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Councilors rip BPS officials on planned school closures

Letter asks School Committee to reconsider plans for W. Rox.

Catherine McGloin
Councilors rip BPS officials on planned school closures
BPS officials are planning to close West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy at the end of the school year. Banner photo

City councilors sent a letter to the Boston School Committee last week urging them reconsider the decision to close the West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy, as laid out in the city’s controversial BuildBPS plan.

The letter, dated Dec. 3, two days before the committee met to discuss the future of the two high schools, was signed by councilors Annissa Essaibi-George, Kim Janey, Michelle Wu, Matt O’Malley, Lydia Edwards and Ayanna Pressley. In it, they criticized Boston Public Schools officials for short-sighted planning, particularly with regard to the announced closure of the McCormack Middle School, plans for which have since been amended.

“Every student deserves to learn in a physical space that incentivizes creativity, connectivity and building school community,” wrote the councilors in their jointly-signed letter. “However, school closures without a transparent long- and short-term plan are not a viable way to achieve the legitimate goals of BuildBPS.”

BuildBPS, Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s 10-year, $1 billion master plan, aims to build 12 new schools in communities where the number of students exceeds the number of seats available, and streamline grade configurations by closing all six of the district’s middle schools, including the McCormack, re-configuring them as K-6, K-8, 7-12 or 9-12 schools.

As a result of the “trauma and disruption” caused by the announced closure of the McCormack Middle School, councilors recommended that the school committee hold off making any decision about the West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy.

The McCormack school community had been told by BPS officials that the school would close, and students would be relocated to the Excel High School in South Boston. These plans have evolved and at the end of last month it was decided that the school community would actively participate in finding a school to partner with until renovations on the McCormack were completed.

“We strongly urge the Boston School Committee to withhold from making a decision on the fate of the West Roxbury Academy and Urban Science Academy,” said councilors in the letter. Instead, they called for any further action to be aligned with “three non-negotiable principles.”

The first was that there must be a plan in place to ensure that any school community displaced by extensive renovations to their building under BuildBPS is not separated during construction. This plan should be presented before building work begins.

The second guiding principle councilors would like to see BPS follow is that schools being merged are actively engaged throughout the process and their voices are heard.

Their final request is for existing school communities to be given first refusal on newly renovated school buildings.

This opposes original plans for McCormack, whose students and teachers were told that once their building was remodeled, they would have to bid alongside other school communities to re-occupy the building.

Councilors offered to support BPS and the school committee in finding swing space to house students during the transition period.

BPS did not respond to the Banner’s request for comment by time of publication.

While “as a city and a school district, we owe our children the opportunity to explore and achieve those opportunities to the fullest,” councilors wrote, ultimately, they landed upon the conclusion that “school closures should be a last resort.”

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