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    Dorchester Academy scheduled to close

    HOLD FOR BOSTON LATIN SCHOOL PROJECT Boston, MA--2/22/2016--BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang (cq) talks about the investigation at Boston Latin School. Scenes at Boston Latin School, which is in the news because of a racial controversy, are photographed, on Monday, February 22, 2016. Photo by Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff Topic: 06bls Reporter: Meghan Irons
    Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
    BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang will present his plan to the School Committee next week.

    A Dorchester high school that caters to students at risk of dropping out — and that has been under state scrutiny — would close in June under a proposal that Boston school officials released Friday.

    The proposal by Superintendent Tommy Chang caps off nearly a year of speculation inside Dorchester Academy that Chang was planning to shut down the school, sparking a string of denials by Chang and other top officials last fall.

    Just 15 students are enrolled at the school and almost all are slated to graduate this year, school officials said. The school system stopped assigning students to the school sometime during this school year, contributing to intrigue about the school’s future.

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    Under the proposal, Dorchester Academy “will be phased out as a school” after classes conclude in June and instead would be converted into a small program based at Excel High School in South Boston next fall. The program would be open to students from Excel, allowing a total of 40 students.

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    Chang is expected to officially present his proposal Wednesday night to the School Committee, which has final say on all school closings.

    “Based on the strength and achievements of the staff over the past year, BPS will support the continued development of this alternative education program in an environment that will provide students greater access to the academic and social supports needed to reach graduation and life goals,” Chang wrote in a letter sent to the school community Friday.

    Dorchester Academy, which the state declared to be underperforming nearly four years ago due to low standardized test scores and graduation rates, has been struggling to boost student achievement, putting the school at risk of a state takeover.

    A centerpiece of Boston school officials’ effort to turn around Dorchester Academy was transforming the one-time traditional high school into an alternative education program, in recognition that many of its students were academically behind by several years, missed classes frequently, and were at risk of quitting school.

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    The effort included reducing enrollment somewhat to give students more individualized attention and placed a premium on hands-on projects and internships.

    But enrollment dropped far more than anticipated. When Dorchester Academy was declared underperforming by the state in fall 2014, it had 382 students. The following fall, just 69 students were enrolled. In 2016 it was 99, and last fall 42, according to state data.

    Consequently, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has been unable to determine whether the school is making adequate progress in boosting student achievement because the data sets for test scores and graduation rates are too small to draw broad-based conclusions.

    For instance, in spring 2016 and again in spring 2017, fewer than 10 students took the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams, a number so tiny that the state doesn’t publicly report the results because they are statistically unreliable.

    Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, expressed disappointment about Dorchester Academy’s imminent demise.

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    “We have had concerns about how the school has been mismanaged over many years, including and specifically during the state intervention,” Tang said in a statement. “This is another example of high-stakes testing and state intervention failing students. We support and have advocated for an outcome that fosters the best possible alternative education experience for these students moving forward.”

    The recommendation to close Dorchester Academy follows the shuttering of Mattahunt Elementary School in Mattapan last June. School officials made that move after the state said it would probably put Mattahunt into receivership.

    Speculation over Dorchester Academy’s future has been growing since at least last summer when school officials abruptly ended a partnership with Action for Boston Community Development, a local nonprofit that works with people living in poverty and was running the school.

    Creating further unease, Boston school officials issued layoff notices to three administrators last summer, encouraged teachers to find other jobs, and sent letters to students that seemed to suggest that they should transfer schools. One letter, obtained by the Globe, told a student to go to a school-district registration office “to explore other pathways towards graduation.”

    Dorchester Academy’s potential closing comes as the school had been preparing to relocate to another facility after this school year. It currently shares space with Community Academy of Science and Health on Charles Street in Dorchester and was going to occupy a former elementary school building.

    Chang in his letter praised teachers for helping the remaining students at the school to graduate. About 10 did so in January, while most others are expected to in June.

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