Opinion

Opinion | Martin J. Walsh

Thinking big about Boston Public Schools

In my State of the City address tonight, I announced a 10-year, $1 billion investment in the buildings and classrooms of the Boston Public Schools.

Why go so big? To put it simply, Boston’s schools are out of date. Our teachers, principals, and staff work tirelessly and creatively to keep them safe, supportive learning environments. But the fact is, 65 percent of Boston’s 127 schools were built before World War II, fewer than half of those have been fully renovated, and it shows. In that time, we built an elevated expressway, tore it down, and buried it in a tunnel downtown. We should be able to build great schools. They are our ultimate investment in the future.

That’s why, for over a year, we’ve been gathering community input and hard data on our school buildings’ needs — and imagining new possibilities for their future. We’ve put it all together in a plan called BuildBPS, a 10-year educational and facilities master plan.

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Here’s what we envision:

■ Beautiful, innovative new buildings and renovations.

■ Livable, nurturing environments with fresh air and sunlight, clean water, comfortable climates, healthy and delicious food, and increased accessibility.

■ Twenty-first-century classrooms, with the furnishings and technology of modern learning: great academic instruction with hands-on application of high-value skills geared to the careers of tomorrow.

■ Multiplying partnerships with Boston’s universities, hospitals, businesses, and cultural institutions to move learning beyond school walls.

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■ Energy efficiency that will unlock savings for classrooms and provide environmental benefits.

■ A simpler set of grade configurations that allows for fewer student transitions and stronger school communities.

■ And school sites, programs, and services better matched to where our children live, for family convenience, transportation savings, and stronger community connections.

In short, it’s everything we believe 21st-century schools should be, and some things we haven’t imagined yet.

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So how do we pay for it? That’s an essential aspect of BuildBPS. I’ve been calling for a school building plan since before becoming mayor. I knew what was needed on day one: a strong partnership with the Mass. School Building Authority, or MSBA, the agency that co-funds public school capital projects in the Commonwealth. Despite having the state’s largest school district, other than a few small repair projects Boston had not taken this opportunity since the authority’s creation in 2004. So we grew our relationship the right way—by working together on Boston’s next flagship school building, the Dearborn 6-12 STEM Academy in Roxbury, due to finish construction this year and open for students in September 2018. We also got projects for Boston Arts Academy and the Josiah Quincy Upper School into the MSBA process, along with $21 million in repairs and updates citywide.

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When we combine the unprecedented capital access unlocked by our perfect bond ratings with matching funds from the MSBA, we arrive at a billion-dollar plan for our schools.

The next phase of BuildBPS calls for deep engagement with families, students, and educators to turn the priorities of the 10-year plan into real upgrades of school infrastructure. I’m excited to share more about that upon the plan’s release in the coming weeks.

BuildBPS is an incredible opportunity, the dawn of a new era of school building in Boston. But it will require some change to the status quo. That may present a challenge. Generations of struggle for equity in urban schools have left trust gaps. Boston is used to thinking in terms of scarcity and zero-sum decisions. But I’m not in the business of pitting schools against each other, and Build BPS allows us to get beyond that. Right now we need to harness our fighting spirit for system-wide improvement. I ask everyone to move forward together.

In three years, we’ve already overcome huge barriers to student success in Boston. We’ve got 725 more students in free, high-quality, prekindergarten classrooms. Last night, I announced a plan to complete our progress to universal prekindergarten. We extended the school day by 120 hours per year for kindergarten through eighth grade. We secured free tuition at area community colleges so BPS grads can see a clear and debt-free path into higher education. And we’ve already answered years of unheard advocacy by unlocking school building and renovation projects.

This progress speaks of our commitment to making transformative improvements for all Boston’s students. I invite everyone to join us in building a bold and bright future for all our schools.

Martin J. Walsh is the mayor of Boston.