The dogs may bark…

Dogs barkThe Parent Imperfect made it to his fourth meeting about the project to create a 6-12 STEM Academy on the site of the Dearborn School in Roxbury. City Councillor, Tito Jackson, who represents Roxbury, hosted this one as a public hearing at Roxbury Community College. Attendance was less than at last week’s BPS-hosted meeting at the Roxbury Presbyterian Church, but the discussion was no less lively.

The Bottom Line: The project faces fierce opposition from a cross-section of community and school stakeholders, but Acting BPS Superintendent, John McDonough, and his staff have their heels dug in on this and aren’t budging on their determination to demolish the Dearborn and shoe-horn a new building into the existing lot. In the meantime, the Dearborn students and teachers will decamp to the top floor of the Jeremiah Burke High School for three years. No disruption is too much to endure in the name of progress, especially if it’s just students and teachers who are enduring it.

Most of what was said last night was repetition of what was said at other meetings, but some new information (new for me, anyway) did emerge.

1. The financing of this project became a bit clearer. The City Council approved, at some point, $72 million for this project, half of which will come from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). $36 million of this will come from BPS funds. The MSBA approved its part of the project this past spring. Nobody answered the question of who now has the authority to reverse this authorization.

MSBA process2. According to Tito Jackson, the MSBA has made it clear to him that, if the BPS now decides to consider another location for this project, the deal is off. They’ve got lots of other projects in line for the money allocated to this one. So, if the threat of state receivership of the Dearborn wasn’t enough to scare you into submission, now you’ve got the threat that the MSBA will take away their ball and go home if the project doesn’t get built just as the BPS wants.

3. And I can’t leave out the young teacher from the Dearborn who stepped to the mike to challenge–softly, but with great strength and passion–the idea that hers is a “failed” school. Among other things, she sited the positive feedback received by the school after a site visit by examiners from the Dept. of Education (DESE). According to this teacher, the DESE visitors said that the Dearborn visit was the first time in memory that such a visit had not turned up any clear “areas of improvement” for the teaching staff. The speaker was under the impression that the site visit would be considered by the Commonwealth, along with test scores, in determining any course of action related to the Dearborn. I have now listened to BPS representatives speak publicly about the Dearborn for almost two hours, often sharing quite detailed reports on interactions with state officials, but I had not heard mention of said site visit before last night. Is the Dearborn failing, or are we failing the Dearborn?

4. A new 6-12 charter school would be governed by a private board, as in the case of any other charter. One courageous and articulate woman, who introduced herself as a volunteer at the Dearborn School, read out the composition of that Board at the meeting (no names, just affiliations). There were a couple of education people on there, but the Bank of America, Fidelity Investments and a couple of hedge-found-sounding operations were also prominent in the mix.

5. An impressive architect from Milton (via Dorchester) calmly asked the BPS Facilities Director four questions about the project, not a single one of which received a direct answer (0 for 4, that is). In the process, the architect made clear that this project is actually further along than a City official had led the crowd to believe at the Presby church meeting. This architect also established that the BPS person responsible for the building side of this project couldn’t say (after he got himself up off the floor) whether or not a structural engineer had done a structural assessment of the building or if that assessment and the rest of the plan had received the necessary peer review (The BPS guy doesn’t need to know all of these details, but he absolutely needs to have somebody there who does). If this goes like the school assignment discussion, the BPS will now try to hire this architect so that he’ll stop schooling them in these meetings.

I should say that one person got up and spoke in favor of the project, as proposed, which is a first at the  meetings I’ve attended…sort of the exception that proves the rule.

Winny on dogsThe threat that the MSBA will pull the money really caught my attention. So, you’re going to tell me that the BPS could switch it’s proposal from a renovation of the existing building to new construction on the same site and the MSBA didn’t bat an eyelash, right? Then, after the MSBA approved the proposal, the BPS could pull the last-minute bait-and-switch from a project to build a district school to a charter school, and that’s just fine with the MSBA. “No problem…we got your check for you…” But if, in the face of united and determined opposition to this project from abutters, students, teachers and many community members, the BPS decides to consider a new site for a Dearborn STEM Academy, THEN the MSBA is going to pull the funds and give them to some other project??? The BPS can make any change to this that they want, at any point in the process, but if they enter into a real process of consultation with the community over possible new sites, then money goes away. I smell something rodent-like…How about you?

