Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Will a Brighton School Be On Tonight's Closure List?

A plan to close four to six schools will be unveiled at tonight's meeting of Boston's School Committee by Carol Johnson, Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools. The closures are being proposed to respond to declining enrollment and a budget shortfall.

Will an elementary school in Brighton be on the list of closures?

Superintendent Johnson has provided no advance warning of which schools will close, but has provided the latest indication that Brighton's Mary Lyon school -- which is currently a K-8 school -- will be approved to expand with a high school to become a K-12 school, according to the Boston Globe:
Her recommendations also include some new pilot schools to give administrators more autonomy to execute innovative programs. She said the Boston Teachers Union will start its own pilot school next year, while she'll support the desire of the Harbor Middle School to expand to grade 12 and for the Mary K. Lyons K-8 School to add a high school, which would be a pilot school.
The Mary Lyon high school would be the latest addition to Boston's twenty-or-so pilot schools, those with governance autonomy in setting their budget, work rules, curriculum, assessments, and school policies. It is not surprising that BPS would look favorably at the Mary Lyon proposal, since its elementary school is one of the best performing in the city.

The problem: Mary Lyon has little available real estate to accommodate the high school expansion. It's hard to imagine adding a high school building of any size to their existing property.

My prediction for the solution: Garfield Elementary School, which is literally down the block from Mary Lyon, will be on the list of schools to close. More specifically, Garfield would be "reprogrammed" in order to convert its elementary school buildings into the high school expansion proposal for Mary Lyon.

The Garfield facilities can accommodate substantially more students -- and it has done so in past years -- than current enrollment at the school. The unused facilities at the school are a visible symptom of the declining enrollment problem in BPS, which has experienced a 7 percent decline in enrollment district-wide since 2003.

Most other elementary schools in Allston-Brighton are unlikely targets for school closure in today's announcement, at least in my mind. The Jackson-Mann K-8 school has many programs which could not easily be relocated: pre-kindergarten; Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; special needs class; and a community center. The Gardner Pilot Academy converted to pilot school status a couple of years ago and is showing signs of strong leadership and expanding community support -- although BPS turned down its proposal to expand to K-8 from K-5. Baldwin Early Learning Center is the only pilot school among the BPS's early education centers (which serve pre-kindergarten through first grade), and last year received accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The Winship School has shown strong gains in MCAS scores recently, particularly with the school's recent focus on science education, and was recently renovated. Only the Hamilton Elementary School might be considered a candidate alongside the Garfield for closure in Allston-Brighton.

The challenge faced by the superintendent and the school committee is to justify any school closing not just on the existing realities of enrollment and budget, but also on how the modified schools in the area -- whether reprogrammed from elementary to high school, or students transferred to other surrounding schools -- will be improved in such a way to benefit the children. Will a new high school, building on the proven track record of Mary Lyon School, create a new center for learning in western Brighton that acts as a magnet for keeping families in the area? Will transferred elementary students now have access to improved science facilities, better after-school options, or expanded arts and music education opportunities? The committee and superintendent will now have a job of salesmanship, regardless of which schools they recommend for closure.

Sure, this is all speculation... and we'll know more after tonight's meeting of the Boston School Committee at the Edward Winter Chamber at 26 Court Street, Boston, at 6:00 pm.

Image of Mary Lyon from the National Women's History Museum.

Disclosure: the author is the co-chair of the Governing Board at the Baldwin ELC in Brighton, a pilot school. Any opinions expressed here represent mine alone, and not those of any other group or organization.

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