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BPS changes plans for McCormack students

Alternative high schools sought for transition period

Catherine McGloin
BPS changes plans for McCormack students
According to BuildBPS plans, the McCormack middle school will close at the end of the next school year. Banner photo

Following fierce criticism, Boston Public Schools Interim Superintendent Laura Perille announced a significant change in the transition plan for students at the McCormack Middle School last week.

Set to close at the end of the next school year while the building undergoes renovations, students at Dorchester’s McCormack school were to be moved to Excel High School in South Boston while a new 7-12 grade school would open in its place, according to Perille’s original plans, part of wider BuildBPS plans released last month. Now, after several rounds of heated feedback sessions between BPS officials, students, parents and teachers, these plans have shifted to include alternative arrangements for the McCormack school community during the transition.

“In the case of the McCormack Middle School, BPS is having productive discussions with teachers about the future of the school’s programming during its transition over the next two years,” said Perille, in a written statement. “We look forward to continued partnership as we work to reshape the district in a way that positively and equitably benefits all students and families.”

While Excel High School remains an option to house the displaced students, whom BPS officials have publicly committed to keeping united, other locations are being considered by the McCormack community and BPS staff.

Despite receiving Perille’s initial plans as definitive, Neema Avashia, an eighth-grade civics teacher at the McCormack, said that this “course correction” signals a positive evolution in discussions between McCormack members and BPS officials.

“In this new version of plans there is still an impact, but at least we can be part of finding a solution gracefully, and in a way that is as mindful about the community and relationships as it possibly can be,” Avashia told the Banner.

The fact remains that McCormack will no longer exist in its current configuration after June 2020, although sixth-graders are still being enrolled for the final school year. The renovated building at Columbia Point is set to open in 2022.

In finding a new partner school, Avashia said there is no wish-list, but that the process in joining with another high school should not overly burden either institution or their communities.

The state has identified the school in South Boston as failing. Staff at the Excel High School were not consulted properly during initial planning, said Avashia, and while she appreciates that “every school is working hard to do the best they can,” she added, “we have to make sure our planning does right by everyone and doesn’t throw additional complications at that community.”

Like many advocates, Avashia called for mutually understood criteria to be agreed upon by the McCormack community and BPS staff before a new partner school is decided on.

“It’s really about finding a plan that meets the needs of the district, matches the value of our school, and engaging as many high schools as possible in the process to find the right one,” said Avashia.

“BuildBPS is a 10-year educational and facilities master plan for the district that is designed to allow for an extensive period of public input,” said Perille. “Along the way, BPS is providing the public updated information about long-range planning for schools in each neighborhood of the city and is making good on its promise to incorporate that feedback.”

Avashia and other members of the McCormack school community have been very vocal in their criticism of Perille’s plans, highlighting the apparent lack of consideration granted to current McCormack students in initial BuildBPS blueprints.

“Perille has heard our concerns and is trying to accommodate our feedback, and I’m grateful for that,” Avashia told the Banner.

Under BPS’ master plan, the West Roxbury Academy and the Urban Science Academy will also close. They share a building in West Roxbury that the city’s Inspectional Services Department deemed unsafe. The Boston School Committee will vote on this action on Dec. 5.

For members of the McCormack school community, this latest development brings hope that in navigating the challenges that lay ahead as the school prepares to close, perhaps the voices of those most impacted by the decision will finally be heard.

“The shift [by the BPS] is really in recognizing that a school is not just a school building, but a community of people,” said Avashia. “You can’t do change to people, you have to engage them in that change.”

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