A BPS committee this evening rejected a proposal to shut Charlestown High School and use its building for a brand-new "innovation and inclusion" school that would be largely autonomous from BPS and would limit enrollment to students from elementary schools in Charlestown and the North End.
The unanimous vote by the committee - Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, School Committee Chairwoman Jeri Robinson and Boston Teachers Union Vice President Erik Berg - effectively kills a proposal by parents at the Eliot K-8 School to build out the new school, with enrollment that would have begun this September.
Cassellius, Robinson and Berg praised many of the ideas in the formal prospectus, which called for greater inclusion for students with particular learning disabilities in classrooms with two teachers apiece, a longer school day, and innovation in expanding programs to create dual college classes and workplace internships.
But they said the plan as written completely excluded existing Charlestown High School students, would simply boot existing high-school teachers and would create potential legal issues both for the school itself and BPS - for example, by changing the ways English-language learners are taught.
Most important, they said, they could not agree to a plan that had no participation at all from existing members of the Charlestown High School community, some existing families at the three elementary schools and parents of children with learning problems across the city. Parents who backed the plan said Cassellius kept them from talking to current Charlestown students and teachers; Cassellius said that was simply not true.
The proposal "does not align with the district commitment to equity," Cassellius said.
Berg said the proposed school day of 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. would exclude many existing students who already have classes or internships elsewhere - or who need to work to support their families.
Robinson said that if BPS were starting out with an empty building, the proposal would be great, "a wonderful experiment for us to do." But Charlestown High is not empty and she said she could not vote for a plan that would be so disruptive to existing students and staff.
The proposal "is breathtaking in its scope, in its rush and in its incompleteness," Berg said. "It envisions, really, a different student body than the current Charlestown High School programming serves." He questioned why the prospectus would simply end existing programs with Bunker Hill Community College and Cambridge College and said actually finding new partners would require significant fundraising and outreach work by parents with enough time to commit to something like that.
The three also said they doubted BPS could essentially start up a brand-new high school - and hire 150 new teachers for it - by the prospectus's proposed September start date, let alone readily and quickly extend any lessons learned to other BPS high schools.
During the Zoomed meeting, parents who supported the proposal said the prospectus was not a detailed plan and urged the committee to forward the plan to the School Committee for adoption, saying that approval would start a process for including everybody - and for modifying the proposal so that it could still work within a BPS framework even as it moves forward to deal with what they said is a failing school, one of the lowest rated in the state.
"Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," North End resident and BPS parent Mary O'Neill said. There is no "perfect solution that will magically improve all our open enrollment high schools."
She said BPS has been promising major changes for years with little to show with it. Instead, BPS enrollment keeps dropping - specifically at Charlestown - as many parents simply abandon the system for other options - she said.
"No proposal is perfect," she said. "You can address concerns in the planning stages."
As one example, Brittany Hampton, with two children at the Eliot, said, the proposal's backers agree that all current ESL and special-education classes at the school should stay and, if anything grow - even though the formal plan calls for limiting such students to 25% of the new school's enrollment. The new school would also be Boston's second designated "inclusion" high school, parents said.
Hampton said it's past time for BPS to take bold steps to improve education, staring with Charlestown and then moving its lessons to the city's other non-exam schools. "We cannot rely on doing small things and expecting the dramatically different outcomes that our students deserve."
Another parent, Sarah Wharton, agreed, saying that with School Committee sign off, all stakeholders could be brought to the table to "move substantive change for a school that desperately needs it."
"Charlestown High has had decades to prove their model and by no fault of their students, they have failed," parent Karson Trager, who lives in Charlestown - within eyesight of the high school - said.
He said one of the current school's problems is that so many students come from so far away that their parents simply cannot spend the time it takes just to get there to create the sort of successful parent community that could really help the school
Two parents of Charlestown High School students spoke against the proposal.
Nichole Flynn said her daughter, a junior, has thrived there - she got an A in a class at Bunker Hill, with the help of a Charlestown teacher. Even if she were allowed into the new school, the 7-5 schedule would likely prove too taxing on her, she said, adding she's not in favor of adding another "exclusionary" school to the existing exam schools.
Catherine Brady, who lives in Charlestown and has two sons at the high school, said the proposal completely failed to acknowledge any of the good happening there. She said one of her sons has also thrived in an inclusion class, rather than being kept in a "substantially separate" class for learning disabilities.