Taking the next step toward revamping Boston Public Schools facilities, administrators has unveiled a draft “decision-making rubric,” which they say will guide future construction, renovations, and school closures.
The preliminary framework reveals for the first time exactly the sorts of data BPS will consider in future building decisions, such as current building conditions, the needs of a neighborhood, and what size school building a given site could support. The rubric lays key groundwork for the billions of dollars in facilities work Mayor Michelle Wu has promised in coming years, under her multibillion-dollar school construction program, Green New Deal for Boston Public Schools.
BPS is required to send the state “a comprehensive, long-term master facilities” plan by the end of the year, and officials said they intend to submit the rubric, a recent assessment of the district’s building conditions, and forthcoming educational and design standards. However, the plan will not list specific projects, which already has garnered criticism.
A group of protesters on Wednesday night attended one of two district facilities meetings this week where officials went over the preliminary rubric. They stood holding signs and demanding a master facilities plan that details specific projects, as well as more community engagement in its development. The protesters also demanded answers on how the controversial proposed move of the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science to West Roxbury fit into the rubric’s process.
“I want students to be heard on the issues,” said Phelishia Cameau, a 9th-grade student at Boston Latin Academy and part of the Massachusetts Coalition For Occupational Safety And Health’s Teens Lead at Work program, one of the groups that protested at the meeting.
Cameau called for students to be surveyed and for more student involvement in developing district plans, citing particular issues with air conditioning and bathrooms.The rubric, which may still be changed before it is presented to the School Committee next week, evaluates whether a school building already meets the district’s vision of a high-quality learning experience, whether renovations, additions, or replacement could make it into such an environment. It also evaluates how potential projects would affect how many high-quality seats they provides, what neighborhoods they are in, and what demographics have access to them.
Forty-eight BPS school sites do not have space for the sort of school buildings the district envisions, while 71 sites do, according to a presentation this week by the mayor’s senior advisor for youth and schools, Rebecca Grainger, and the district’s capital planning chief, Delavern Stanislaus.
Stanislaus explained the rubric is geared toward four “model programs” that the district wants to prioritize in its building spending: schools large enough to offer multiple core classes in each grade, specialty classrooms for subjects like arts and music, spaces like gyms, libraries and cafeterias, and spaces to support districtwide special education, like separate classrooms for students who need it some of the time. All four models have at least 350 students — substantially more than many of the district’s small elementary schools.
“It doesn’t mean that all of the smaller schools will be eliminated,” Grainger said. “What it means is that we will prioritize investments in creating new buildings and renovations that support the full high-quality student experience.”
The other 48 buildings would require “more analysis,” Grainger said.
The requirements of the model program are based on the feedback gathered by the district through a survey and listening sessions over the last year, the officials said.
Once the schools that could fit model programs are identified, the rubric allows a user to pick construction priorities and see how those priorities would play out in practice — how many high-quality seats there would be districtwide, what sort of students would be served by them, and what sorts of neighborhoods would have them. Potential priorities include replacing the schools in the worst current conditions, maximizing the number of new seats, and building projects in neighborhoods that have historically not received as much investment.
The administration intends to present the rubric to the School Committee next Wednesday and the design and educational standards in coming weeks.
The rubric will not determine those decisions directly but will allow the district to test various scenarios to make new proposals beginning in 2024, district and city officials have said. It will not impact past commitments the district has made, such as two elementary school mergers the School Committee approved last spring, nor will it govern decisions around smaller-scale capital projects.