School officials take heat for Latin Academy moving plan

Michael Caprio, Special to the Reporter
Aug. 25, 2011

The first of several meetings to discuss moving Boston Latin Academy from Dorchester to Hyde Park was marked by the outcry of the nearly 200 attendees, most of whom expressed displeasure with the proposal.

Monday night’s meeting at the BLA auditorium on Townsend Street brought together school officials with parents, teachers, and alumni to talk about Superintendent Carol Johnson’s idea of moving the BLA to the Hyde Park Education Complex on Metropolitan Avenue. The proposal would also mena moving the Boston Arts Academy into the Townsend Street building; it currently shares space with Fenway High School in a building on Ipswich Street.

School officials maintain that the move would make sense, as the up-to-date Hyde Park location would meet the needs of BLA given that its current location is in need of extensive maintenance, said Lee Maguire, a Boston Public Schools spokesman.

But some parents and teachers say that the move will hurt the institutional integrity of the Academy and will add an extra burden to students traveling from more peripheral neighborhoods like Charlestown and East Boston.

Richard Sullivan, assistant headmaster at BLA, said that moving the school would make it difficult for the institution to connect with its alumni and community.

“People will think, ‘My school is gone, it’s in Hyde Park,’ ” said Sullivan, who has been at BLA in two locations over 38 years.

In fact, BLA has led a nomadic life since its founding in 1877 in the South End as the Girls Latin School. There was a move to Huntington Avenue in 1907 and then to Codman Square in Dorchester in 1955. The school then relocated back to the Fenway area in 1981, this time to Ipswich Street, before settling on its current site 10 years later.

“You have people from Codman Square today who feel that this is not their school,” Sullivan said. “The same thing’s going to happen if we move again.”

Many parents and other meeting attendees became vocal when the issue of transportation was raised. In a presentation given to the audience, academic superintendent Linda Cabral presented information from the MBTA Trip Planner that said the Hyde Park move would shorten the travel time for half of BLA students while students from East Boston would need to spend an additional 10 minutes in commute each morning and students from Brighton would need an additional 15 minutes.

Sullivan objected. “Our demographics are changing every year,” he said. “Sooner or later, you’ll see that we have no students from East Boston or Charlestown because they don’t want to make the commute.”

Mary Ann Saunders Narin of Roslindale, a parent of a 2008 student, said that the school’s current location in Dorchester adds an important element of community and diversity to the institution. “You cannot underestimate the value of this location,” she said.

During a heated question-and-answer segment, one outspoken Dorchester resident, Carla Stovell, stormed down the aisle and pointed her finger at school officials, accusing BPS of neglecting the current Townsend Street building and of basing the decision on racial prejudice.

“We’re too black for you. We’re too Asian for you. We’re too Latino for you,” she said.

Stovell was finally calmed down by members of the presenting panel, which also included deputy superintendent Michael Goar, assistant superintendent Michelle Brooks, and assistant CFO Samuel Depina.

During the back-and-forth period, three members of the audience submitted notes to the moderators stating their approval of the proposal.

For his part, Maguire, the spokesman, said, “We’re glad there is a conversation going. This is only a proposal at this point.”

There is one more meeting scheduled to discuss the proposal, on Aug. 31 at 6:30 p.m. A group of Boston Latin Academy teachers will also be holding a meeting next Tuesday at 6 p.m. Those interested in the situation can also attend the School Committee meeting on Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. at 26 Court Street.