Diminished hopes for school merger
BCLA students, staff say district is reneging on renovation promises
Midway through her testimony, delivered in the rapid-fire cadence of a 10th-grader seeking to fit four minutes of argument into the School Committee’s two-minute slot for public comment, Boston Community Leadership Academy student Amy Eneh posed a question to the five members of the mayoral-appointed body.
“Do you members of the School Committee believe we are truly being given what was promised?” she said.
In the June 16 meeting, Eneh and other students blasted the Boston Public Schools administration for what many said is a string of broken promises surrounding the Hyde Park high school’s planned merger with the McCormack middle school in Dorchester — a school building they say has no auditorium, a gymnasium too small for high school sports events, a tiny library and a shortage of space that will require teachers to share some classrooms.
“All I ask is that BPS listens when we tell them what’s wrong and that they give us what we deserve, which is a 21st-century school — one with enough space for classrooms and libraries and a theater,” said BCLA student Lyns Dejesus, testifying before the committee. “One where each teacher has their own classroom and where students have afterschool programs to choose from.”
On the chopping block
District officials first announced plans to close the McCormack middle school in October 2018 as part of a broader push to phase out middle schools. While the district has closed 40 schools over the last 20 years, members of the McCormack school community fought back, applying pressure to district officials.
In November 2018, the district announced the McCormack would merge with BCLA. The district’s initial plan for the merger, outlined in its Build BPS document, called for extensive renovations to the McCormack’s Columbia Point building, with students being relocated to a temporary swing space during the 2021 and 2022 school years.
But the relocation never happened, as the district apparently scaled back plans for renovations. Two BCLA teachers who were members of the design committee the district appointed to advise on the renovations quit the committee in protest of the process, which they said has failed to take into account the wants and needs of the school community.
“The process just seemed very disingenuous,” said BCLA teacher Paula Grillo, one of the two who quit. “I was so excited to join, but I noticed that the way the district was going about it was not what was promised to our kids.”
McCormack teacher Sarah Cook, a building representative with the Boston Teachers Union, said members of the McCormack community are optimistic about the merger, but concerned about the district’s commitment to renovating the building.
“The district has been very reluctant to give a firm commitment as to what they’ll do for renovations and how much funding they’re willing to commit,” she said.
BPS officials provided answers to questions about the scope of the work, the timeline and budget for renovations after the Banner’s press deadline (see their answers here).
Members of the McCormack community had hoped to see a new wing to help accommodate more classrooms, an auditorium and other amenities, Cook said. Other basic upgrades would be appreciated as well.
“We should have a real HVAC system,” Cook said. “That, after the last year, should be non-negotiable.”
The district’s move to lease land currently occupied by the McCormack School’s athletic fields, playground and basketball courts to the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester over the objections of McCormack students and staff was also largely seen as a blow to the school community.
The diminished plans for the McCormack school’s renovations come amid the district’s 10-year $1 billion plan to renovate existing buildings and construct new ones to provide students with what district officials call 21st-century schools. The scaled-down library currently in the school (funded by donations McCormack teachers secured for the school), the lack of space for theater and the potential for overcrowding strike Grillo as a step backward.
“Build BPS promises 21st-century schools,” she said. “Literally the opposite of that is happening here.”
The BCLA students’ and teachers’ concerns about the district’s commitment are all the more urgent against the backdrop of the district’s push to close schools, including the Jackson/Mann, Horace Mann, Timilty and Irving schools, all of which are shutting down this year.
The district’s previous plan to close the McCormack, along with deep cuts to the BCLA budget that had many believing that school’s days were numbered, didn’t do much to build trust among the school communities. Adding to the distrust is what some say is a lack of firm commitments from BPS officials.
“A lot of this merger is riding on hope,” said BCLA teacher Banjineh Browne. “But nothing’s been written down.”
Testifying during the June 16 School Committee meeting, Amy Eneh ran up against her two-minute limit, still delivering her rapid-fire comments. She continued, even after she was interrupted by Superintendent Brenda Cassellius.
“Let’s get some funding to invest in the building,” she said. “Fix up the conditions of both the boys’ and the girls’ bathrooms. Install windows people can actually open and see out of. Add a new wing so there can be room for more classes so we don’t have to share an auditorium with an elementary school. Make something kids will feel comfortable, cared about and safe in.”
The School Committee’s rules are one thing, but for Eneh, the school merger is personal.
“At the end of the day, it’s my school, it’s my community,” she told the Banner. “They are going to hear what I have to say. They’re not giving us what we deserve, and they know that.”