shut down? Why are we being targeted?”

Giglio suggested that the school’s predominantly black and Latino population put it in the district’s crosshairs.

“Even in 2018 going into 2019, white schools are given twice the privilege that we can only dream to have,” she said. “[In] many of our classes, people don’t have textbooks. My English class has had a broken door since the start of the year. No matter how much we complain, no one does anything to fix it. You coming in to shut our school down only reinforces the feeling that this district does not care about us and does not see us as people. You see us not as a community but as numbers.”

A BPS spokesman told the Banner the high numbers of English language learners and special education students would make it impossible to co-locate the West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy schools in another BPS building.

School Committee member Miren Uriarte, however, said the comments from community members and the responses from school department officials reflected parallel conversations.

“All of you are constantly taking about buildings,” she said. “Most of the other folks are talking about communities and the consequences of where they’re going.”

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