Letters to the Editor: The Boston Schools Debate

Lee Academy parents: Give us a year to develop new model

(Editor’s note: The following letter from a team of Lee Academy parents was sent to Superintendent Carol Johnson, Members of the BPS Redesign Team, and Boston School Committee on Monday. The Reporter shares here in an edited form.)

Thank you all for your continuing hard work on the complicated issue of proposed changes in our schools. We have deeply appreciated your willingness to invite many voices into a shared process of problem-solving. In this spirit, we hope we can show you that the Lee School/Lee Academy merger proposal should not be part of the district’s plans for this year.

Instead, we ask for a year to develop an alternative proposal which would allow both the survival of the Lee Academy as a K-5 elementary pilot school, and the expansion of the Joseph Lee School into a K-8 school serving the same community.

In considering this request, please note that closing LAPS or converting it to a K0-K2 school will save the system little to no money. Because of this key difference between the other proposed school closures and the proposed Lee School/Lee Academy merger, we ask that the school committee’s vote on this proposal be separate from the vote on the other proposed changes in BPS. The Lee School/Lee Academy merger should not be considered as part of a larger budget-cutting package, because this merger has no function as a budget-cutting measure.

Although budget issues are unavoidable, the Superintendent’s original proposal was not rooted in concerns about the budget, but in concerns about the success of Boston’s students, their families, and their schools. These are our most heartfelt concerns as well.

Many of our families have been unable to attend public hearings and talk about their experiences at Lee Academy.  To hear directly from a wide range of Lee Academy families, please visit: http://www.youtube.com/user/SaveLeeAcademy.  More video testimonies will be added in the coming days.

We hope you will weigh the following points very carefully as you craft your proposals and make your decisions.

A.    The Lee Academy is not a failing school.
The data the school district has presented to the School Committee so far tells only part of the story. We believe that the strong and improving performance of our third grade classes provides good reason to believe that our fourth and fifth grade programs will soon follow suit. Lee Academy has only had a fourth grade for two full years, and has only had a fifth grade for one full year. Many of the students who leave Lee Academy after third grade are those who qualify for the Advanced Work Class program.  In fact, ten of the 38 AWC students at the Joseph Lee School come from LAPS — a testament to the Lee Academy’s success. We are also proud to announce that we have recently implemented an extended day, in-school program for our fifth graders which has nearly 100 percent participation and is allowing the intensive interventions needed to help these students succeed.

B. Pilot Schools are part of the solution to the BPS crisis.
With no extra per-pupil funding, pilot schools are able to provide the extra programming that BPS wants to preserve, programming that is endangered by across-the-board budget cuts. At the Lee Academy, teachers unanimously voted to add 70 hours to their work schedules in 2010-2011.  This budgetary flexibility allows the school to maintain arts and music education, devote resources to vital social-emotional programming, and move its fifth grade to an extended-day model in response to poor test scores, all without extra funding from the district. This is a unique feature of pilot schools.

C. Families in the East Zone would be unfairly impacted by the loss of the Lee Academy.
More elementary schools have been closed in the East Zone in the past three years than in any other zone. The systematic elimination of small school options from BPS forces parents who seek this option to consider private and charter schools.

D.The Lee Academy Pilot School is a choice that families value.
There is a long wait list for K0-4th grade slots at the Lee Academy. And in addition to seeking placements at  LAPS, families who do join the school overwhelmingly choose to stay there. Our 93 percent “stability ratio” is the second-highest in the East Zone, behind only the Richard J. Murphy K-8.

E. The Lee Academy and the Lee School have shown the success of linking two small schools with different educational approaches.
The decision to create the Lee Academy Pilot School in the building with the Joseph Lee has clearly allowed for the success of both schools. Our shared space, together with strong leadership in both schools, has allowed us to work toward the original goal of pilot schools, which was to serve as laboratories for innovation that would then be available to traditional schools within the district as well. We believe that the Joseph Lee School and the Lee Academy Pilot School can work creatively together to find a solution.

 Again, our request is for more time to explore a better solution: one that adds options for students in our area, instead of taking options away.

 Thank you for your consideration of these points and the supporting materials we have attached. If you have questions, please feel free to contact Ann Walsh,  ann_walsh@post.harvard.edu,  or Karen McInnis, kjmcinnis09@comcast.net, co-chairs of the Lee Academy Family Council, or Jacob Murray, jmurray@wheelock.edu, co-chair of the LAPS Governing Board.