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BCLA students meet with Cassellius, receive no guarantees

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
BCLA students meet with Cassellius, receive no guarantees
The McCormack School in Columbia Point. GOOGLE EARTH IMAGE

Angered at what they say is the Boston Public Schools’ refusal to honor a promise to provide them a new building, students from Boston Community Leadership Academy met with BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius in an attempt to obtain a guarantee they would not be moved from their existing building.

Cassellius, however, made no promises and provided few answers, the students who attended the July 14 meeting say.

“We didn’t get much out of the meeting,” said Marie Liza Manigat, a rising 11th-grader at the Hyde Park school. “Brenda Cassellius basically told us she didn’t have any information. She told us she didn’t know anything about any promises that were made to us.”

In 2018, the McCormack school nearly fell victim to the district’s move to close all middle schools and transform elementary schools into K-6 and K-8 grade configurations. However, after sustained protests from McCormack students and teachers, in November of 2018, district officials announced BCLA would merge with the McCormack, forming a 7-12 school in the McCormack’s Dorchester building. The district’s BuildBPS plan, which promised $1 billion in city funds for new schools, outlined a plan to relocate McCormack students to a swing space while the McCormack building would be reconfigured to accommodate the additional grades.

This year, however, BPS officials have scrapped plans to relocate the McCormack students and apparently scaled back renovation plans. The renovation work, which is ongoing, is limited to a new science lab, a science lab prep room and a life skills room with classroom space, two residential-sized kitchens and a laundry room.

BCLA students say they want a gymnasium large enough to accommodate high school sports, an auditorium that could accommodate BCLA’s theatre program, a full-sized library of the same scale the school currently has in its Hyde Park building and sufficient space for all teachers to have their own classrooms.

Under the current BPS plan, some teachers will have to share classrooms, the school will share an auditorium at the adjacent Dever school, the library will be the size of a classroom and high school sports will take place in the building’s current gymnasium, which BCLA students say is too small to accommodate games and spectators.

The meeting with Cassellius gave students no assurances they would receive anything more.

“I honestly felt that it was a master class in appeasement,” said BCLA teacher Banjineh Browne, who sat in on the meeting with students. “The district has not followed through with the commitments they made.”

During the meeting, students asked Cassellius to sign a document guaranteeing they would not have to move from the Hyde Park campus until the district provides them with the BuildBPS document’s version of a “21st-century school” — including larger classrooms, auditoriums, libraries and media centers, teacher planning and collaboration areas, and space for art and music classes.

Cassellius did not sign the document but told the students she would meet with them again in mid-August, Browne said.

Manigat said that BPS Chief Financial Officer Nathan Kuder did most of the talking but did not add anything to the conversation.

“He kept restating everything that Ms. Cassellius had already said,” she said.

A BPS spokesman did not comment on whether Cassellius would honor the students’ demands, but sent a statement affirming the district’s commitment to completing the renovation of the science lab and storage room.

“The BCLA/McCormack merger is a key component of the BuildBPS initiative to help expand access to modern educational facilities and provide clear, predictable education pathways for Boston Public Schools (BPS) students,” the statement read in part. “BCLA and McCormack educators were heavily involved in the design of the first phase of the renovation project for the McCormack building, which is currently out to bid and is expected to be completed in Fall 2022.”

Two BCLA teachers have resigned from the redesign committee in protest of the district’s refusal to take into consideration the demands of students and teachers in their school community.

BCLA senior Camily Landestoy said she doesn’t think the school should move from Hyde Park until BPS includes an auditorium, gym and sufficient class space in its renovations.

“I’m OK with merging,” she said. “It’s the circumstances under which we’re merging that concern me. I don’t think we should leave.”