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BPS rejects parent proposal to shut Charlestown High School to make way for new school largely free of BPS oversight

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.

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Comments

Parents wanted to invest time and money trying something new at a failing school. Politics got in the way. This is a real shame, and the 3600 kids aged 0-17 in Charlestown, along with the current students, are the losers in all of this.

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Are you saying there are 0 challenges with this plan?

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I would have taken the wayyyy under on that.

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Don’t currently send their kids to BPS for obvious reasons. This would have allowed them to.

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Great summary, thanks Adam.

I hope the petitioners come back with an improved plan, none of the three-member committee’s objections (or the parents’) are to the basic proposal of converting Charlestown to an innovation school.

Out of curiosity (and I’ll go look for myself in a second), how many tries did it take to get the Eliot innovation proposal accepted?

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Voting closed 667

The Eliot innovation proposal came from within the school community so those proposals, while not always an easy path, typically do not have much resistance. As long as teachers are on board, innovation plans move forward.

The Charlestown proposal never had a chance. Why ANYBODY would think that this proposal had a chance is beyond me. Every aspect of the proposal was meant to gentrify Charlestown High.

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The drafters said they were in favor of open enrollment to everyone in the city. The initial proposal discussed the possibility of preferences for Charlestown/north end elementary schools, but it was discarded.

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Sounds like there are some major communications issues between the two sides (also see the issue of whether or not the parents were allowed to talk to people at Charlestown High).

The BPS analysis even looked at how many kids would come from the three specific K-8 schools - and concluded there wouldn't be enough to fill all the available seats.

But again, I'm going off what BPS said at the meeting.

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Voting closed 332

What possible reason would the parents have for making up a story about BPS blocking access to teachers/enrolled student families? It made the parents’ job demonstrably more difficult. Casellius blocked access, directed the parents to engage with the BPS central administration instead, then the administration suggested the parents wait at least a year before releasing the proposal.

This was a targeted political move by Casellius. Why is that so hard to imagine?

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But why SHOULD BPS grant access to the school community? The proposal didn't come from anyone currently involved with the school, why would teachers, staff, students, families have to spend any time talking to people who just want to tell them their school is failing? If I were the parent of a Charlestown HS student, I would be very grateful that the district protected my kid from having to listen to these people.

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and use the lack of outreach as a basis to seny the proposal.

you are making a strawman thats not relevant.

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So they have invented new branding for Segregation.

Interesting.

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You don’t know anything about this topic, and you don’t live in Boston.

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Was when white people moved to the suburbs

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Judge Garrity, is that you, coming to visit us from beyond the grave?

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From a woman from a suburb about as diverse as Charlestown.

Oh, and let's not forget that it's a town that forbids outsiders from using its beach.

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Get a beach?

I know the coasts are eroding, but (expletive), that was quick. Does that Thunberg kid know about this?

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Swirly brought it up a while back as an example of how to handle parking at recreational facilities. I decided to look into it and was amazed that I would be turned away if I tried to walk into the facility.

I was going to claim that Charlestown was more diverse than Medford, but that would have been too much of a stretch for me. That said, close to 50% of the under 18 population of Charlestown is non-White. If I could track down the under 18 numbers for Medford, I would have made a comparison or just would have said nothing. And to be clear, the proposal, as it was made, was a bit fishy, but to say that it was a return to segregated education was clearly 1974 thinking in 2021.

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Where I come from, water access is for all. Borders are a cancer, especially small ones. How Napoleonic.

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Enough is enough!

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Spend a few minutes on this page, why would anyone want to change this?

https://reportcards.doe.mass.edu/2020/00350515

This is the final grade

Overall, our school is among the lowest performing high schools statewide.

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If you go by these 28 Lake Woebegone metrics, CHS is a pretty above-average school (sometimes even above-above-average!), thank you very much!

https://schoolyardnews.com/is-charlestown-high-a-failing-school-is-your-...

But yes, this school has dropped 33% of its attendees in the last decade with another 10 or 15% drop next year, can’t find a graduation metric to get them above 60-70% graduation rate, and is going to get put out of its misery soon.

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Could the School Committee have tabled the proposal and asked the proponents to come back with a revised plan that included input from existing Charlestown High parents and the teachers with best practices from existing programs?

No doubt not talking to parents and suggesting all teachers resign and reapply to the new school was a real deal breaker. However, BPS administrators told the proponents *not* to speak with parents or the school directly, but to present their proposal to the powers-that-be at Bolling Building. Bit of a set-up.

With all the busing that is required of CHS students and the distance of the school from many of their working parents, it makes it very hard to engage families in making the school better.

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What a surprise, parents want to improve a school and BPS squashes the proposal. Kids are learning nothing in BPS school’s right now including the exam schools. There are no teachers showing up to work.

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This sums it up

How many more generations of students should risk forfeiting their opportunity for a solid education until BPS improves

?

We spend 23 thousand dollars per student and our schools are still an embarrassment.
Officials use a lot of buzzwords like inequity in education, yet they are the ones running the schools so if there is inequity maybe they should look in the mirror.
Every year enrollment numbers decline because parents pull their kids out,
then officials use that fact to cry inequity.
Our youngest attends the O'Bryant which isn't awful and our oldest is in private school ( thanks to a 2nd mortgage) so I'm very familiar with the whole system

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How would people with no experience setting up a school be able to successfully set up a school?

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How have the people with lots of experience in setting up a school done?

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I think any school or distict that you would deem successful is being run by well-trained people with lots of experience.

