School committee green-lights Johnson's plan

The Boston School Committee voted to shutter six schools and expand the pilot school program last week, bringing the superintendent's system-wide reorganization decision-making process to a close.

Though changes that eliminated the schools were affirmed earlier this month, an official vote on the closings was needed for procedural reasons. The closures include Dorchester's Lucy Stone, Quincy E. Dickerman, and Pauline Agassiz Shaw schools.

Superintendent Carol Johnson said the vacated buildings will not be disposed of at this time and could be used for community purposes in the future.

Completing the system's pilot school expansion, the committee approved the creation of a K-2 Boston Teachers Union school in Jamaica Plain that will eventually expand to K-8; the addition of high school grades to the K-8 Mary Lyon full inclusion school in Brighton; and the conversion of the Dennis C. Haley Elementary School in Roslindale to a pilot school.

The changes increase the number of available pilot school spaces by almost 25 percent. The School Committee previously approved the expansion of the K-8 Young Achievers School of Mathematics and Science and its relocation to the Solomon Lewenberg Middle School in Mattapan and the addition of grades 6-8 to TechBoston Academy, to be located in the Woodrow Wilson Middle School building.

Pilot schools have autonomy from the system over budget, staffing, curriculum, and assessment and can experiment with educational innovations.

The superintendent had also hoped to create an International Baccalaureate school, though plans have been postponed for at least another year.

Johnson's "Pathways to Excellence" plan to cut costs and increase achievement has not been without controversy. In response to community protests, the superintendent modified her school closure proposals and dropped a plan to change the school choice formula.

John Mudd of Massachusetts Advocates for Children is still concerned about the reorganization's impact on the city's different neighborhoods. He said not enough information has been provided by the school department to make a judgment on its equality.

Mudd wants data showing how many underperforming seats are being removed by neighborhood in response to claims that communities of color are affected unfairly.

"It feeds on suspicions," he said. "We need the information so people have confidence and faith that the system is moving in the right direction. Without it, people react based on historical realities that they've been undercut for years."

In addition, Mudd questions the expected cost savings of the reorganization in relation to the budget shortfalls expected with the lagging economy. BPS estimates it will save $3.1 million next year and $24.5 million over five years; however the upcoming budget must absorb a $30 million increase in salary costs alone.