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BPS students, parents blast school closures

Roslindale meeting dominated by West Roxbury students

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
BPS students, parents blast school closures
BPS acting superintendent Laura Perille addresses parents, students and community members at the Roslindale Community Center. Banner Photo

Parents, students and community members who turned out for a BuildBPS meeting in Roslindale used the opportunity to speak out against the district’s plan to close three schools in other neighborhoods as part of its 10-year, $1 billion school reconstruction plan.

After Boston Public Schools officials outlined plans for the Roslindale schools, including the closing of the Irving Middle School and the expansion of surrounding elementary schools, parents and students reacted angrily to the planned closures of West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy, which share a building in West Roxbury, and the McCormack Middle School in Dorchester.

McCormack School 8th grader John Aljoe addresses City Council staffers during a lobby day at City Hall Friday. Students from the McCormack, West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy met with councilors and staff to ask that their schools not be closed. Banner Photo

McCormack School 8th grader John Aljoe addresses City Council staffers during a lobby day at City Hall Friday. Students from the McCormack, West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy met with councilors and staff to ask that their schools not be closed. Banner Photo

“You cannot have lofty, beautiful ideas for buildings and not have the same fundamental values for the kids who are in the building right now,” said Roslindale resident Ewa Rytowska, a grandmother of BPS students. “There has to be a bottom line value — we do not split up functioning school communities.”

The meeting was the third in a series of 13 planned throughout Boston neighborhoods to discuss the newest BuildBPS plan, which was released in October along with the news of the planned school closures. BPS officials at the Roslindale meeting reiterated their claim that the planned closure of the building housing West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy came after the city’s Inspectional Services Department determined the building was unsafe.

While students and parents requested that interim BPS Superintendent Laura Perille furnish a copy of an ISD report, Perille told the Roslindale gathering that BPS officials were compiling multiple reports on the status of the building but had not yet made them public.

“I keep hearing the same thing about how damaged the building is,” said West Roxbury Academy student Catari Giglio. “If you guys really had the document, I’m sure you would be shoving it in our face, you would be sending it in emails.”

Perille responded, “It’s a series of reports and work orders on the repairs. We will assemble that.”

“Why are you taking so long?” Giglio pressed. “We need to see it to be able to believe you. Right now, no one is believing you. Everyone is doubting. Every single parent. I’m going to keep coming to every single meeting until you give me an answer or until you save our school. You owe us a school.”

The exchange was emblematic of the frustration and distrust parents and students expressed at the meeting, which was attended by city councilors Annissa Essaibi-George, Michelle Wu, Matt O’Malley and Tim McCarthy.

“I just want to say how hard it is to listen to the same non-answers over and over,” said Arlene Snyder, parent of a West Roxbury Academy student.

Snyder echoed concerns raised by parents and students over the fact that Boston Arts Academy students were relocated as a group during the construction of their $125 million new building, while BPS plans to disperse the students from the two West Roxbury schools throughout the system.

“You’re all very smart, creative people,” she said. “Find a building.”

BPS Chief Engagement Officer Monica Roberts noted that the reconstruction of schools such as BAA and the Dearborn were planned in advance, giving the district time to find temporary spaces.

“The reason there was no plan [for West Roxbury] was because it was an emergency,” she said.

Roberts said the district is still looking into spaces for the West Roxbury students, including parochial school buildings.

One parent suggested BPS vacate the Bolling Building and allow the West Roxbury students to relocate there.

Snyder suggested BPS put a moratorium on the BuildBPS plan until the West Roxbury students are given a space.

“We don’t want to hear, ‘We’re going to tell you more about decisions we’ve already made,’” she said.

Essaibi-George, who has attended several meetings about the school closures, told the Banner she has concerns about the impacts on students.

“We have to constantly remind ourselves to consider the impacts on the kids,” she said. “They’re school communities.”

Perille told the Banner she understands the school closures are generating frustration and anxiety.

“They are the most difficult thing a school system does,” she said. “We are acknowledging the pain, challenge and dislocation of any decision to close a school community. In the case of the West Roxbury complex, the fact that it’s happening within a school year is disruptive and challenging.”

Perille said that BPS will avoid abrupt closures in the future by planning maintenance and reconstruction projects in advance.

“Due to the rapid deterioration of the building in the last year, that has forced a more rapid timeline that makes this very disruptive,” she said.

Roslindale parent Jane Walsh Miller said the BuildBPS process would go better if the district shared more information with students and parents.

“They didn’t really address what the timeline is in Roslindale,” she said. “there were no assurances that our children in middle school won’t have a similar experience to that of the students who entered West Roxbury Academy.”

Under the BuildBPS plan, the Walsh administration is aiming to build 12 new schools in communities where the numbers of students exceed the number of seats available. The plan dovetails with the district’s push toward neighborhood schools, wherein elementary school students attend schools closest to their homes.

The plan also aims to streamline grade configurations, reducing the large variation in student paths as they proceed from kindergarten to graduation and in the number of school changes those paths require. Under the plan, all six of the district’s middle schools will be closed eventually and re-configured as K-6, K-8, 7-12 or 9-12 schools.

BPS, roslindale, west roxbury
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