Parents, staff plead for Lee Academy to stay open

As school officials weigh plans to close six schools, parents of children at Lee Academy Pilot School, due to merge with the elementary school they share a building with, pleaded for more time to up flagging test scores.

“Many of us, we could have fled,” said Glenna Malkemes. “But we are committed to the philosophy of the school.”

The school, which has 266 students, was founded in 2004 with a research-based focus on early education and care. It serves Codman Square, Franklin Field, Ashmont and Lower Mills in Dorchester and Mattapan.

"This school is going to be a feather in your cap,” Carl Nagy-Koechlin, a parent of a first-grader and a child in K-1, told a panel of Boston Public School officials gathered at the Lee Academy on Thursday night. “This school is on the verge of blossoming.”

In a show of solidarity, many parents and school staff wore purple beads around their necks, left over from school spirit week in June. Purple is the school color.

But school officials point to underperforming scores in the fourth and fifth grade classes. Superintendent Carol Johnson, speaking to the Reporter after hearing testimonials from parents and teachers, acknowledged that progress cannot occur “overnight,” but added that the school has advantages that the Lee Elementary School next door, which is doing better than the academy, does not.

“We think with a lot of autonomy and flexibility, we also need accountability,” she said. “We have to see progress every year.”

The pilot school was created when the Lee Elementary was struggling. Parents, who said test scores should not be the sole indicator of a school’s performance, argued that bringing the two schools together again is not the answer.

“Don’t make decisions based on data,” one parent said. Added a teacher, choking back tears: “We need to give things time.”

The city’s mayorally appointed school committee will hear any potential revisions from Johnson on Oct. 26 at English High in Jamaica Plain, and the committee is expected to vote on the final proposal on Nov. 3.

A public hearing on Johnson’s proposal, which also includes the closure of Dorchester’s Clap Elementary and the East Zone Early Learning Center as well as schools in Hyde Park, is scheduled to take place at the Lilla Frederick Pilot Middle School on Columbia Rd. at noon on Oct. 16.

“It seems to me Lee Academy will become a real success story if the school committee allows it to,” said City Councillor Charles Yancey, who attended the hearing, as did staffers from the offices of City Councillors John Connolly, Ayanna Pressley and Felix Arroyo.

In the audience was Alfreda Harris, who has served on the school committee since 1993. She declined to comment after the Thursday hearing. “Right now, I’m listening,” she said and turned away to speak to a parent.

Parents have also received support from former City Councillor Sam Yoon, who moved to D.C. over the summer for a job in the nonprofit sector. His two children, who used to go to Lee Academy, posted a YouTube video calling for the school to stay open.