Angry students, parents and residents confront BPS on West Roxbury school closings

Parent Imperfect reports on a BuildBPS meeting in Roslindale that was supposed to focus on what BPS will be doing in Roslindale over the next decade but which instead became a session for people to demand BPS do more for kids at West Roxbury Academy and the Urban Science Academy than just let them disappear across the system when the schools shut. Also, seems nobody's yet produced the ISD reports that BPS says show the building they're in is about to fall apart.


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A frustrating night

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It seems that BuildBPS is both a "EMERGENCY CLOSURE" and "These changes won't affect anyone with kids currently in BPS because they're so far out" plan.

The WREC students and teachers deserve better than this lack of planning. BPS has known for years about the deteriorating condition (again, no ISD report made available) of that building, but only made "emergency patches" without ever considering the need for an alternate swing space. Well now they cry "emergency" and have nowhere to put the schools from that building, other than dispersing them throughout the system. What happens when the next emergency happens at one of our 90+ year-old buildings? Where are the swing spaces to keep communities intact?

As far as the rest of the Roslindale plan goes, they will be getting rid of the pathway middle school (The Irving), without giving current BPS elementary kids any clear pathway past their small K-5 schools. They won't expand them until they empty the buildings to remodel, which is so many years down the road that few kids currently in BPS will see the benefits. Meanwhile, these buildings are currently falling to pieces.

Where could you build a new school here?

Absent Sacred Heart closing, it's not clear to me where there's a big enough location to build another K-8 in Roslindale. Up on Belgrade where the new developments are going in would have worked, but that ship has sailed. None of the existing school lots are big enough to build something bigger on that I can see... Even something like Triple Crown Storage which appears to be under-utilized land is too small.


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They aren't talking K-8s in Roslindale. They want K-6s, but will only reconfigure schools to that if they drop strands. The plan seems to be closing, renovating, and re-opening the current Irving building as a K-6, where existing Roslindale schools can "apply" to get the building. So I guess principals and SPCs are supposed to compete with one another over the new space.

Not sure I get it

I'm familiar with the Bates and the Conley - I think both have two strands from K-5. The Bates used to have a floating class which could be 4 or 5 depending on demand but that was when AWC was it's own strand. I believe AWC is gone now, right?

So the Bates would have one strand from K-5 and then have 5-6 extra classes for say, science and art and a library? That sounds good on paper but K-5 is where there actually is capacity demand. So the new K-6 Irving would take up that slack I guess.

Or would it be like the Bates is K-2 and the Conley is 3-6?

They are such small, limited buildings, it's hard to picture. And of course none of them have dedicated art, gym or science spaces currently, which sucks out loud.

Lack of details

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I don't think most of us get it. And I understand and support the fact that the Roslindale meeting was mostly about WREC because that situation is not acceptable. But their explanation about how schools will reconfigure was not very clear and certainly not detailed.


It makes sense to renovate the schools in a cascade, where one Roslindale elementary school moves into the Irving and becomes a K-6, and then the building they just moved out of gets rehabilitated, or torn down and rebuilt (whichever is necessary), and then another elementary school moves into that building and becomes a K-6, and so on.

Although Boston is really only facing space constraints in the early grades, other nearby districts are facing greater space constraints and are addressing it in a cascade fashion, although for example Newton is also using a school as "swing space" so that a school under rebuilding/remodeling can locate there temporarily and then move back to its original location. That's happening on a three-year cycle, until 2043, when I guess they can start all over again.

Here's my question

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How can the BPS only have space constrains in the early grades? Do the kids drop out before middle school?

I'm not doubting you, since I've read this in other places, but it makes no sense. If, as a theoretical, there are 2,000 first graders now, one would think that in 9 years we'll have 2,000 9th graders, give or take.

But that's never been the case

K-3 - eh, it's about socialization as saving childcare money as much as anything else. Once you get up to 3-5 grade, people start thinking about getting their kids into the 'right' high school which often requires getting into the right 7th grade. And that's when people start bailing out of BPS.

Wu brought this up in her tweets last night - are we building schools for what we aspire to have (quality schools K-12) or what we need (more quality seats from K-5 than 6-12). It's a chicken/egg problem.

Mixed Signals, Charters, and Parochials

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BPS sends mixed signals all over the place. Last night they said that K-8s like the BTU have cannibalized the middle school population. Except the school was originally going to be K-5, and BPS said it had to be K-8 because folks wanted an alternative to the Irving.

Otherwise, charter schools and parochial schools have siphoned off a lot of middle school students.

Another issue is the bizarre structure of the exam schools 7-12 (one that BPS wants to emulate with other high schools in the future). But if you have a cohort arrive at a middle school in 6th grade, and then in 7th grade the part of the cohort with highest test scores leaves... Imagine watching 25% of your class depart while you stay put at a school that has been badly neglected by BPS already.

It seems like a big answer is with the high schools

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Make them all 7-12, and the rest will sort itself out.

