Mattahunt backers make late pitch to hold off BPS plan for a change-over

Mattahunt Elementary parants and members of Mattapan United packed the school cafeteria for a discussion with Supt. Tommy Chang, who has proposed re-opening the Level 4 school as an Early Childhood Center. Maddie Kilgannon photo

Frustrated parents and Mattapan community members, about two dozen in all, used a meeting Tuesday night to propose three alternatives to BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang, who was present, about his plan to shut down the struggling Mattahunt Elementary School and re-open it as an Early Education Center.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education gave the Boston Public Schools a deadline of Oct. 31 to present a compelling plan for the Mattahunt but later extended the deadline to Nov. 18. Chang was scheduled to present his plan to the School Committee on Wednesday after the Reporter had gone to press.

After years of poor standardized test scores, the 638-student Mattahunt has been classified this year as a “Level 4-under review” school, meaning it continues to seriously underperform expectations and is now a potential candidate for a state take-over.

Earlier this month, Chang announced his plan to avoid any state action while simultaneously advancing his long-term plan to increase the number of Pre-K seats in the Boston Public Schools.

The Mattahunt is termed a “capacity school” because it serves not only the Mattapan community, but is also a destination school for students from other schools. One in four of the students at the Mattahunt is administratively assigned to the school.

“I am very clear about what the community wants,” Chang said Tuesday evening. “I want to be able to remove the capacity status in order to allow the school to truly serve the community.”

At a meeting earlier this month following Chang’s announcement about his intention to close the school, the community voiced concerns over the timing and the scope of the early education center proposal, which will have the Mattahunt close at the end of this school year and reopen as a new entity late next summer.

Tuesday night’s meeting was promoted by the community-engagement group Mattapan United as a last-chance effort to forestall Chang’s plan.

All three of the group’s proposed options would leave the Mattahunt as a Level 4 school, a position Chang found wanting. “We can’t reorganize ourselves out of Level 5,” he said.

The first option, which received the most positive feedback, would label the school as an “Innovation School,” meaning the Mattahunt would be operated as the same K-5 grade configuration but would include a specific management committee that would allow for “increased autonomy and flexibility.”

Option two would extend Mattahunt’s Level 4 status by means of a new or modified turn-around plan, effectively continuing on the school’s current track. The main drawback to this proposal, one school official said, was that the school would no longer be able to apply for a federal reform grant.

The third option was similar, in that it would extend the Level 4 status of the school under the leadership of a “district-friendly receiver” who would act as an independent trustee for the school, and “report to the superintendent and/or commissioner.”

Elected officials in attendance had their own reactions.

“It’s ridiculous and sad at the same time that we’re in the space that we’re in,” said City Councillor Andrea Campbell. “We are where we are right now, so we now have to look forward. I am really concerned that people think we have space and time to go through these options, to work through these options, and make them happen.”

On the potential for a state takeover, the councillor added, “I was in an education meeting this morning. The commissioner is in the process of calling third-party institutions about the possibility of taking over the Mattahunt Schoool. This is a real possibility.”

State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry called the options proposals “creative.” She said she plans to meet with the commissioner next week to discuss Level 4 schools across the district.

To close the meeting, Mattapan United conducted an informal poll gauging parent support for the various projects.

One woman raised her hand in support of the early education center proposal; seven favored an innovation school; and five parents supported the extension of the Level 4 status. No one raised a hand in support of the third option.

“The risk of separating the school community,” one attendee said, “is equally as terrifying as becoming a Level 5 school. We are willing to take the risk.”