Plan calls for phasing out of Cleveland School

In a November 16 report to the Boston School Committee, Superintendent Thomas Payzant announced that the Grover Cleveland Middle School would be closed by 2008. The Cleveland is one of six local schools affected by the superintendent's "reuse and reprogramming" plan. The same report also recommended that the Harbor Middle School as well as fourth and fifth graders from the Patrick O'Hearn Elementary School move to the building currently occupied by the Cleveland at 11 Charles St.

The plan is still highly malleable, with the exception of one concrete decision: the Grover Cleveland Middle School will not enroll a sixth grade class for the 2006-7 school year.

That move will be repeated in the fall of 2007-8, leaving the Cleveland with only an eighth grade class. Eighth graders graduating in the spring of 2008 (Cleveland's current sixth graders) will be the last to receive diplomas from the Cleveland before it is permanently phased out.

The Cleveland has become one of the district's most troubled schools in recent years. Average MCAS test scores hover at the low end of the scale in comparison to Boston's other institutions, and Fields Corner business owners and community activists have complained that students have become a menace in the after school hours.

An acutely shrinking student body is another sign of trouble for the school, where only 22 percent of current students ranked the Cleveland among their proffered placements.

According to the BPS report, 352 students are currently enrolled in the school, far below the building's 920-student capacity.

"Two phenomena are fueling a recent drop in the demand for middle school seats," said the report. "The recent expansion of K-8 programs and the movement of the middle school 'bulge' through high school."

Cleveland Principal Kenietha Jones had not returned phone calls by press time.

As the Cleveland's enrollment drops even more dramatically during the two-year phase-out process, BPS officials will start preparing the building for the post-Cleveland era.

Payzant has recommended bringing the Harbor school's 264 sixth through eighth grade students to the Cleveland building for the 2007-8 school year and adding fourth and fifth graders from the O'Hearn school the following autumn.

In Payzant's plan, classes for students in kindergarten through third grade would continue at the O'Hearn's current location. Both the remaining O'Hearn School and the newly formed fourth through eighth grade school in the Charles St. building would add seats to their current enrollment levels.

O'Hearn Principal Bill Henderson said that regardless of the project's final form, the O'Hearn and Harbor schools have committed to developing a close partnership.

"I'm excited about the potential, but [the partnership] is in too skeletal a form to comment on what the final product will be," said Henderson. He added that staff and parent leaders from both the Harbor and O'Hearn schools are working on a model that will guarantee students graduating from the O'Hearn a place at the relocated Harbor School. According to the BPS report, similar plans are being considered for the J. Curley and M.Curley schools in Jamaica Plain.

According to BPS spokesman Jonathon Palumbo, the 300-plus students who would normally attend the Cleveland will be absorbed by openings at other middle schools in the district's East Zone.

As for the teachers and staff at the Cleveland, Palumbo said that the standard union rules will apply in determining their futures.

"Depending on how long a teacher has been in the system and in what position, teachers will be able to find other positions in the system," said Palumbo. "That has been the process in the past as other schools have been phased out or reconfigured."

District Three City Councillor Maureen Feeney balanced concer for area students with the frustration felt by local merchants.

"I don't think the Grover Cleveland was good for the community or the students who went there," said Feeney. "The Cleveland has had some great programming, but there's something about the building that creates bedlam and has spilled over onto the street and business community."

Feeney was confident that whatever action BPS takes will be positive change.

Ira Schlosser, President of Fields Corner Main Street, echoed Feeney's sentiments.

"I don't think anybody was happy with the way the Cleveland has been the last couple of years," he said. "It's no secret that the middle school has had teens who have had problems with some of the storeowners. [Starting with] a grade school, younger kids, might eliminate a lot of that problem."

The report also announced finalized plans for a $42 million renovation of Jeremiah E. Burke High School. During the two-year renovation process, Burke students will move to the King Middle school, and King students will subsequently take up residence in the former Thompson Middle School. Temporarily housing King middle school in the Thompson facility will allow the King facility to be reinvented as well, possibly as a K-5 or K-8 school similar to that envisioned by Henderson for the O'Hearn-Harbor partnership.

"We're very excited about the idea of offering kids the continuity of a K-8 environment," said Henderson.

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