Hill could see school shuffle

November 11, 2011
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Mission Hill could lose its namesake K-8 school and New Mission High—which currently share a building at 67 Alleghany St.—and get two new schools under a “2012 Facilities Plan” announced by Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Carol Johnson last month.

Since the plan’s announcement, vocal opposition has emerged among Mission Hill K-8 parents, supporters and opponents of the plan told the Gazette. Local City Councilor Mike Ross and other Mission Hill residents also oppose it.

The plan would have Mission Hill K-8 moving to the Agassiz School in Jamaica Plain and New Mission High School move to Hyde Park Educational Complex. The Edward Kennedy Academy For Health Careers, a charter school run by BPS and Northeastern University, would expand into the shuttered Farragut School Building at 10 Fenwood Road. Fenway High School would move into the Alleghany Street building.

BPS is fast-tracking the plan. Officials hope the Boston School Committee will vote on the plan at its Nov. 15 meeting, and that it will take effect next year.

Valerie Madden, a Mission Hill K-8 parent who supports the plan, told the Gazette this week that she has found herself in the minority among school parents. “I don’t believe the school is successful because of its building. I believe we would be successful on Mars,” she said.

“The community is very united in their opposition to the move,” another parent, Bob Goodman told the Gazette. About 50 parents opposed to the move attended a Nov. 7 meeting with Johnson, he said

Ross told the Gazette he is opposed to the move because his City Council district, which also includes Fenway, the Back Bay and Beacon Hill, already has few elementary school seats. He and other community members expressed concerns that the removal of the school would take away an incentive for young families to move to the Hill, at a time when the neighborhood is being overrun by college students.

BPS does not consider Mission Hill a separate neighborhood when it tracks student distribution, but BPS spokesperson Matt Wilder told the Gazette that 70 of Mission Hill K-8’s 163 students currently live in the one-mile “walk-zone” around the school.

At a Nov. 5 public meeting on the planned move at the Tobin School on Smith Street, Mission Hill resident Alison Pultinas—whose children are Mission Hill K-8 alums—said that getting those 70 students to the new JP school site would require busing that would significantly increase congestion on Mission Hill streets.

Another parent noted that youth programs at the nearby Tobin Community Center are sustained by a “critical mass” of local elementary school students.

Goodman said parental opposition is based on concerns about how the Agassiz School—at 20 Child St. in Jamaica Plain—will be divided up between the K-8 school and another school that is moving in, the Margarita Muñiz Academy, a new two-way bilingual high school.

Parents also have lingering concerns about the Agassiz’s reputation as a leaky “sick building,” where some claimed mold issues were causing respiratory problems for teachers and students. And they are concerned that the Agassiz building does not get enough sunlight.

In response to the “sick building” concerns, the city moved forward with a roof replacement project this year. The city also replaced all of the windows at the school prior to its closure last year.

“We are confident that the changes we have made responded to the concerns relative to the facility,” Johnson said in the phone conference with reporters last week.

Mission Hill K-8 Principal Ayla Gavins echoed Johnson’s comments, “I have seen enough documentation that the issues have been dealt with to satisfy me,” she said. That information will also be shared with parents, she said.

Parents had also expressed hopes that the school would be reestablished as a citywide school with the move. The school served students from across the city until last year, when it was turned into a North Zone school to cut down on BPS transportation costs.

At the Nov. 5 meeting, BPS Deputy Superintendent Michael Goar the school would become a dual zone school under the plan, serving both the North Zone, where it is currently located, and the West Zone, where it would end up.

Some Fenway High students are opposed to moving to the Hill. In a video of the Nov. 2 School Committee meeting—available on the City of Boston website—numerous Fenway High students can be seen wearing “Defend Fenway” T-shirts and testified in opposition to the move to Mission Hill. “Fenway shouldn’t be in a rush to move,” one student said.

Ross told the Gazette his understanding is that New Mission High is happy with the move to Hyde Park. That school has long-outgrown its half of the Alleghany Street location, he said.

New Mission High School Principal Naia Wilson did not respond to a Gazette phone call requesting comment.

A member of the Kennedy Academy oversight board said at the Nov. 5 meeting that school is happy about the expansion to the Farragut but hopes it will be a temporary move and that NU will eventually make space to house the entire school on its campus.

Despite the neighborhood changes, there are currently no plans to change any of the schools’ names, Johnson said in a conference call.

The 2012 Facilities Plan calls for 10 schools to be expanded or created. The changes would provide 700 more seats at some of BPS’s highest-performing schools, according to an outline of the plan on the BPS website.

The goal is to “expand excellence throughout out the school community…Hundreds of more students will have access to high-quality programs,” Johnson said in a conference call with reporters last week.

The moves would allow Mission Hill K-8 to add a 30-student pre-kindergarten classes. It would allow New Mission High to add 140 students for a total of 400. Fenway High would add 120 seats, for a total of 440.  The Kennedy Health Careers Academy would add 175 seats, growing to 400. At that school 9th and 10th graders would have classes at the Farragut, and 11th and 12th grade classrooms would remain on the Northeastern campus. Overall, the school would expand by 175 seats to 400.

 

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