School Superintendent Brenda Cassellius today recommended that the School Committee vote to permanently shut, rather than try to fix, the Mission Hill K-8 School.
The School Committee is scheduled to vote on the proposal at a special meeting next week. At its regular meeting tonight, though, a number of Mission Hill parents urged the committee to reject the proposal and work with them and teachers to improve a school they said their kids love and at which they are getting a good education.
Cassellius's recommendation is based on a report by an outside lawyer about problems, in particular under Ayla Gavins, principal until 2019, that led to a culture of bullying and sexual harassment of some students by other students, one that did not stop even after two new co-principals were brought in - and then themselves suspended, BPS says. A separate report by an outside educational consulting firm found significant differences in the academic achievement of White and minority students.
A BPS analysis concludes:
Even with serious interventions during SY 2021-22, including the removal of school leaders and other educators, infusion of significant Central Office support, and extensive staff training, the school has failed to make the necessary improvements. Unfortunately, this has led to the conclusion that children will continue to be harmed if the school remains open.
By closing the school, the district will:
- Immediately remove students from a culture that has negatively impacted many students’ growth
- Increase the likelihood that students will be safe from verbal and physical student-on-student incidents or bullying.
- Increase the likelihood that students with disabilities will have their educational needs met.
- Increase the likelihood that all students will have access to standards-aligned, grade-level instruction.
In e-mail to parents today, Cassellius wrote:
Nothing about this decision is easy. We understand the disruption families will face as they choose a new school that best matches their childrens’ needs. We also know that the Mission Hill community might be divided on the appropriate next steps that should be taken. However, as the investigative findings make clear, the culture of the school, which allowed these events to continue over time, is beyond repair. Furthermore, the lack of accountability shown by school leadership leaves no hope that simple changes in leadership or governance structure would address the pervasive, underlying issues that contributed to the unsafe conditions at the school.
At a School Committee meeting tonight, though, several Mission Hill parents said the school''s unique decentralized approach can be fixed to provide the quality education they said their children are getting.
Toyoko Orimoto of Jamaica Plain, who has two children at the school, said Cassellius's proposal is "punishing the many students who remain" and "completely undermining the faith many of us have put into Boston public schools."
Parents noted that the administrators who lied on reports and ignored complaints about harassment are no longer at the school.
Under the proposal, the school's current 200 students will be offered seats in nearby non-failing BPS schools. BPS says it has identified some 400 seats in schools within 1 1/2 miles of the Mission Hill School.