West Roxbury students lobby lawmakers
Students seek support for effort to stop planned school closures
The broad outlines of the city’s BuildBPS plan are now widely known: new school buildings in West Roxbury, East Boston and Dorchester, the closure and/or re-use of six middle school buildings and one high school building currently shared by West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy.
While Boston Public Schools interim Superintendent Laura Perille last month announced that the McCormack middle school may partner with a high school to keep its community intact, BPS officials are planning to break apart the two West Roxbury high school communities, sending students to schools said to have excess capacity.
The students aren’t going quietly.
In November, West Roxbury Academy (WRA) and Urban Science Academy (USA) students lobbied at City Hall, pressing councilors and their staff to support their efforts to keep their school communities intact. Last Friday, students trained their sights on the State House, appealing to lawmakers for support in advance of a Dec. 5 School Committee vote on the planned closure of their schools.
“It’s not just a school, it’s a community,” West Roxbury Academy junior Aysha Correia told Colleen Bellotti, a legislative aide to Sen. Mike Rush during a visit to legislators’ offices. “The people who are talking about closing us down aren’t thinking about us.”
Correia and sophomore Dionna Alexis transferred to the school this year from Boston Arts Academy, seeking to focus more on academics. Both said they have developed close relationships with their teachers and fellow students at the West Roxbury school.
“Transferring to West Roxbury, I created a second home for myself,” Alexis said. “It’s a family. I’ve been able to prepare myself for college. The teachers and students have been a big part of that. The students help each other.”
The students, teachers and parents fighting to save the two high schools from closing face an uphill battle. When Perille announced the planned closure of the building shared by the two schools in October, she cited a report from the city’s Inspectional Services Department, which she said indicated that repairs made recently to the building would not ensure the safety of students and staff beyond the current school year.
A complete draft of the BuildBPS plan was released last week. The plan seeks to re-configure existing elementary and high schools to serve grades K-6, K-8, 7-12 and 9-12, in order to streamline the many grade configurations of BPS overall. The plan calls for the construction of five new school buildings, including a replacement for the West Roxbury campus, and the renovation of three middle school buildings, which will be converted into elementary or high schools.
BPS officials say the plan will help create what they call 21st-century learning spaces, classrooms designed to facilitate learning with more flexible floorplans.
There are no construction timelines provided in the plan, which calls for 12 major renovations and new school buildings. Areas of the city with more students than there are seats would be prioritized for new school construction. As such, the plan calls for a new elementary school and new high school in East Boston, as many as three new schools in the Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods and a new building in the Jackson Square area between Roxbury and Jamaica Plain.
Students at schools slated to close have questioned the need for 21st-century learning spaces, saying they would rather their current school communities remain intact.
“We just want people to know how these decisions will affect us and our community,” Alexis said in a meeting with Sen. Pat Jehlen.
Students and teachers from the McCormack have been fighting the planned closure of their school, among the first announced. Perille has since said that BPS is willing to allow the school to partner with a high school to form a 7-12 school, thereby keeping the current community of students and McCormack teachers together.
The West Roxbury students, too, have testified in School Committee meetings and meetings sponsored by BPS at the West Roxbury school building, in Roslindale and elsewhere.
While state legislators don’t have decision-making power over schools, the students at the State House last week asked that they put pressure on the School Committee to stop the planned closures.
“We know you don’t make the decisions, but we know that you can influence the decision,” Correia said. “If they see you at a School Committee meeting, it will put more pressure on them.”
Alexis added, “It’s so they don’t make the decision without hearing our voice.”