Education and school buildings comprised a hefty portion of Mayor Michelle Wu’s 2023 State of the City address, and one key piece involves a collaboration between Boston Public Schools (BPS) and Dorchester’s UMass Boston.
In her speech, Mayor Wu outlined a pilot program for Fenway High School students to be able to take a “Year 13” after graduation to work towards a college degree at UMass Boston.
“I am announcing that—in partnership with UMass Boston—we’ll build on that foundation by piloting a Year 13 program at Fenway High School,” she said at the MGM Music Hall next to Fenway Park. “This will give our students an additional full year of college-level courses debt-free as they transition to college and accelerate toward a degree.”
Fenway High School, located in Mission Hill, takes students from all over the city, including several from Dorchester and Mattapan. The school already offers a robust early college program where students can take classes without cost at UMass Boston or Wentworth Institute of Technology and earn up to two years of college credit. However, that offer ends once they graduate.
With the new “Year 13” concept, they can continue taking those classes without cost for another year after the graduate if they are working towards a degree.
Above, UMass Boston officials were present and celebrating a new collaboration with the city. L-R Matt Fenlon, Chancellor Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco, Phil Carver, and Provost Joseph Berger. Seth Daniel photo
“UMass Boston is committed to expanding access to higher education, particularly to those who face systemic barriers to succeeding in college,” said UMass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco. “Our partnership with Boston Public Schools to provide Fenway High students with a ‘fifth year’ will open doors and opportunities for first-generation students, students of color, those facing economic challenges, and many others.”
“Year 13” is also something that’s been pushed by Councillor at-Large Michael Flaherty for some time, and on Wednesday night he applauded the move online.
“BPS finally has a Year 13,” he wrote. “(I’m) Honored to be with Mayor Wu for her first State of the City. I look forward to working with Mayor Wu and Superintendent Skipper on best practices for the first cohort (of Year 13 students).”
The idea has been tried already around Greater Boston with some success, particularly in a partnership between Chelsea Public Schools and Bunker Hill Community College prior to the pandemic. If it proves successful at Boston’s Fenway High, the hope is it would be expanded. Mayor Wu said it is up to the leaders of the city to make sure young people are equipped for life after high school.
“If we expect our young people to be the leaders our world needs, then it’s on all of us to take every step to ensure they have the skills and experience to meet this moment,” she said in her speech.
Facilities at the forefront
Part of Mayor Wu’s speech also addressed new and renovated school facility projects. She noted that the brand new Boston Arts Academy had just opened right across from the MGM Fenway Music Hall and was quite impressive. She also noted that the Josiah Quincy Upper School, now under construction downtown, started in 2012 and has taken too long.
She said all school projects are taking too long, and her administration is looking to shorten the planning period to make sure school facilities are delivered in a more timely manner.
“The (Josiah Quincy) project was kicked off in 2012: three mayors and six superintendents ago,” she said. “Students in 1st grade when this project started will have graduated from high school by the time it’s finished. We’re making changes to speed up not just individual schools, but our whole district.”
She said in comments after the speech that by eliminating the programmatic study at the outset of a school renovation or new construction, they can save about one year. This was outlined almost a year ago in May 2022 when Wu unveiled the Green New Deal for BPS in the South End. She said that effort hasn’t stalled out but has moved forward through laying the groundwork for this more-streamlined process.
“Even a condensed process when it has all those steps is many years long,” she said.
“By having those conversations now and setting those educational specifications, we can shorten that process,” she told reporters after the speech. “We’re also moving into community design process for many of the schools we have brought online – Madison Park has been moving along and so are the elementary schools. Individual schools are going to keep being accelerated but this is to speed up the process overall.”
Madison Park did have two online school community planning meetings last year, but one of them wasn’t well advertised and didn’t draw many participants. The second meeting also wasn’t well advertised, according to some, including District 7 Councillor Tania Fernandes Anderson, and was roundly criticized throughout the meeting. There have been no further school community meetings on Madison Park since then.
One piece of the speech that went somewhat under the radar on the education front was a commitment to invest $50 million into inclusion education “so every student gets the education they deserve,” Wu said.
Schools in Dorchester that are designated inclusion schools – where students with disabilities learn in the same classroom alongside general education students – are the Henderson Upper School (Grade 3-12) and the Oliver Wendell Holmes K-6 School. The inclusion model has been popular in education circles but has been in question recently due to more general education students and parents pulling out of the model. Inclusion schools in the district have experienced more behavioral issues of concern over the past few years than they did at their outset a decade ago.
Wu also committed to investments in supportive services like social workers and counselors in all schools – continuing the investments in such services that were brought on with COVID-19 federal monies and by some strong advocacy pre-pandemic from former Dorchester Councillor At-Large Annissa Essaibi George.
“Because we know our students are people and family members first, we are investing in social workers and counselors at every school, with dedicated bi-lingual social workers trained to meet the needs of our multilingual students and families,” Wu said.