Dear John

The Parent Imperfect isn’t breaking up with anyone. After last night’s meeting at the historic Roxbury Presbyterian Church, I feel the need to write a letter to Acting BPS Superintendent, John McDonough.

Dear John,

Roxbury PresbyterianI hope you are going into work late today. You had a tough night last night, and probably need a little rest this morning. I estimate that about 275 people jammed themselves into Rev. Walker’s Daddy’s House last night. I’m sure that some of those present fully support your plan to tear down the Dearborn School, move its students to the Burke for three years, build a new STEM Academy on the Dearborn site and turn that educational gem into a charter school. There were supportive people there, but none of them took a microphone to express that support. That’s a problem, no?

By my count, 28 people did take a mike and either question the plan or express strong disagreements with it. Some people were downright pissed off.

It’s quite remarkable. The BPS has managed to unite numbers of students, parents, community members, and abutters to the Dearborn site against its plan. Every speaker last night (with one possible exception) appeared to support the idea of a STEM Academy for Roxbury, but they have serious questions about the way you are going about it.

The BPS had a chance to identify the real stakeholders in this project (the ones listed above) and actively involve them in developing it, but as you have courageously admitted, the ball was dropped, big time. Somebody was apparently consulted, but too many important people were not. You say that all of that is going to change, but there is too much dirty water under the bridge. You remember the old Carole King song…“It’s Too Late Baby, Now It’s Too Late.” 

You want people to swallow this plan out of fear of the looming spectre of state takeover of the school. No one wants the Commish to put the squeeze on the school, but they don’t share your sense that it’s the “Worst that Could Happen.” (remember Johnny Maestro?)

Cape Verdean youthIs a state takeover worse than running the risk of losing (in the long run) SIFE, a program that has been important for the integration of Cabo Verde youth into Boston and the U.S.? It may be so for you, but the young people with the blue shirts didn’t seem to think so.

Is a state takeover worse than facing two years of neighborhood chaos, long-term uncertainty and the loss of a building that has been key element of the neighborhood’s architectural identity for over a century? It may be so for you, but the homeowners who live around the Dearborn didn’t seem to think so.

I could do a few more of those, but I think you get my drift. From where you sit, a state takeover of the Dearborn would be a humiliation that you (and the Mayor and the School Committee Chair) don’t wish to endure. You also quite legitimately fear what it might mean for the school community. No one is out to promote a state takeover, but there is a limit to what people are willing to endure to avoid that misfortune.

You were clear last night that you want the assignment of students to the eventual Dearborn STEM Academy to follow the same rules that apply to district schools. You know what? There is an easier way to do that than trying to try to change state law on this topic. Keep the school a district school! 

Last night, your BPS facilities man said something like, “This started as a project to create a STEM Academy on the Dearborn site, so, when it became clear that renovation wasn’t feasible, we moved to the plan to construct on this site. That’s why we didn’t consider other sites. This has always been a project for a STEM Academy on Greenville St.” As my middle school daughter would say, SERIOUSLY???

Dearborn SchoolI’m not an architect and certainly not a city planner, but if my renovation idea for the Dearborn proved to be too costly, I wouldn’t automatically default to knocking down the building and constructing on that site. If I needed to build a new building, instead of renovate, I’d look around to make sure that the site of the old building was the very best place to build my new building, no? How can it be true that none of the seven options considered for the new Academy involved looking at any other site in the Roxbury neighborhood?

John, I know it can be hard to admit that we’re on the wrong road and turn around. I remember well one Sunday missing the turn-off on Interstate 95 for the Delaware Memorial Bridge and then, despite the pleas of my passengers, refusing to get off the highway and retrace my steps back to the bridge. I knew I’d eventually get back to 95 further north. I did, but we all ended up getting stuck for four hours behind a major pileup near the airport in Philadelphia. I so wished that I’d just admitted my mistake and gone back to the right road.

Obviously, the stakes here are much, much higher. In this case, there is real risk in taking the right road, but it is still the right road. You need to go back to the School Committee and say that you need more time to come to a final decision on the best way to create a STEM Academy in Roxbury. You need to put that ground you broke back where it belongs and keep the kids in the Dearborn building for another year (with their new principal), while you find out for sure that there is no better place to build the new academy. During that year, you need to do intensive work with both the Dearborn neighborhood and the Dearborn school community (students, parents and teachers) as you make the decision on the best way forward. One possibility is that the current site is the only viable place for the Academy and the current project is the only project that can work, but you don’t know that yet.