The beat goes on…opposition to the Dearborn project grows, but the BPS continues with its, “the dogs may bark, but the caravan rolls along” attitude. In the process, they are missing a huge opportunity and really angering important constituencies in Roxbury, the neighborhood that the BPS is about to move into. This will come back to bite them.

Unfortunately, I don’t see any indication that the BPS sees either the opportunity or the serious danger in what they are doing. At some point in September, this will go before the Boston School Committee, and that may well be the last chance to stop it. Put September 17th on your calendar…(of course, they’ll probably change the date, but that won’t matter).



Filed under Boston Public Schools, Charter Schools

8 responses to “The dogs may bark…

  1. Kathy

    Has Boston Partners in Education ever run a school before? Looks like they just provide volunteers for schools. That is certainly not the same as running one.

  2. Great question, Kathy. When asked, “Who is running the Dudley Neighborhood Charter School,” both John McDonough and DSNI have said, “BPE.” Even if that is the case, it does not qualify them to take on this project. I would say that this project is ripe for the introduction (after the School Committee vote) of a large charter management organization. That could be either a for-profit company, or a nonprofit.

  3. Pearl

    Where’s Wal(sh)do??

    • Thank you, Pearl. That’s a great question, cleverly put. Someone said to me last night that they think that the Mayor has been clear with the BPS that he wants this project to go forward, as planned. That’s this person’s explanation for why McDonough is so stubbornly holding onto an idea that has managed to gain opposition from so many quarters.I don’t know. I’ve not heard any public statement from the Mayor on this project.

      • Pearl

        …so Marty has been thoroughly “schooled” in the Menino Image Management re: Education (MIME) workshops: Assert what you want privately, say (almost) nothing publicly, and let your Superintendent (Acting, in this case) take all the heat for the lack of vision and community input. We have seen this show before…..

  4. You’ve got it…Politics 101

  5. Shirley Kressel

    I don’t know where Tito Jackson got his information, but I spoke directly to the Executive Director of the MSBA board, aa well as to one of the board members, and it is not true that we’d automatically lose the state funding for requesting a change of site. It requires a justification from the mayor laying out the reasons for the change. Note that the BPS’s initial Statement of Interest stated flatly that “The building has a substantial historical significance in the community; therefore closing it is not a viable option. Instead, the district prefers to invest in the community by fulfilling the Boston Mayor’s commitment to rehabilitate the school.” Who made the decision to tear it down? When? And why? It has certainly come as a surprise to the community, which witnessed and participated in a design process for a “major rehabilitation and general renovation to be brought up to date for current educational needs.” Whenever it was that the demolition decision was made, no new feasibility study was done to evaluate alternative sites. The BPS has done its due diligence, and a site feasibility study should be done, since the BPS itself declared that this historic building was not even to be closed, much less demolished.

  6. Thanks, Shirley, for your comment and, especially, for your passion on this issue. Yes, I have since heard this about the MSBA, as well. That was another version of the Fear Card. Tito did not divulge the source of his information, then, and surely won’t now. I choose to believe that someone in authority actually told him that, at some point.

    It does raise the issue of why the City seems to be so intent to “shoehorn” the new building into that lot. Someone said to me at the last meeting that they don’t want to move it to another Dudley area lot because the Dudley real estate market is red hot. Because of the sense that Dudley is on the rise, the City already has plans for those other lots that involve important people making lots of money. I don’t want to believe that it would be that sort of thing, but, when you don’t get a reasonable explanation for stubborn adherence to a plan in the face of serious and compelling opposition, my mind does tend to wander in that direction.

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