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Boston School Committee OK’s school relocation plan

The Boston School Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a plan to move some schools next year and add grades and programs to others in response to enrollment shifts across the city.

“These are proposals that we believe are both appropriate and necessary to move forward,” said Interim Superintendent John McDonough, before the committee voted 7-0 to adopt the proposal.

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While some parents and advocates voiced support, others raised concerns that the plan would unfairly restrict some students’ access to quality education.

Peggy Wiesenberg, a former board member of the Citywide Parents Council, criticized a provision that calls for moving the Montessori program at the East Boston Early Education Center into the former Alighieri School, which is currently shuttered, in East Boston.

About 130 elementary students would be enrolled next year, according to School Department projections.

“This is a public good,” Wiesenberg said of the Montessori program, which stresses hands-on learning. “But it is being sited [out of] range of many, many people.”

The School Committee also approved moving Dorchester Academy to the Cleveland building in Dorchester; moving the Harbor Pilot School and grades 2-5 of the Henderson Inclusion Elementary School to the Wilson building in Dorchester; expanding the Hennigan and Trotter elementary schools to K-8, starting with grade 6 next year; opening an early childhood program at the P.A. Shaw Elementary School; and starting a dual language program at the building housing Umana Academy.

Even though every school board member voted for the plan, some questioned the cost estimates and said they hoped the affected schools would receive enough assistance to help in their transition. The plan approved Wednesday night by the school board has a $5.7 million cost estimate for fiscal 2015.

“Who’s holding the responsibility to support people through the really arduous work of [transforming] a school?” said Meg Campbell, a committee member.

The changes are part of a broader plan aimed at addressing a shift in student demographics that has seen enrollment surge in the lower grades, but drop sharply in the upper ones.

McDonough earlier this month backed away from several recommendations in the plan after opposition was voiced by students, teachers, and parents. A number of proposed changes at other schools are still pending, but the details have not yet been fully worked out.

School Committeeman Claudio Martinez urged caution going forward, and he noted how officials have made several promises in recent years to families about school buildings.

“How many of those promises were [kept] by this School Committee?” he asked, adding that the panel voted to close the Alighieri School, which is now slated to house the Montessori program, in 2010.

“Was it a good idea three years ago to close the school?” he asked. “I just want everyone to engage in a little bit of reflection.”

James Vaznis of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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