Concerns aplenty from CAMH on plan for O’Bryant School

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

     As part of its regular meeting on Wednesday, July 19, the Community Alliance of Mission Hill (CAMH) hosted Anshi Moreno from the Mayor’s Office of Policy & Strategic Planning to provide a quick update and field questions and comments about plans to potentially move the O’Bryant School.

     In early June, Mayor Michelle Wu, alongside the Superintendent of Boston Public Schools (BPS) Mary Skipper, announced that a state-of-the-art STEM campus would be built for the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science at the West Roxbury Education Complex.

     The plans would make it so that the O’Bryant School and its students would be moving from Roxbury, where it currently shares a campus with the Madison Park Technical Vocational High School.

     According to Moreno’s presentation during CAMH’s meeting last month, the move would allow the school to expand its enrollment to 2,000 students — up from 1,600 — provide things like state-of-the-art science and engineering labs, allow for expanded programming, and give the school access to better athletic facilities.

     Despite all that is projected to be gained from the move, many, including those at the latest CAMH meeting, had some questions and concerns.

     One of the chief concerns among those in attendance at the meeting was transportation, especially considering the school has students from places like Roxbury, Dorchester, and East Boston.

     One resident questioned the possibility of increased commute times dissuading students from attending.

     However, Moreno indicated that transportation planning with shuttle routes as well as analysis of travel times will be completed. “We want to make sure that the average travel time is the same or lower,” said Moreno. 

     “The goal is to make sure that transportation’s not the reason a family chooses not to send their child here,” she added.

     Not only did residents have comments about transportation regarding commute times for students, but also in light of how the move might affect transportation in Mission Hill.

     “You talk about transportation; how does that affect Mission Hill? We’re dealing — and I think it’s next on the agenda — on, you know, traffic and redoing bus routes down some of the main roads on our streets, so all of that needs to be collectively talked about,” said the resident.

     Another concern relating to transportation and the move was that students would be placed further away from different partnerships or internship opportunities they enjoy now at places like the Wentworth Institute of Technology. 

     While Moreno acknowledged the move is slated for years from now, she said, “That’s going to be part of the next few years, building those partnerships, and thinking through what that looks like and also working closely with West Roxbury and that community there to make sure that when students come there that they feel that they’re welcomed in that space.”

     Another big topic brought up during this meeting was community engagement and public process.

     “I ask as you’re looking at this and, you know, taking another look as you say into how to, you know, pull this apart and make this transition happen or not happen — really make it an honest, open dialogue, not a fake massed we had x amount of presentations, and you can put it on a screen dialogue,” said a resident.

     Moreover, multiple residents commented that they believed that the decision to move the O’Bryant was a done deal. 

     “It appears the decision has already been made, and now the task from the city is to convince folks why it was the only/best choice,” said one resident in the meeting’s Zoom Chat.

     Another resident echoed this point in the chat, writing, “This is the main problem with the process to date; the decision is already made without getting early enough input from the community.”

     It should be noted that during her presentation, Moreno said, “Moving forward, we’re really committed to publicizing the engagements that we’re doing and also answering some of the questions that are unclear.”

     For example, Moreno mentioned that answers to the most commonly asked questions would be posted online, explanations of why alternative sites would not be the best spot for the school would be publicized, and that there are plans for more community engagement sessions, specifically with students, families, school staff and more in the late summer and early fall.

     While there seem to be many concerns with plans to move the O’Bryant School, Moreno said, “Right now, we’re in a little bit of a pause while students and families are away for the summer, but in the fall, this will be revamped.”

            “We’re going to keep working on it,” she added.

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