Early Ed Center set to replace Mattahunt

School Supt. Tommy Chang spoke during a meeting in the Mattahunt Elementary School cafeteria. BPS intends to close the existing school and re-open this summer as an Early Education center serving students in K-0 to grade 1. Jennifer Smith photo

Boston Public School Superintendent Tommy Chang is recommending that the underperforming Mattahunt Elementary school in Mattapan be transformed into an “early childhood center”— a plan that has been met with push-back from parents, despite BPS warnings that the chronically-failing school will otherwise be “taken over” by state officials.

In 2012, the school was declared a Level 4 “turnaround school”— the result of dismal MCAS scores. The school has consistently been among the lowest-achieving and least-improving schools in the Commonwealth, according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). The department has most recently been classified as “Level 4-under review” and has fallen into the first percentile of elementary schools statewide.

In a letter sent to parents last Friday, Chang warned that the school would likely be placed into receivership, unless BPS executes their preferred plan to convert the K-5 elementary school to an early education center serving students from pre-kindergarten (K0 and K1) to first grade.

Chang outlined the proposal in the letter. On Tuesday evening, a crowd of about 100 people— mainly parents and Mattapan residents— packed the school’s cafeteria to listen to Chang and other school officials explain their plan. Many chided BPS officials for poor communication and financial mismanagement of the 638-student school.

Superintendent Chang and Mattahunt principal Walter Henderson kicked off the presentation by explaining the facts behind the new proposal.

If the city does not take action, Chang said, the DESE can move the school into Level 5 status, placing the Mattahunt into state receivership. The Boston Public Schools system would no longer operate the facility.

“Basically, we will lose local control over the Mattahunt,” Chang said on Tuesday.

The DESE gave the Boston Public Schools a deadline of Oct. 31 to present a compelling plan for the elementary school. Chang said the city asked for more time and was granted an extension until Nov. 18.

The proposal was expected to be discussed with the Boston School Committee on Wednesday, followed by two weeks of community input, with a final proposal vote on Nov. 16 before BPS presents it to the state two days later.

Instructional Superintendent Mary Driscoll said, “We want the school committee to understand who exactly the children are that are being served… the school is serving a very high-need population. There are many children whose families have DCF involvement. There are families who have someone who is incarcerated.

“There’s also a lot of turnover, said Driscoll, adding that the Mattahunt experiences 22 percent enrollment changes between from one academic year to the next. “So, there’s just a lot of churn, and that makes it very challenging to work with students over multiple years,” Driscoll said.

Despite over $600,000 poured into the school annually since its drop to Level 4 status three years ago, the incremental gains did not meet the state standards, officials said. The plan now is to take the most successful components of the Mattahunt — its early childhood education — and refocus resources around serving those needs.

“It will allow the district to use the building in a creative way,” Henderson said.

Asked how children forced to leave the school would be assigned to other facilities, Chang said they would be given priority just below those with siblings for school preference. As all other school in the district are Level 3 or above, every student would necessarily be placed into a higher-quality school, he said.

Parents and community members asked why so many of them learned of Tuesday’s meeting the day before, through Facebook posts or through calls from friends but not through official school channels.

Along with sending out a mass email to the Mattahunt community on Friday, school officials made robo-calls over the weekend and Monday, as well as sent each child home Monday afternoon with a letter announcing the meeting.

Aveann Bridgemohan said her 9-year-old daughter, Antonette, has been enrolled at the Mattahunt since K2. She found out about meeting from a post on Facebook on Monday morning.

Now in third grade, Antonette has seen three different principals pass through. Standing beside her mother, Antonette echoed parents’ concerns about an unsupportive environment for students, the majority of whom are people of color and many of whom are English language learners.

“I’m frustrated because it doesn’t change the fact that, wherever they’re going to do, they’re not going to put enough resources to make it a state of the art early educational system,” Bridgemohan. “It’s going to fail too. It’s still the same BPS.”

Faced with impassioned debate, Chang said the plan is intentionally “half-baked,” anticipating additional community input to refine the plan.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first of three planned community meetings on the Mattahunt school. Two more will take place this weekend: Saturday from 4-5 p.m. and on Sunday from 5-6 p.m. in the cafeteria.

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