As Boston follows through on plans to phase out middle schools, parents at three Boston elementary schools are unsure where their children will study next year.
The school committee will hear a proposal Wednesday to shutter the Irving and Timilty middle school campuses in June 2022. Parents of students at the Blackstone, Mendell, and Sumner elementary schools, whose graduates were guaranteed spots at the two middle schools, received letters this week alerting them the district won’t expand their elementary schools to include sixth grade and hasn’t identified new schools for the dozens of displaced students.
“At this time, due to physical space limitations BPS is restricted in its ability to establish an expansion pathway at your school for SY22-23,” read the letter to parents that was obtained by the Globe.
Boston has been developing plans since at least 2018 to close its middle schools, out of a belief that students perform better academically when they switch schools just once during their education. But critics are questioning why the district, given the years of anticipation, doesn’t have a plan for displaced students.
“It’s like someone in an ivory tower is making these decisions,” said Edith Bazile, the former president of the Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts. “The priority is the plan, not the students.”
The letter proposed community meetings for those affected by the changes. It’s not clear to parents how they will choose their next schools, which has left many unsettled.
“There’s so much uncertainty,” said Vernée Wilkinson, director of the parent advisory board at School Facts Boston, a Boston-based parent group that’s fielded concerns about plans to close Irving and Timilty. “Parents have no idea where their children will go to school or even how they will choose. Will there be another lottery? Another high-stakes process that’s hard on parents? When does it let up?”
District leaders said they’re weighing two options for reassigning students, either choosing a new middle school to receive each elementary school’s students or giving the affected students priority in the school lottery system. The district will consult parents from each school next month, said Nate Kuder, chief financial officer for Boston Public Schools.
Superintendent Brenda Cassellius announced plans in May to close Irving Middle School in Roslindale and Timilty Middle School in Roxbury, where more than 70 percent of students at each school are economically disadvantaged. The proposal includes converting the vacant middle schools into new Boston public schools.
The school committee is scheduled to vote on this proposal next month.
They won’t be the first middle schools to close. Edwards Middle School in Charlestown closed in June and McCormack Middle School in Dorchester merged with the Boston Community Leadership Academy at the beginning of this school year. If the school committee votes to shutter Timilty and Irving, two middle schools will remain — UP Academy Boston and Frederick Middle School, both in Dorchester. They will remain open until at least school year 2022-23, according to district presentations.
As the district closes middle schools, it plans to reconfigure elementary schools to span kindergarten to sixth or eighth grade and high schools to start in seventh or ninth grades. But at least for now, the current Irving and Timilty closure plans do not include provisions for some rising sixth graders to remain at their elementary campuses.
“Our goal is to make sure every student only has to change schools once between kindergarten and high school graduation,” BPS wrote in its letter to parents this week. “This means more predictability of educational pathways for students and families.”
Mayoral candidates promised to bring more transparency to the process of closing schools if they are elected next month. Mayoral candidate Michelle Wu, whose son attends one of the affected elementary schools said, “As mayor, I will make sure we are moving quickly to give families the information and predictability that they need.”
Mayoral hopeful Annissa Essaibi George said she agreed with plans to close Irving and Timilty but said “it’s critical we find alternative sixth-grade options as soon as possible.”
“We can’t just get rid of these seats altogether,” she added. “That lack of continuity is how trust is lost in the BPS system.”
Jamaica Plain mother Tanya Nixon-Silberg was devastated when she learned her daughter’s school won’t expand to sixth grade. After attending two other schools, her 9-year-old landed at Mendell this year for third grade. Nixon-Silberg said she was relieved to find a school where she didn’t “have to fight to get services” for her daughter.
The thought of finding another school in a few years is daunting. “It would be nice if you knew what the path would be,” she said. “I would love another year at this school.”