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McCormack students, staff make appeal to keep school yard, fields

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
McCormack students, staff make appeal to keep school yard, fields
Eighth grader Natalia Bird speaks against a proposal to build a sports center at the site of the McCormack Middle School’s playing field and school yard. BANNER PHOTO

Students and Teachers from the John W. McCormack School in Dorchester pleaded with the Boston School Committee to keep their sports field after learning the school department is entertaining a proposal from local nonprofits to build a $30 million Boys & Girls Clubs community center and field house on the site.

The McCormack school community and members of the Harbor Point Community Task Force said at last week’s School Committee meeting that they found out about the proposal by Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester and the Martin Richard Foundation when they read it in newspapers — this despite past assurances that they would have say in how or whether the land would be redeveloped.

In May of 2018, the School Committee passed a resolution stating that the redevelopment of the school yard would benefit the students of the McCormack and the adjacent Dever elementary school, and called on the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development to “actively seek student, school, and community input and involvement to inform the drafting of the RFP (request for proposals).”

But the McCormack students and the president of the Harbor Point Community Task Force said they were neither consulted on the drafting of the RFP nor informed that it had been released June 24.

The proposal from the Dorchester Boys & Girls Clubs and the Martin Richard Foundation was the sole response to the department’s request for proposals.

While BPS officials and representatives of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester and the Martin Richard Foundation say the new facility will be open to the entire community, students and faculty at the McCormack school say the fact that they were not consulted gives a strong indication that they didn’t figure prominently in the plans for the center.

“If someone is going to spend $30 million on us, spend it on something we want and something we will use,” McCormack student Joseph Vizcaino told the School Committee. “Ask us before you make a plan. When you don’t ask us, it makes us feel unwelcome, like we don’t have a voice.”

BPS officials did not testify during the School Committee meeting. But last week Rob Consalvo, a senior advisor to Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, said that BPS officials solicited feedback from community members about the RFP process, but acknowledged they did not reach out to McCormack students, parents or school staff.

McCormack math teacher Sarah Cooke noted that the proposed closing of the McCormack school earlier this year and the proposal to divest the school of its athletic fields are happening within the same year, despite BPS officials’ promise that the school community would be involved in any decisions affecting their school.

“In December, we were promised to be a part of any plan that would directly impact our students and community, and we ask now that this promise be kept,” she said. “The only reason we know about this proposal is that it was reported in the news. At no point has the Boys & Girls Clubs or the Martin Richard Foundation reached out to the McCormack community.”

Cooke noted it has been public knowledge that the McCormack school is slated to remain open after the district relented last November.

“Given that our students and their families were not consulted at any point in this process, I have to wonder, who is this project really for?” Cooke said. “If the planners don’t know what our community truly wants, then on what are they basing their plans? Who are they planning for?”

BPS officials first proposed seeking bids for the redevelopment of the school’s athletic fields in May of last year. At that time, the department had planned to close the McCormack school, as part of a wider push to close all middle schools and convert them to either K-6 or K-8 schools or 7-12 or 9-12 high schools.

Then-BPS Chief of Staff Rob Consalvo in November 2018 said the athletic fields would be redeveloped as part of a public-private partnership. The school department reversed its decision to close the McCormack in December. The McCormack school community agreed to merge with the Boston Community Leadership Academy, which is now located in Hyde Park, and transform into a 7-12 school. The merged school will occupy the McCormack building.

But Neema Avashia, an eighth-grade teacher at the McCormack, pointed out that BPS is planning to dispose of a significant portion of the school’s land before they have finalized plans for the school’s merger with the Boston Community Leadership Academy and the transition to a 7-12 grade configuration, which will boost its student population from 365 students in the current building to more than 900.

“There is a profound lack of coordination between the redesign of the McCormack building and the land it sits on,” she said during the Oct. 16 School Committee meeting. “There is no communication, no shared vision and no expressed commitment to student voice in the DND process around McCormack land.”

Laura Carroll, an attorney for the Harbor Point Tenant Task Force said the tenants of the development, which sits across the street from the McCormack, were neither informed of nor consulted on the RFP process. She testified that beyond taking away the school’s playing fields, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester facility would preclude the new high school from playing interscholastic sports, pointing to the proposed schedule for the facility in the nonprofit’s response to the RFP.

She noted that the proposed schedule allows for students from the McCormack and adjacent Dever elementary school to use the facility during school hours and for Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester members to use it, but at all other times, the facility is reserved for rentals, according to plans the nonprofits submitted.

“You will be creating a high school and giving it no athletic facilities for high school students,” she said. “That just seems wrong-headed to me.”

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