A big thanks to the three people who replies (so far.) I'm parochial until the money runs out, so my fear is that junior's classmates' parents will run out of cash before us. There was a drop in class size between K0 (yes, it's a thing) and K1, and for K2 there are even less kids. It sounds like we might see these kids again, or they are headed to the burbs. I think most of the kids who left went BPS, though.


A lot of parents keep their children in parochial schools while they have repeated goes at the BPS lottery. When they finally ‘win’ a school they like they take the seat.

To some extent

BPS has fewer seats as kindergarten reaches down to daycare. So your odds get better every year. Also, with more kids you benefit from sibling preference. Some families roll the dice repeatedly and then give up.

I did look up the numbers

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And there does seem to be a cratering of the BPS population for grades 6 through 8. But again, the kids have to be somewhere for those 3 years. The whole thing is weird.

Crater is a little bigger

The crater is a little bigger. Check out the Build BPS Demographics Report.

There's a couple hundred student drop from third to fourth grades, and then about five or six hundred more leave between fourth and fifth. The number stays low, until it increases again, by about a thousand, in ninth grade, but then about five hundred are gone again by tenth grade.

I don't think it's really the same thousand or so kids going somewhere else for middle school. I think some kids are leaving (mostly families leaving the city or moving to private school), and other kids are coming into the system (mostly kids who went to private or parochial school for the early grades).

Simple answers

Lots of parents give the BPS a shot and then pull their kids out for private schools or the suburbs.

Especially at inflection points like
-the test for AWC (do they still have that?)
-the test for the exam schools
-the start of high school

It takes some fortitude

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I would put the level of instruction and community my kids have up against any school in the commonwealth. But dealing with the Bolling Building is truly a test of resolve.


It's not that bad IF

IF, you live in a neighborhood with some decent choices for K-5 (like Roslindale)
IF you get into one of those schools
IF your kid tests into an exam school.

We've had relatively smooth sailing but I know other families who's kids have been bounced around due to a huge variety of factors.

The leadership is bad though - Johnson didn't seem to try very hard, Chang never had much support from Walsh. etc... There are a lot, lot of great principles and teachers out there though.

Great discussion

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Happy to see such a good discussion of this topic.

Someone answered the question about the middle school "crater" well. Between the growing K-8 population and the expansion of charters, the number of students available to the middle schools has been dropping quickly. This is one of the places where charter expansion is "biting" the BPS (the budget is another, and the buildings is a third).

Given this and other bites ("Death by a Thousand Cuts"), and the truly alarming condition of some buildings after decades of inadequate maintenance, BPS faces a period of consolidation. Marty has been shy about this issue since it blew up in his face over the famous McKinsey report. How many times did he say, "We have no plans to close schools!"?

Plans change. Laura Perille has been instructed to push forward NOW. The timing may be good. Boston's economy is booming right now, so it ought to be possible to bring the schools into this century, while honoring the important role played by public school communities in the city. There may never be a better time. Upgrading the school facilities means $$$, and if you look at it, you'll see that the City is not yet all in on its schools. Much of the boasting about "$1 billion for Build BPS" is about a lot of smoke and mirrors.

Westie Academy and Urban Science Academy are, together, an important test case for Build BPS, and the McCormack is just over the horizon. These communities will not go quietly into the night. It won't be easy to keep them together in a transition, but nor is it brain surgery. It requires a willingness to listen and to go out of our way to create a "win-win' for everyone. The whole Build BPS project teeters on the outcome of this test.

But they said WREC is not part of BuildBPS

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WREC is not part of BuildBPS - it's an emergency that some up. They've combined it with BuildBPS giving it nothing but a negative start. Why not have begun such a huge undertaking with some positives? Making a bunch of k-5's they mentioned k-6's off the bat? Expanding some of our more successful high schools like ACC or BCLA rather than expand a school in turnaround status?

And, we talk about spending money- why not spend the 3.5 million/year over the next three years to keep WREC kids together? What are our values? Shouldn't we be supporting a relatively successful cohort? Wouldn't that build trust with the rest of BPS? Or, worst case, let them "rent" space from Madison Park for three years until these kids finish. They're almost 2000 kids under enrolled. The thing is, how they treat these kids, is reflective of how they'll treat the rest of our kids. Who wants to enroll in a Roslindale k-5 in k2 to be closed down when your kid is in grade 3?

The idea to build new schools and create less transitions is a grand one. However, we have the ability to do it with much less uncertainty and instability. At the very least, we could've thrown some positives into the start but as usual the Bolling building can't get out of its own way. When they don't talk to families, this is what happens.

Except they are listening to parents to some extent

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Because parents in South Boston and Dorchester have been advocating for Excel to become a 7-12 forever!!! This was a big push at the two build bps meetings I attended last year. Lots of people are very happy about this plan.

I do feel for the kids in WREC. They’re getting screwed by this. I hope BPS will find a place for them to stay together and I hope their teachers will commit to staying with them.

I also really like the idea of k-6/ 7-12. My kids are in a k-8 and I’m happy with it, but I absolutely would’ve chosen a K-6 had I had the option. I think most parents feel the same.

I feel like it’s the same few people attending all of these meetings and saying the same things over and over.