The phrase "you don't know what you don't know" is important here.

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If they're willing to hire good teachers and a successful administrator and then commit to getting out of those peoples' way while they do the work they all have trained to do, it absolutely will be a more successfully run school than any of the ones currently having to deal with BPS Central interference.

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And is failing miserably.

It’s a change in direction which BPS desperately needs.

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Well, many of us BPS Parents have multiple years of experience learning how NOT to set up and run a school.

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I'll give you an example, our youngest attended the Condon in Southie and the principal thought his politics were
important enough to send fliers home with kids about police only protecting one race of people, and removing the american flag from the auditorium and replacing it wit a BLM flag etc. , guess what the State's school report card says.

Overall, our school is among the lowest performing elementary and middle schools statewide.

If the school was successful I think most parents would overlook the other stuff but it pisses you off when they are wasting time and effort on things which have no impact on improving education in their school.
There have been plenty of complaints but they are ignored as usual, and he is still in charge.

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I commend the parents that spearheaded this proposal while recognizing that the ability to even propose it is a privilege. The counter-arguments quoted from the committee and existing CHS parents seem incredibly weak when held up to any sort of light.

For example:

"one of her sons has also thrived in an inclusion class"

Doesn't the proposal include inclusive classes?

"let alone readily and quickly extend any lessons learned to other BPS high schools"

I realize that BPS is beholden to certain equality standards, but arguing against _any_ improvements because we’re currently unsure how implement them elsewhere is a guarantee that nothing will ever improve.

"the 7-5 schedule would likely prove too taxing on her"

:-|

"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"

AKA
"There are some things that, in my knee-jerk assessment, could be improved, so we need to reject exploring it further"

I hope that the committee will consider a modified prospectus that accounts for the few legitimate concerns and possible improvements that were raised. We must move forward with change.

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I really wish that the people talking about "failing" schools and "successful" ones would take five minutes to educate themselves on the relationship between income levels and test scores.

And if you already are educated on this then you know that "failing" and "successful" are coded language.

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We spend on average 23k per student in the BPS, no one is denied an education if they come from a poor family.
It's just an excuse used by the education bureaucracy. My oldests grades improved when he got to high school and left the BPS system.
It had nothing to do with how much we earn.

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Did white parents really think theyd be able to back door an entire new majority-white high school into the BPS overnight?! Right at the time were trying to diversify the best options in the city?!

HAHAHAHA that's HILARIOUS.

A Charlestown/North End only HIgh school (the whitest residential neighborhoods in Boston)? a school that go from 25% white to 62% white like they did the Eliot K-8?

How dumb do you think the rest of us are???? It's amazing the hubris.

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For AdamG:
Where does the prospectus indicate that it "would limit enrollment to students from elementary schools in Charlestown and the North End"?

From the prospectus:

Students with disabilities are given first preference to the maximum capacity based on the ratio of staff to students. The remaining seats available will go to students from additional neighborhoods across the city based on the percentage of school aged children in each neighborhood (Option 2) to ensure equal opportunity for access from all neighborhoods. Sibling preference will continue to be in effect. For 7th and 8th grades, CIIHS will follow the neighborhood-preference entry model, which is based on the existing school-based assignment plan and ensure opportunity for neighborhood-based entry.

For the committee:
"the plan as written completely excluded existing Charlestown High School students"
What is this claim based on?

Again, from the prospectus:

there are currently around 700 students enrolled at Charlestown High School. Regardless of the enrollment pattern that is selected, students currently enrolled at
Charlestown High School would automatically be enrolled at the new innovation school
. These students would be given the necessary support systems to still graduate on-time and prepared to succeed in college and career.

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The opposition to this was based on feelings, not hard data. And it was support by blatant dissembling regarding the proposal.

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Text version of the prospectus.

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Am I really the only one to have read this article and immediately think "the reason BPS can't support this proposal is because it cuts teacher unions out?"

I am lucky enough to be able to send my child to private school. For those of you who would immediately hate hate on me - yes I KNOW that is a privilege, but I hope the constant, daily anxiety over me or my spouse losing a job or getting into a car accident and potentially having to wreck my kid's entire future as a result counts as appropriate self-flagellation.

That being said ... whenever someone asks me why we made that choice, my first response is always "the problem with BPS is not the students, it's the teachers union." It prioritizes older teachers who may or may not have lost their passion - and does nothing to support incoming candidates who have passion and new ideas, but not connections.

I have no doubt being a teacher in a city environment is hard - but is it really "we need a union hard"? They're not working in a meat packing plant, or running into burning buildings, or chasing down bank robbers, or saving lives on a 24/7 hospital schedule. They're also not cleaning dirty hotel rooms or serving food to ungrateful college students. Unions are wonderful things meant to protect the vulnerable who have no other recourse. But if 7:30 - 2 with a 183 day work year and 18 hours of (paid) professional development are considered unfair work conditions, I really, really need to speak to my own boss.

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I am lucky enough to be able to send my child to private school. For those of you who would immediately hate hate on me

Hate? I glowingly and fawningly praise you for having a child while ensuring that you had the capital to take care of them yourself without begging a terrible, complacent community to help you.

As for your question about teaching being "We need a union" hard, that's a faulty question. Teachers don't have a union because their job is hard (which I can't answer), they have a union because they can.

Anyone who thinks that public school teachers get too much money are welcome to stop impregnating women. That remains a voluntary act, and then teachers would get $0.

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