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THE GREAT DIVIDE

Boston to allow Shaw School to add fourth grade, but long-term plans remain unclear

First-grade teacher Ilene Carver (right), greeted Brenda Ramsey and her daughter Emersyn, 7, outside the P.A. Shaw Elementary School in Boston.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Boston Superintendent Brenda Cassellius has decided to allow the P.A. Shaw Elementary School in Dorchester to expand but for only one year as the district develops a long-term plan, according to a letter she sent Tuesday to families and staff.

Under the one-year plan, Cassellius said Boston Public Schools will add two fourth-grade classrooms. She said the district will begin deeper conversations in the spring with the Shaw community about a long-term solution on grade configurations.

“We believe adding 4th grade next year will support our students’ continuity of learning while providing us the time to discuss the longer term planning needed,” she wrote.

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On Wednesday, BPS clarified the plan, explaining the Shaw will have only one third-grade class next year instead of two due to under enrollment. The letter to families had suggested there would be multiple third-grade classes, stating “we have decided to add two 4th grade classes to support the current two 3rd grade classes on a one year basis for School Year 2022-2023.”

The move represents a potential turning point for the Shaw, which district leaders promised years ago to grow into a full-fledge elementary school but abruptly halted the expansion at the third grade in 2018. Families and staff have been advocating for the school to extend to grade six to align with most other Boston elementary schools.

Families have been increasingly concerned BPS might close the school because enrollment has been dropping and next year’s budget proposal called for eliminating one third-grade classroom. Enrollment has dropped sharply since BPS froze the expansion. Parents say the lack of upper grades have deterred families from enrolling or prompted them to withdraw their children.

“This is a big victory for the power of student and parent advocacy, along with support from community partners and educators,” said Ilene Carver, a first-grade teacher, “and we need to keep advocating for the Shaw to also receive a fifth and sixth grade so we know for the long run our school will be intact.”

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The Shaw community is planning to hold a rally Wednesday before the morning bell. The event, led by students, is expected to feature city Councilors Julia Mejia and Ricardo Arroyo. Students were elated Tuesday that their advocacy, which has included impassioned testimony at School Committee meetings, already has had impact.

“I feel supercharged because I can’t wait to be here in 4th grade and beyond,” said third-grader Zachary Whyte Corbett.

Added Jules Owens, another third-grader, “I’m feeling proud of all of us, because we all made it happen like a community.”

Brenda Ramsey, whose daughter attends first grade, said she hopes BPS and the Shaw community can figure out a long-term solution before Cassellius departs as superintendent in June. Since the Shaw reopened in 2014, BPS has had four superintendents, creating difficulties in getting the district to honor its commitment to the school.

“We need a concrete plan in writing,” she said. “It would be great if she could get this resolved before she leaves so parents can enjoy the school experience instead of planning the next rally and statement.”

But she added she is pleased school district officials appear to be listening to their concerns.

Cassellius’ announcement came one day before she is scheduled to present her final budget recommendation to the School Committee. The board is slated to vote on the $1.3 billion budget proposal next week.

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And she also alerted another school community, Boston Day and Evening Academy, about a temporary facility fix. The academy, whose main building is located in Roxbury, also has been using several classrooms at the nearby Timilty Middle School, which will be closing in June. Cassellius said the academy can stay there for another year, but noted the building will likely undergo extensive renovations after that.

In her letter to the Shaw, Cassellius noted that determining the future grade configuration for the school presents some challenges because it’s in a small building. BPS is striving for all its elementary schools to offer some basic level of services, including fully-staffed libraries, art classes, and physical education.

“As a district, we are engaged in ongoing planning to deliver on a Quality Guarantee for all students and all school communities,” Cassellius wrote. “Smaller schools present unique challenges and we need to continue to meet and discuss a future for the Shaw community that aligns with our shared goals and aspirations.”

Cassellius emphasized BPS will work with the Shaw community on solutions. A meeting is expected to take place in April.

The Shaw’s advocacy caught the attention Tuesday of Mayor Michelle Wu, who gave students kudos during an appearance on WGBH district Radio with hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan. She said the issue highlights the dilemma BPS currently faces with its facilities, most of which were constructed before World War II.

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“So much of these issues around school opportunities and resources are connected to facilities,” she said. “Some of our schools right now are very small buildings that can only accommodate one class per grade and that means you lose out on the opportunity for extracurriculars or other support services that just need a little bit more scale to have.”

Emma Platoff of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Shaw Family Letter:

HandoutAllana Barefield


handoutAllana Barefield

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