Wu bullish on new building for a Shaw-Taylor merger

The PA Shaw school is a single-strand school (meaning it only has general education classrooms and no inclusion classrooms) limited to grades K-3 and having fewer than 200 students.
Reporter file photo

Mayor Wu told Reporter editors in a wide-ranging interview this month that her legacy will hinge on how the Boston Public Schools (BPS) improve during her administration, including the likelihood of consolidating small school communities that dominate the side streets and neighborhoods throughout Dorchester and Mattapan.

She spoke at length about the proposed merger of the Pauline A. Shaw and the Charles Taylor schools in Mattapan, which is expected to be approved by the School Committee in a vote this week. The current plan calls for a new building to house the merged institution.

Wu said that as enrollment numbers have continued to decrease over the last few years, it will make more sense to consolidate schools and invest in new buildings for larger school communities –with modern conveniences and more beyond-classroom amenities.

“On facilities alone, it is really important that every student, every educator, has a space that matches what they need,” Wu said. “Some of this conversation is acknowledging what we’re already seeing playing out in enrollment patterns around the city, and that we need to both invest in the brand-new buildings, but make sure they are of the size and the design and have the offerings that will actually connect with what students need.”

There are 32 school communities in Dorchester and Mattapan, and a large number of them have small brick buildings with unique architectural styles in mature sub-neighborhoods and on side streets. Many are over 100 years old and have not been adequately maintained over the years. The buildings are a mixed lot, with 25 of them some combination of elementary school grades, 16 of them brick buildings from the early 1900s, 5 are from the Urban Renewal era of the 1960s, and 4 are newer buildings like Mildred Avenue K-8 in Mattapan. The rest are high schools or free-standing middle schools – like the Lilla Frederick Pilot School that serves grades 6-8.

As to the Shaw-Taylor merger, there are now 358 students at the Taylor and 187 at the Shaw. As the two communities debate the merits of a merger, Wu said that for her, success is all about bringing facilities up to modern standards.

“I know from my kids’ experience,” she said, “how they do in school very much relates to how much they feel like the bathrooms are clean, usable. It’s just something that we take for granted in so many buildings across the city – but are not at that level in our schools.”

BPS has applied to the state Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for funding for a new Shaw-Taylor facility, but BPS hasn’t been all that successful in securing funding for new schools in the last several years. While the Carter School in the South End has been approved, and the new Josiah Quincy School in Chinatown is under construction, others, like the Blackstone K-8 in the South End and the McKay Elementary in East Boston, were turned down last year by the MSBA – requiring them to begin the application process again.

Wu said she thinks it will be different for the Shaw-Taylor proposal. She and her team have met with the MSBA several times in an effort to understand their decision-making and how they fund schools statewide.

“We are really trying to highlight the urgency, and I think we have a good sense of what the MSBA is looking for, and that this would be a really good fit,” she said.

Wu concluded by reiterating her opening remarks: “I’m going to put the legacy of our administration on how we serve our young people and the Boston Public Schools, and so the facilities are a huge part of that.”

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