The Edwards Middle School will likely be phased out in the coming years, according to Boston Public Schools (BPS) officials, as the district looks to simplify its school pathways, eliminate freestanding middle schools, and help solve the shortage of elementary seats in Charlestown and East Boston.
The announcement came during the community’s BuildBPS meeting on Friday, Nov. 2, and it featured a rather crowded room for a late evening meeting on a Friday. Interim Supt. Laura Perille and her staff were there to introduce BuildBPS to the community and talk about some of the reorganizations that will likely occur in Charlestown – which many learned were inexorably tied to much larger changes happening in East Boston.
School officials said the major change in Charlestown will be likely to phase out the Edwards Middle, which services mostly students from other neighborhoods, and possibly use it as extra space to support the elementary schools.
“The plan will be on converting our underutilized middle school buildings to help our elementary schools and to enhance 7-12 pathways for our families,” said Nate Kudor, CFO of the BPS. “Any conversation about the Edwards in Charlestown has to include the East Boston community. The path forward is having new construction in East Boston. We want to put a new elementary school in East Boston to reduce some of the students coming to the Edwards. We will have a conversation about the K-8 pathways, the Edwards, and the Harvard-Kent and Warrant Prescott in the spring. A potential solution is with the Edwards and the Harvard-Kent, which is the only non-K-8 school in Charlestown and the North End. We want to have conversations about K-8 and K-6 with the Harvard-Kent. In this neighborhood, we’re not looking at new construction particularly, but reconfiguring purposes for buildings…In Charlestown and the North End, there are strong K-8s. We’re not looking to roll that back, but create cleaner pathways.”
The idea of BuildBPS is to clean up the pathways for students and families by building new buildings, repurposing other buildings like the Edwards, reconfiguring existing programs and putting in a regular maintenance schedule for existing facilities. Mayor Martin Walsh has promised $1 billion will be made available to the schools over the next 10 years, with about three-fourths of that coming from the City and one-quarter from the state. It would be the first large investment in school facilities in Boston over the last 50 years, and plans for spending that money are now being pounded out in meetings such as last Friday’s.
Perille said the majority of the money is going to be spent on the other side of the City, in areas like Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, Hyde Park and West Roxbury. Those areas are already overloaded with students, and many cannot find seats there now. She said they have identified nine sites citywide – most in the south of the city – and plan to build five new buildings.
At least one of those buildings would be in East Boston, which will shift usage and help reduce the student population from Eastie migrating to the Edwards. Most of the Edwards students, they said, are from East Boston and other parts of the city. They come, Kudor said, because they often cannot find seats in their own neighborhood.
That parallels with the district’s new vision to eliminate free-standing middle schools like the Edwards. Perille said in 2009, Boston had 16 stand-alone middle schools, but because of the rise of the K-8 model, there are now only five. The move to K-8s, such as at the Eliot School or the Warren Prescott, have dried up enrollment in middle schools.
Also, to make things easier for parents, the idea would be to have one transition for families. To do that, the district would migrate to K-8s, such as at the Warren Prescott and the Eliot School, or to K-6s. That would allow students to transition to a 7-12 high school or a 9-12 high school.
The Edwards, many hope, would be able to serve as expansion room for the Harvard-Kent, or perhaps the Warren Prescott. Already, the Eliot School – which has more than 200 Charlestown students – is wrapping up a new construction project in the North End that will enhance availability here.
The possibilities vary greatly right now, but the general idea is now being put out to the public.
“We’re going to start that conversation this spring,” said Kudor. “It’s not going to be seven years before we start that conversation.”
However, before anything is implemented or the Edwards Middle School is phased out, it could be several years depending on how fast things move in Eastie.
At the same time as that big announcement came, parents from the Harvard-Kent were on hand in large numbers to demand that BPS move quick on a recent request to expand the K-5 to a K-6. The Harvard-Kent applied to BPS last month for an expansion to add a sixth grade.
Parents explained that having the missing grade complicates things for them, making them have to search for a school that will allow their child to attend one year of sixth grade before moving again.
“Adding a sixth grade to the Harvard Kent is a quick move,” said Becky Adamonis, who has two sons at the Harbard-Kent. “You’ll help 90 kids stay in a safe environment where they excel…It helps keep parents in that there would be a cleaner transition to middle school. I urge you to up the conversation so it goes quicker. My experience with BPS is that who is the loudest gets what they want…There are 90 kids that need to stay in that school. Saying it’s two or three years away is not ok. I might not be the loudest parent, but I will be the most persistent.”
Added parent Emily Wiemers, “Making them switch in fifth grade is a really big deal. Sometimes there are special circumstances when you just get to help some kids and I think this is one of them.”
Kudor said he knows things need to move quicker, but he also said they have to be careful they don’t make more mistakes in trying to fix one issue.
“It’s not going to happen in September 2019, no,” he said. “There is just no way we can move that fast. That is our ongoing challenge. It doesn’t mean we can’t be in dialog to talk about how things can happen quicker.”
The BuildBPS effort is just now underway and scores of meetings will also take place in other parts of the city. The public is encouraged to look at the full plans on BuildBPS.org. Planning efforts will continue for the next several months.