5 Boston schools recommended for closing
Interim School Superintendent John McDonough is recommending closing five Boston public schools, in an effort to shrink gaping holes in enrollment and facilities that are straining the district.
The proposal would shutter the Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy in Hyde Park, a turnaround school that once showed signs of promise; the William B. Rogers Middle School, also in Hyde Park; and West Roxbury Academy.
Middle School Academy in South Boston and Community Academy in Jamaica Plain — both alternative schools for troubled students — would also close. Together, the two serve only 129 students, at a cost of $55,000 a year per student, McDonough said.
“This is not a sustainable structure,’’ he said.
The proposed closings, coming days before a new superintendent is scheduled to be selected, would affect 1,402 students, 116 teachers, and 84 staff members, and shave $2 million to $3 million from the budget, school officials said.
McDonough announced late Friday that he selected the schools, which would close at the end of this school year, based on three key factors: major enrollment declines, low popularity among students, and dismal academic performance. He said his goal is not based solely on the district’s shrinking finances, but on a greater need to put the district on a firmer foundation by tackling inefficiencies at its 128 schools.
“This is not a financial decision,’’ McDonough said in an interview. “It’s really a first step’’ in strengthening the school district.
Teachers and staff at the schools were notified this week, some via e-mail. Families were alerted by mail and automated phone calls Friday.
West Roxbury students got the news midmorning Friday. Principal Rudolph Weekes stood on stage in the auditorium and told them the school would close because of low MCAS scores, according to an 11th-grader who was there.
“I grew up in this school,’’ said the student, who asked not to be identified. “I want to keep it. . . . It’s not fair.”
Next year, instead of attending the prom, she and her classmates will be in different school buildings, she said. Students are planning a protest Tuesday.
The School Committee is set to vote on the closings March 25 as part of the department’s full budget proposal.
The superintendent and his administrators say they are expected to meet with families next Monday and Thursday evenings to address their questions and concerns. Families will also have a chance to speak about the decisions at a budget hearing March 9 at Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester and before another hearing March 11 at the School Department building on Court Street.
McDonough said the displaced students would be granted “some level” in priority in picking their next schools. Teachers and some staff are encouraged to apply for jobs. But other staff members will not have their contracts renewed, officials said.
If the School Committee accepts the proposal, it would be the second round of closings in four years. At the end of 2010-2011 academic year, the committee unanimously voted to close or consolidate 18 schools.
McDonough said the district is seeking to better align enrollment patterns and trends with offerings in each school building. Funding underutilized schools has stretched the district and its ability to properly serve students, he said.
Some school buildings have as few as 150 students, and the largest — Boston Latin School — serves 2,400.
Since he became interim superintendent nearly two years ago, McDonough said, his administration has been singling out significant gaps within the district, such as 4,100 empty seats in classrooms across the city. He has said the closings are part of the reality of addressing soaring costs and urgent needs in a school system facing a shortfall of $42 million to $51 million.
The district’s $1 billion spending plan includes deeper cuts, such as consolidating classrooms and slashing hundreds of central staff positions. McDonough is considering revamping the food services program and ending bus service for seventh-graders.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he supports the proposal to close the schools, and acknowledged the disruption the proposed closings would have on families, teachers, and staff. But he and McDonough said the aim is to make critical adjustments to improve the quality of education in all the schools.
“This is about the betterment of the kids, and that’s our goal,’’ Walsh said. “You never want to close a school down. You never want to cut a program. . . . At the end of the day our goal is to make a better school system for our kids.”
Boston teachers union president Richard Stutman said facilities and the budget are two critical priorities for the district, but he said he is concerned there is no master plan for the system’s schools.
“I don’t want to know what the first steps are,” Stutman said. “I want to know about the whole plan.”
McDonough proposed the closings earlier this month under a preliminary budget proposal he presented to the School Committee for the next school year. School officials said they initially identified 23 schools that needed a “serious look.’’ They then narrowed the list to nine, then five.
“We asked: Could you justify keeping those schools open?’’ McDonough said.
His most telling choice is the Greenwood, a turnaround school that had previously been targeted for closing and was the center of a years-long effort to help it improve.
In 2008, then-superintendent Carol R. Johnson reversed her recommendation to close the school after an outcry from parents, who vowed to help it turn around. In 2010, the state designated it as underperforming because of low MCAS scores. A new principal was hired, new programs started, and optimism rose.
Since 2009, the school received $1.2 million in state improvement grants and other grants. But a turnaround was elusive. The Greenwood experienced a 12.3 percent decline in enrollment in the past two years and was near the bottom on families’ priority lists for school assignments.
The mayor said he is disappointed many schools designated for a turnaround have been unable to make dramatic strides. But in Greenwood’s case, it is time for a different approach, he said.
“In order to make sure that our kids get the right education, this is the right move for them,’’ Walsh said.
Rogers Middle School, which has an enrollment of 348, has struggled to retain students as schools that serve kindergarten through eighth grade increased in popularity. The Rogers lost almost 200 students — a 40 percent decline — since 2012, school officials said.
At West Roxbury Academy, enrollment declined 11.4 percent from 2012 to 2014, the district’s data show. The school of 562 students is part of a complex that includes Urban Science Academy, which will remain in the building under McDonough’s plan.
The two alternative programs at Middle and Community academies — which serve students with behavioral and academic problems — are being closed mainly for budgetary reasons, officials said. Officials are considering merging the programs or tapping a community organization to run them.