The Boston Public Schools (BPS) will pursue state funding and approvals for a new K-6 school complex in the Dorchester-Mattapan area, officials said last Thursday (March 9) in announcing they will file an application with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) if the Boston School Committee approves a merger of the Pauline A. Shaw and Charles H. Taylor Elementary schools at its meeting next month.
Both the School Committee and the City Council will have to approve the filing with the state authority.
“I’m excited about this proposal and the opportunity to build a world-class facility to serve the Dorchester and Mattapan communities for generations to come,” said Mary Skipper, BPS superintendent and Dorchester resident, in a statement to the Reporter. She noted that MSBA has been an “invaluable partner” with BPS.
District officials said they planned to submit a “statement of interest” to the MSBA for a new school following an affirmative vote by the School Committee. If the state agency gives its approval and puts the merger funding into its pipeline, it could take up to four years to see construction begun.
“If the application is successful, we will start the process of finding a location in the southern Dorchester or Mattapan area and designing a school that better serves our students – one that is healthy, sustainable, and inclusive, with the individual support, services, and resources that each student needs to thrive,” said Delavern Stanislaus, BPS chief of capital planning.
The new school’s location would be determined during the MSBA process, with extensive community involvement, according to officials.
If all goes as hoped for, the new school will be the 10th one built in Boston over the past 40 years, and the first in Mattapan and Dorchester since 2003 when both the Lila Frederick Pilot Middle School on Columbia Road in Dorchester and the Mildred Avenue School in Mattapan were opened under the late Mayor Thomas Menino’s administration.
The announcement of the plans for a new building brings excitement but also an air of frustration for some. Many BPS students for the past few generations have gone to buildings without modern amenities, a “harsh reality” that Stanislaus acknowledged in noting that most current Taylor-Shaw families will not benefit from the new amenities due to the long timeline for planning and construction.
“It’s unfortunate all of the kids in the city, including myself, didn’t get to attend a state-of-the-art school with music labs and gyms and all of those good things,” she said. “It’s exciting for me to do the work for future BPS students…and be empathetic to families that say, ‘You do this for other kids, but it wasn’t done for my kids.’”
Stanislaus noted that BPS is trying to write the wrongs of the past and stressed that under the “Green New Deal for BPS” – which includes 15 school projects and a renovation of White Stadium – new schools would be “community hubs,” not just schools.
“These schools will start with the students, but they don’t end with the students,” she said. “Your kids may not have had the classroom experience [of a new school], but they will have experiences in utilizing community spaces as a community hub.”
The bid for a new school does not mean the current two-school, one campus situation will get any less attention, school officials told the Reporter. If approved, the merger will take effect for the 2024-2025 school year and the overall plan includes short-term and the long-term investments. For instance, the Taylor is scheduled to have a new HVAC system installed this year and to get a new roof.
Additionally, classrooms will be reconfigured with an eye toward merger approval, which will free up dedicated space for things like libraries and art specialist facilities.
Other considerations flow from discussions about the merger.
• BPS has affirmed that every school in Boston eventually will be a full inclusion school. Inclusion can mean many things, but essentially it ends the practice of separate classrooms for students with disabilities. Though not every student will end up in general education classrooms, they will at the least start out there and get “pull-out or push in” services added to their day, school officials said.
A key consideration for a new Shaw-Taylor school will be making sure that full inclusion is in effect on the campus. Right now, the Taylor has some language and inclusion services, but the Shaw does not; it’s considered a “single-strand school” that only serves general education students.
• Student population. School officials said a new school would only be for the Shaw-Taylor school community only. It would have an enrollment of around 600 students, and would not be part of a larger plan to close multiple “single-strand” smaller schools that only serve general education students.
• More mergers and perhaps closures could be coming over the next year once a district-wide facilities audit is completed. “That will put us in a place to know the condition of all of our buildings. We will have a long-term master plan where we can better plan for all our future projects and understand what buildings need to be accelerated,” said capital planning chief Stanislaus.
“We’re going to have to look at different options. I will be looking at merging buildings, closing buildings, and building new buildings.”
In its coverage of the school system, the Reporter has heard from officials and the public talk about mergers or closings in Dorchester and Mattapan. They include the Sarah Greenwood, the Joseph Lee Academy, the Kenny School, the Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Russell Elementary School and the Roger Clap Elementary.
BPS proposed three school mergers last May, one of which they postponed indefinitely. Those remaining are Shaw-Taylor and the Sumner-Philbrick pairing in Roslindale.
• The number of older buildings that are underutilized due to decreasing enrollment.
• The need for a baseline school design standard to speed up construction, akin to what the Boston Public Library uses for its building projects. A basic design outlook is something the mayor referenced in an interview after her State of the City Address in January. School officials said new school projects in Boston often start from scratch as if they don’t know what a school should look like. They noted that the Josiah Quincy School downtown took almost 10 years to move from proposal to the MSBA application.
That experience is something Boston officials do not wish to repeat, and they will be piloting the expedited process with any potential new Shaw-Taylor school.
• Financing. The MSBA process includes a certain level of state reimbursement for school projects. In the past, some districts received up to 90 percent reimbursement for their projects. Those days are over. The amount will depend upon the design of the school and the MSBA’s potential feasibility study and analysis.
For its part, the city is prepared to spend its own money, said Stanislaus, particularly from the capital budget, as a means of accelerating school projects and include more amenities.
There were a couple of design studies funded in last year’s capital budget, notably one for a new Madison Park Technical and Vocational School, and school officials told the Reporter that funding for design studies will only grow in the next few years.
Stanislaus said she would attend the March 15 School Committee meeting at 5 p.m. to discuss the proposed statement of interest application to the MSBA for a new Shaw-Taylor Elementary School.
This post has been updated.