Students challenge Johnson on plans

Shanyce Morgan, a junior at Noonan Business Academy at the Dorchester Education Complex, addresses Superintendent Johnson during a Tuesday evening meeting at Mildred Avenue Community Center. Photo by Pete Stidman

At a meeting held in Mattapan on Tuesday evening to examine how a wide ranging reorganization plan would effect the entire East Zone of the Boston Public School system - which encompasses almost all of Dorchester and Mattapan - it was the students from the Dorchester Education Complex who made the most noise.

"Wouldn't it be best if everyone that is at the Academy of Public Service (APS) or the Noonan Business Academy be allowed to graduate?" Lachai Carter, a 10th grader at APS asked Superintendent Carol Johnson. Carter and her classmates pressed Johnson to get information on just where they would end up if, as Johnson's "Pathways to Excellence" plan proposes, both schools would shut down to make way for an expansion of the Tech Boston Academy, with which they share the building that was once Dorchester High School.

The answer wasn't precise and many didn't find it very comforting. Johnson replied that students would be given "some preference" in their choice of a new school, maybe guaranteeing that they would receive their first, second or third choice, but she said they would likely not be guaranteed admission to Tech Boston.

"I don't know what to tell my juniors," added Jackie Daly, a special education teacher at the school.

"I came from a bad experience at my old school," said Chrishara Tabb, another APS sophomore. "When I came here I started making friends and I like my teachers… but from the second month of school they're talking about closing it. This is going to be my third high school if I have to go."

Johnson and the Boston Public Schools are facing extremely difficult financial challenges, not to mention the state's revenue shortfall - although Gov. Deval Patrick has said he would try not to cut local school aid funds. In making the decision to shut down APS and the Noonan, Johnson said her administration looked at data such as each school's test scores, the condition of facilities, and how many parents put each school as their first choice.

"At the Dorchester complex, we're really asking people to help us," said Johnson to the crowd of around 200 who showed up for the meeting at the Mildred Avenue Middle School. "Those schools, today, are underchosen by families and we need to know what would make those schools more attractive so that parents chose them."

Amelia Tabb, Chrishara's mother, admitted that she had never heard about APS before her daughter was assigned to the school after she was denied the first three choices on her list. Now, she said, it has helped her daughter.

Both APS and Noonan have test scores that pale next to those of the Tech, but they aren't the worst in the BPS system either.

The students of both schools also directly challenged the idea of a 6-12 school, which Tech Boston would become under Johnson's plan. Parents at the meeting also cited fights in the cafeteria and violence in the surrounding community as outstanding problems.

"You're going to have problems with the little kids," said Shanyce Morgan, a junior at Noonan. "I can't imagine my little niece coming to school with me with the things going on at my school."

"I'm not aware of any research concerning 6-12 schools," admitted Johnson, but she and a handful of parents in the crowd did defend the K-8 model. Eight K-8 schools are being created through mergers, expansions, and one new pilot school in the plan.

"There's more of a sense of family in a K-8 than you might think," said Johnson.

A meeting for APS, Noonan and Tech staff and parents will be held at the Dorchester Education Complex tonight at 6 p.m.

Among other tidbits of information released about the plan Tuesday night:

• Ellison-Parks Early Education PK-1 and Mildred Avenue Middle schools will become feeder schools to form a K-8 gradually, not all at once. In the first year, the Ellison Parks will add a grade 2 curriculum, and the following year, that class would move over to the Mildred for the 3rd grade.

• The larger Tech Boston Academy would not fill the Dorchester Education Complex, another school or program could exist there.

• Head Start has contacted BPS to express interest in the school buildings that could be left vacant by the plan.