Treating at-risk kids as an afterthought

School buses waited for students outside the McKinley School in the South End.
School buses waited for students outside the McKinley School in the South End.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File

Last December, Mary Stenson, a nurse at the McKinley School in the South End, was hitting up some local businesses for a bingo night to benefit the school when she got talking to the manager of a nearby spa.

The spa manager’s kids go to the Quincy Upper School in Chinatown and she told Stenson that the Quincy was going to take over the McKinley’s space on Warren Avenue.

This was news to Stenson, so she and her colleagues started asking around. But nobody at the School Department knew or would say anything.

Confirmation came in the form of a May 26 letter to parents from Carleton Jones, director of capital and facilities management for the Boston Public Schools. Basically, it said the McKinley would be evicted from its Warren Avenue location so the Quincy Upper could replace it there.


The plan is to demolish the Warren Avenue building, beginning next summer, and replace it with a new state-of-the-art facility for the Quincy Upper. Which is great for the Quincy and its students.

Less clear is what happens to the McKinley and its kids, who happen to be the most vulnerable in the city. Jones said the plan is to “identify a new home for the McKinley programs in an educational space that is not only suitable for all McKinley students — especially for those with emotional and behavioral disabilities — but is a better facility with space to explore more vocational opportunities for McKinley students.”

So the future of the Quincy is set, while what happens to the McKinley is a work in progress.

Needless to say, this has not gone over well with parents and teachers at the McKinley.

“We have been left out of the loop,” said David Russell, who is finishing his 28th year teaching at the McKinley. “We’ve had to rely on rumors to learn about plans.”


At one level, this is a failure to communicate. But it’s also about treating the most at-risk kids in the system as an afterthought. The Quincy school has some of the highest achievers, and people at the McKinley can’t help but feel the lack of consultation means the concerns of special-needs kids and their parents and teachers don’t count as much.

“If somehow a better site were identified, we would consider it,” Russell said. “But right now a blind leap of faith does not best serve our students. What we have labored for decades to build is precious and should not be disrupted. What message does our eviction to prepare for a state-of-the-art facility for another school with a different population of students send to our students?”

The School Department plans to identify and retrofit a new location for the McKinley, ready for occupancy by late summer 2017.

But a lot of people at the McKinley like where it is right now. It’s central. There’s easy access to the Green and Orange lines and bus routes. They have great relationships with cultural organizations, like the Boston Ballet. Stenson said it’s important that the McKinley is located close to Tufts Medical Center and Boston Medical Center.

The timing, meanwhile, smacks of a deliberate attempt to marginalize opposition.

“They’ve given us no time to fight back,” Stenson said. “The timing of this shows a real lack of respect, and I think it was done on purpose, just as everybody’s leaving for the summer.”


A Boston Public Schools spokesman insisted the relocation of the Quincy is contingent on relocating the McKinley.

“We are still in the very early stages of this process and we look forward to engaging with the parents and the entire McKinley community as we move forward,” the spokesman said.

Stenson, Russell, and others at the McKinley are not taking this sitting down. They want the current plans quashed and a new planning process that includes them.

They are taking their case to the Boston School Committee meeting Wednesday night in Roxbury, where the battle for the McKinley will begin in earnest.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the name of Tufts Medical Center.