And, yes, you need to go to the Commissioner, with a community united behind you, in the quest for a STEM Academy in Roxbury. Enlist the young man who spoke so eloquently in a language not his first one about “shuffling people around.” Enlist Chantal, the proud and impressive young Burke grad who pushed you on the real future of the SIFE program. Enlist Ms. Miller, the former teacher and school leader at the Dearborn who said, “Give us one more year to build and see where we can go.” Enlist the woman who worried aloud about youth from the Dearborn crossing lines that matter to get to the Burke. And enlist the homeowner who raised her voice in frustration to say, “WE WEREN’T THERE!”

Enlist all of the people at church last night to highlight the improvements being made at the Dearborn, and to support the development of a community plan to create a Dearborn STEM Academy. Awaken the Mayor from his silent slumber and get him solidly behind your change of course. And then make clear to the Commissioner what a tragedy it would be to break the momentum behind a STEM Academy at this critical moment by subjecting the Dearborn to state takeover. Dare to win this historic struggle for public education in Roxbury and all of Boston, rather than make bad decisions for fear of losing.

Yes, despite doing everything right, you might lose that discussion and, therefore, lose control of the Dearborn. But, in losing the right way, you would have helped create a momentum for a STEM Academy in Roxbury that might just overcome even state receivership. In this case, losing by doing the right thing would be a better, more courageous path than winning a STEM Academy in the wrong way and building this project, despite wide community opposition to it. The right choice is not easy, but it is in your power to make it.

I wish you luck…

The Parent Imperfect

 

 

 

 

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9 Comments

Filed under Boston Public Schools, Charter Schools

9 responses to “Dear John

  1. Shirley Kressel

    Perfect, Parent!

  2. Lynn

    Thanks for reporting PI, that was a painful meeting for me, a new staff person at the Dearborn.

    What is particularly painful is that recommendation that the Dearborn STEM Academy be operated by DCNCS as an in district charter is a done deal, and that this the best and only viable option. At least he was up front that he was operating from the vantage of trying to avoid the scenario of a state takeover of the school. The lets avoid eventual disaster vantage.

    Also painful is that so much time was spent opposing a building that has been approved. That was not the agenda.

    I actually trust that McDonough is trying to guarantee a success story.
    But there could be more than one route to success for this school, which has already demonstrated improvement with a challenging population including SIFE and ELL, students with interrupted formal education and English language learners.

    I wanted to ask, has the district done everything it can to support this school with existing resources prior to making this recommendation?
    Aren’t we jumping the gun here? As Liz Walker said, The vision of a Dearborn STEM academy has been in the works for years but the in district charter proposal for 1 month. The new building (already approved) still 3 yrs away. Why are we assuming failure at the outset?

    I digress, we still have a school to run, for now.

    • Hi Lynn,

      I didn’t know that you were at the Dearborn. Congratulations, I think. You have great challenges before you, whatever happens. As far as I’m concerned, the demolition of the building is not a done deal until the wrecking ball swings. Also, the School Committee still needs to vote in favor of the proposal and then the state needs to approve it. Those both may be foregone conclusions, but sanity may yet prevail. I do believe that JM is trying to guarantee success, but I’m not sure he is on the path to do that. But then, again, I’m just an observer who knows less than nothing.

      Good luck in your new job! I’d love to know more about what you are doing at some point.

  3. The Parent Imperfect said it Best!

  4. Jen Rose-Wood

    Hi Parent Imperfect, just reading your blog for the first time and am energized by your report on the Dearborn meeting. Really appreciate your outrage and eloquent argument against what is clearly a destructive plan. I live 5 blocks from the Dearborn and my children will begin attending BPS next year. I’m planning to attend next Wednesday’s meeting on the Dearborn ( at RCC) and it would be great to connect with you. Do you email? – Jen

    • Thanks, Jen. Always glad to hear of another parent joining the BPS family with energy to make change, and I’m even more glad that you found the blog. I look forward to connecting. I’ll be the only one at the meeting who would be crazy enough to write a blog like this one.

  5. Pingback: THE DEARBORN HIGHJACK: FACED WITH LOSING A NEW $70 MILLION SCHOOL, ROXBURY RESIDENTS FIGHT A CHARTER TAKEOVER | DigBoston

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