The Parent Imperfect is having a hard time focusing on anything else. Maybe writing something here will help me deal with the anger and frustration I feel about the upcoming meeting of the Boston School Committee. At that meeting, Committee Chair, Michael Loconto will run a zipped-up lawyerly kind of meeting at which he and his colleagues (several of them sporting long faces to show that they hate to do it) will vote on the proposed closing of West Roxbury High and Urban Science Academy. Unless you and I get to the Mayor in the meantime, the School Committee will approve the Mayor’s proposal (dutifully delivered by the BPS) and two school communities will get the ax. The editorial myopes at the Boston Globe will probably have an editorial ready, extolling the Magnificent Seven (now six, with the timely resignation of Dr. Miren Uriarte) for their courageous decision. To make an omelette, you have to break some eggs, right?
If you believe that the BPS should be able to find some alternative to closing these schools, call, Marty Walsh, the man who can shift this thing in a hot minute. Tell him you oppose the closings of Westie High and Urban Science Academy, and you vote! You have no one to hold accountable, but him. If you have time, make a couple of other calls, too. Maybe this will help:
Mayor Marty Walsh, 617-635-4500, firstname.lastname@example.org , @marty_walsh
Interim BPS Supt., Laura Perille, 617-635-9050, email@example.com , @lperille
School Committee Chair, Michael Loconto, 617-635-9014, firstname.lastname@example.org , @mtloconto
City Council Ed Chair, 617-635-4376, Annissa Essaibi-George, email@example.com, @AnnissaforBos
By now, people know the arguments. I’m not convinced, but let’s take it for granted that the building, one of the newest in the system, is bad and should not be housing students. Okay, but who approved building a school complex on a wetland right down the hill from a capped landfill in West Roxbury? Maybe that was a tenth grader at Urban Science Academy. Who fiddled while it was obvious that water damage was seriously undermining the building structure? Must have been that Spanish teacher at Westie High. Who approved and then carried out tens of millions of dollars in repairs that never addressed the problem? I bet it was the parent featured on WBUR, talking about what the autism program at Westie High has meant to his son. I am willing to bet that corruption and political favors were present at every turn, and I hope some investigative journalist will tell the story. For now, the important point is that none of the students, parents or teachers now involved with either of the schools bear responsibility for this tale of woe, but the Boston School Committee is about to impose all of the costs of the affair on exactly those students, parents and teachers.
The Boston Public Schools is made up of 125 school communities, administered out of the Bolling Building and knit together by a shared mission to provide high-quality education to all children in Boston. My children have been part of four of those school communities, so I know well that every one of them has its strengths and its weaknesses, and these weaknesses lead to practices that can do serious damage to some of the kids entrusted to those communities by their parents. But one of my most challenging realizations as a parent in the BPS is that even our most “troubled” schools (and I don’t mean the ones whose children don’t do as well as some others on standardized tests) play critical roles in the lives of many of the families involved in them. Most importantly, closing down a school community and scattering its students to the wind leaves too many struggling students and their families in even worse situations.
University of Chicago researcher, Eve Ewing, recently published a study of the impact of the mass school closings inflicted on the Chicago Public Schools just a few years ago. Ghosts in the Schoolyard should be required reading for anyone involved with Build BPS. The message is that school closings aren’t an administrative thing: They destroy connections among people for whom those connections are very important. In unequal systems, school closing tend to worsen inequities. A teacher from the McCormack Middle School, another school threatened with closing in the Build BPS scheme, distributed copies of Ghosts in the Schoolyard to the Interim BPS Superintendent and all members of the School Committee. I wonder if they’ve read the book.
The closing of a school building need not mean the dismantling of the school community. As I write this, Boston Arts Academy is being housed in a temporary space while a state-of-the-art new arts facility is being created for it across the street from Fenway Park. Students at the Dearborn School in Roxbury were temporarily relocated to space in the Burke High School while the old Dearborn building was razed and a new STEM academy rose in its place. Neither of these situations was ideal, but the temporary relocation to “swing” space was seen as much preferable to the dispersion of the school community. Where there is a will, there is a way.
In presenting the plan to close the schools at the West Roxbury Educational Complex (WREC) to a community meeting in Roslindale, Interim BPS Superintendent, Laura Perille, insisted that the District had looked into all available options for relocating one or both of the schools, but that there was simply no appropriate BPS space into which to relocate the schools. Questioned about whether the District had considered using non-BPS space as swing space, she answered that all reasonable options had been considered. Sorry, Laura, but I just don’t buy it. I am to believe that, in a city like Boston, with tax-exempt universities occupying such a large part of the land mass, there is no place to which 200-300 students could be relocated for a transition period? The Mayor currently has his people scouring the City and calling in favors to find an alternative space for Roxbury Prep that will defuse the conflict over 361 Belgrade. Surely, those same fixers could turn up a swing space for these two schools…if only two public schools mattered as much as a charter. Those people vote: The Mayor listens.
And so, I will sit there as Mr. Loconto, Esq. wrings a vote out of his School Committee colleagues. But first, there will be time for community people to scream into the darkness during the abbreviated public comment period, and scream people will. If only the members sitting before them had any sense of accountability to anyone other than the man from Dorchester. And then, of course, the obligatory round of pre-vote apologies from the other committee members, saying how much they value the voice of the community they are about to gash. Each time I go to one of these meetings, I am more ready to face the obvious risks of an elected school committee. I was not a BPS parent in the 1970s, but I was here to behold John Kerrigan and Pixie P.
As I sit there, I’ll be thinking about the recent talk by Chicago activist, Jitu Brown, to the Winter Assembly of the Massachusetts Educational Justice Alliance (MEJA). “School closings and the disappearance of affordable housing have been at the center of a strategy to remove displace people of color from cities all over this country,” Brown told an audience of fired up teachers, students and parents. Then he talked about the tactic of “taking over” meetings of Chicago’s appointed School Committee, when it became clear that they just weren’t going to listen to community people. Will Build BPS bring us to that same point? Something has got to give…