The announcement on last Friday by Mayor Thomas Menino of the pending purchase of the building at 585 Commercial Street in the North End for a new K-8 school with an opening in 2016 certainly comes as good news to the many local families who will be able to choose a school closer to their homes. More than 2,000 school age children that have been waiting almost a decade for this moment. Just last week, a coalition of parents held a meeting to discuss the need for a walkable downtown school.
At this meeting it was noted that in the neighborhoods of Charleston, Back Bay, Beacon Hill and Kenmore, there is not one K-8 public school. Many of the K-8 public schools for these neighborhoods were closed as school enrollment decreased and were sold and have been converted into condominiums such as the Prince School on Newbury Street.
However, the possible purchase is just the beginning in a long process.
The first hurdle would be to have the City Council approve the money to buy and then develop the building as a new school. With three City Councilors, Sal LaMattina, Mike Ross and John Connolly committed to a new downtown school, the approval by the City Council is well on its way.
Another hurdle would be the school choice plan that has been recently approved by the School Committee. The building of this new school would not guarantee that every school age child in our neighborhood would be able to attend this school. The school district could include students from the North End, Charlestown, East Boston and other neighborhoods identified in the Boston Public School facilities long-term strategic plan.
For this new school to truly flourish as an educational institute, the commitment of parents is essential. One only has to look at the various schools in our present district, The Harvard Kent, the Warren Prescott or The Eliot in the North End to see that not only are there dedicated principals but a very involved association of parents. This last group is perhaps the greatest key to success for any school.
Today, it seems that many of these committed parents talk about leaving the City of Boston as their children approach school age. The attractiveness of diversity in our neighborhoods and of city living is less as these families move out. This is really a lose-lose proposition for everyone. A recent educational study shows that even if economically disadvantaged students are given the same resources, the level of learning for children is greater if the class is more economically diversified.
Lastly, the quality of education for all the Boston Public Schools must be improved. There are many high performing schools in the system but there are many underperforming schools as well. Parents know these underperforming schools and try to get their children into higher performing schools even if these better schools are not a walking distance from their homes. This is the greatest challenge facing the officials at the Boston Public Schools. While they are addressing this issue, the fix is still years away.
An old Chinese proverb states: “A journey of a thousand miles, starts with a single step.” On Friday, a single step was taken.