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Roxbury’s Dearborn Academy may become charter school

Change to middle school about to get $70.7m makeover could avert takeover by state

Under the new proposal, Dearborn would be converted into a charter school for fall 2015 and be run by the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Under the new proposal, Dearborn would be converted into a charter school for fall 2015 and be run by the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School.

Boston’s first new school building in more than a decade — featuring state-of-the-art science, technology, and engineering labs — would go to a charter school under a proposal set to be presented Wednesday night to the School Committee.

The $70.7 million school originally was slated for Dearborn STEM Academy in Roxbury, an academically struggling middle school at risk of being placed into state receivership. But under the proposal, Dearborn would be converted into a charter school for fall 2015 and be run by the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School, which already operates a Roxbury elementary school on behalf of the school system.

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Interim Superintendent John McDonough is pitching the proposal in a preemptive attempt to avoid having Dearborn taken over by the state. Having the state seize control of the city’s newest school building could be embarrassing for Boston, education advocates said. Construction is expected to be completed in about three years.

“We do have concerns based on recent test scores that lead us to thinking boldly and broadly about the future of the Dearborn,” McDonough said in an interview Tuesday. “From my perspective, this is about placing students in an environment where there will be a higher probability of success.”

The move comes nearly a year after the state, in an unprecedented move for Boston, placed two city schools into receivership, the Dever and Holland schools, both in Dorchester. The action put a blemish on Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s education record as he was leaving office, and both McDonough and Mayor Martin J. Walsh have vowed to never again let a Boston school fall into the hands of the state.

But the prospect of a charter school moving into a new building is expected to generate heated debate as many parents and educators have been raising concerns about further encroachment of charter schools into the city’s school system.

“I think Dearborn teachers and the rest of the city will see this as one more step to eliminate traditional schools,” said Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union.

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Dearborn is among 15 underperforming schools statewide that the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is closely scrutinizing to determine whether any of them will be taken over this fall.

That list includes three others in Boston: English High School in Jamaica Plain, Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy in Hyde Park, and Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorchester.

McDonough said he is planning a charter-school proposal only for Dearborn.

Under the proposal, Dudley Street would operate Dearborn as an “in-district” charter school, allowing the School Department to maintain some oversight — unlike most other charter schools that operate independently of the school system.

The arrangement with Dearborn would be similar to how Dudley Street operates its elementary school on Shirley Street.

All students enrolled at Dearborn would be guaranteed seats at Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School, which would expand up to grade 12.

Other elements of the proposal, however, are still being worked out. It remains undetermined, for instance, whether the elementary school and the secondary school would run as two separate entities or as a unified K-12 school split between two sites.

Another complication also exists. Dearborn, starting this fall, will temporarily locate at Burke while its current building on Greenville Street is demolished and rebuilt.

The proposal will require approval from the School Committee in the coming weeks and eventually state education officials.

Michael O’Neill, chairman of the School Committee, said he is looking forward to hearing the proposal and the community feedback.

“We want to make sure we are doing everything possible to improve schools,” O’Neill said. “Clearly, the superintendent has some concerns about the Dearborn and the amount of improvement he has seen to date.”

O’Neill could not predict how the board would vote. Last summer, the committee decided against endorsing a different proposal to allow Dudley Street to become a K-8 because it had only been open for a year and did not have all its grade levels up and running.

This past school year, the school only served students up to the second grade.

Jesse Solomon, executive director of BPE, a Boston education nonprofit and cofounder of the Dudley Street school, said everyone involved is looking forward to the challenge of overhauling Dearborn and creating a seamless K-12 for the Dudley Street area.

“All we want to do at the end of the day is create great schools,” Solomon said. “That is our hope.”

JC Considine, a state education spokesman, said state education officials have not seen the proposal but are aware that Dudley Street was interested in working with Dearborn on its overhaul effort.

Dearborn parents and supporters could not be reached for comment Tuesday. They had pushed for seven years to make school construction a reality, finally winning funding approval from the Massachusetts School Building Authority in March and recently from the City Council.

The school’s focus on science and technology was expected to be a boon for the Roxbury area. The Dudley Street school intends to maintain that mission.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.
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