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Shaw school community seeks district support

Anna Lamb
Shaw school community seeks district support
Students, parents and teachers at the P.A. Shaw School in Dorchester are calling on BPS to extend their classes to include a 5th and 6th grade. PHOTO: ANNA LAMB

Following a decision by Boston Public Schools (BPS) to expand the previously K-3 P.A. Shaw Elementary School to include two fourth-grade classes, the school community came together to demand further additions to fulfill what they say are broken promises from BPS.

Last Wednesday, students at the Mattapan school were joined by parents, elected officials and teachers as they led chants and gave speeches demanding that the city’s education department expand their school to include fifth and sixth grades.

“We want a fourth, fifth and sixth grade at our schools. We said we would work together to make it happen,” one student told the crowd. “We made speeches and we won a fourth, and that is a great first step. Now we know we have to make sure that we stick together until we know we have a fifth and sixth grade.”

Uncertainty has plagued the Shaw for months — at a School Committee meeting in February, district officials proposed doing away with one of the two third-grade classes, citing low enrollment.

Instead, BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius announced March 15 that the fourth grade will be added to the school for one year in order to give administrators and school officials time to negotiate and plan how best to move forward.

“We believe adding fourth next year will support our students’ continuity of learning while providing us the time to discuss the longer-term planning needed,” Cassellius states in a letter to Shaw families.

Cassellius, however, will not be in charge of the Shaw’s fate much longer — she resigned her position last month effective at the end of the school year. Cassellius joins her predecessors in a pattern of early departures, with BPS having four superintendents over the last eight years.

The high turnover rate in BPS administrators is part of what has led to situations like Shaw’s, said Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teacher’s union.

“There’s been a lot of transition within the school department, and that I think has been one of the greatest challenges of the district,” she said. “Promises were made, and they need to be kept. And sometimes when there’s transitions, those promises get lost.”

Tang added that she thinks the addition of fourth grade at the Shaw signals “a recommitment to both the previous promises and the conversations that need to happen moving forward.”

Without the addition of fifth and sixth grades, the Shaw could be in serious risk of closure in the near future as the district continues to move toward K-6 and 7-12 school configurations. BPS currently funds schools on a per-pupil basis.

Parents like Brenda Ramsey, who spoke at last week’s rally, say they don’t want to put their kids through a disjointed elementary system

“When they love to come to school, we don’t want to interrupt that,” she said. “We don’t want to disturb that, because it’s going to disrupt the love they have for learning.”

P.A. Shaw Principal Ashley Davis also spoke at the rally about the need for continuity — especially, she said, as the pandemic has continued to disrupt normal school procedure.

“A lot of security is needed,” she said. “I’m grateful that that is at least one pressure that we can alleviate from their busy lives and hearts.”

BPS will meet with Davis and other Shaw representatives starting in April. Davis said she will be acting as a liaison “to make sure that what was promised to us continues to happen.”

“It’s going to take a lot of co-constructing and a lot of continual advocacy. The meetings and engagement sessions are going to be planned by people outside of the school, but the goal is still to center the school’s voice,” she said.

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