A week before her retirement, the outgoing principal at the Marshall Elementary School lit into Mayor Thomas Menino and Superintendent Carol Johnson, accusing them of neglecting the Dorchester school she has led for nearly two decades.
Teresa Harvey-Jackson made her views known at the Oct. 24 meeting of the Boston School Committee where the panel heard a proposal to transition the elementary school, which opened in 1971, to an in-district charter school.
Harvey-Jackson said she supported the proposal, which would allow for an 8-hour extended student day and a “broad network of academic and other student supports,” according to the school department. Unlocking Potential (UP), a nonprofit focused on school management, would manage the school, starting in fall 2013, and expand it to grades K1-8 from K1-5 in 2016.
But in her emotional testimony, Harvey-Jackson said the department did not provide enough resources to the struggling Westville Street school, which serves a disproportionately large number of poor, disabled and English-as-a-second-language students. “You failed 700 children, families, and staff of the community,” she told the panel. “The superintendent failed the children, the families and staff of the Marshall School, as did the education mayor.”
School department officials say the Marshall has seen its budget increase and a laundry list of fixes and repairs mostly completed at Harvey-Jackson’s request.
Her testimony, which also praised the Marshall School’s staff and teachers, was posted on YouTube and circulated online by critics of school administrators and the planned school assignment process overhaul. Asked about Harvey-Jackson’s comments, Matt Wilder, spokesman for Johnson, noted that the school had been designated a “superintendent school” before Johnson assumed her position in 2007, a designation that provided it with resources and flexibility in hiring.
Later, under Johnson, the school’s budget received an increase to $5.5 million, from $5.1 million.
But that did not always provide administration officials with the results they were looking for in the low-scoring school, so the administration is turning to UP, given the nonprofit’s success at the former Gavin Middle School in South Boston.
“The superintendent believes we have an obligation to make all of our schools really high achieving centers of excellence,” Wilder said. “I think we have a lot of respect for Teresa Harvey-Jackson and the staff at the Marshall Elementary School.” When pressed about Harvey-Jackson’s comments, Wilder said, “I don’t think it’s useful for us to get into a back-and-forth with her.”
Harvey-Jackson’s last day was yesterday (Oct. 31) after serving 19 years as principal. She had been planning to retire since Dec. 2011, she told the Reporter on Tuesday.
“I said what I had to say,” she said when asked about her remarks to the school committee. “Our kids deserve better. The resources are not equitable in the district.” Over the weekend, “we had a ceiling come down,” she added. “This is typical.” Asked if she had registered her concerns before the school committee meeting, Harvey-Jackson said, “I’m not getting anywhere trying to work or fight with the district.”
School officials acknowledged that tight budgets have meant some preventive maintenance being placed on the backburner to keep cuts away from the classroom. But they also note the Marshall has seen some upgrades and fixes over the years, including a pool refurbishment, locker replacements, heating and ventilation upgrade, a new roof, and a new fence and gate. A rubberized surface for the playground is also on the list, though Harvey-Jackson testified that came after three years of children hurting themselves at the playground.
Harvey-Jackson said repairs have become more frequent recently, just before school officials announced the proposal to turn the Marshall School into an in-district charter. “Last week I was informed the windows we’ve been waiting for ten years to be replaced, with asbestos caulking, will now be fixed,” she said in her testimony. “Yesterday, men arrived to fix the lighting. The building, which is supposed to be painted every seven years, has not been painted since 1995. All of the painting done at the Marshall has been done by City Year and its partners.”
At one point in her testimony, Harvey-Jackson paused and apologized. “I’m sorry, I’m really upset,” she said.
She added that the amount of violence that the student and staff have had to deal with is “overwhelming.” In November 2009, the school, which is in the Bowdoin-Geneva area, was confronted by back-to-back shootings, one gang-related shooting inside its walls after school hours, and another weeks earlier in which a man was shot 100 yards away.
For their part, school administration officials say they are focused on the school’s future. The decision to convert the elementary school into an in-district charter school is the “best option for them at this time,” Wilder said.
All current students will be able to stay on for the transition, according to Wilder.
In a statement announcing the changes to the Marshall, Johnson said, “We know parents in Boston want quality schools for their children and this proposal is part of our strategy to improve quality at 21 of our schools in need of high-support,” in a statement announcing the changes to the Marshall. To be successful in our mission we must use all the tools at our disposal. Unlocking Potential is a strong partner in our efforts to improve academic performance for the students we serve.”
If the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education signs off on the proposal, the Marshall would become the city’s sixth in-district charter school. “We’re very excited about what is on the horizon for this school,” Wilder said.