In Dramatic Shift, Harvard-Kent To Get Sixth Grade Added in 2020

Last fall, Interim Supt. Laura Perille and her team came to Charlestown High School to talk about BuildBPS and new changes to education in the Town – but she was met with some very disappointed parents at the Harvard-Kent Elementary School who wanted a quick sixth grade expansion and were told that was years away.

They flooded the School Department and City Hall with phone calls – pleading their case for a sixth grade to be added to their emerging K-5 school.

Their pleas were heard, and their request granted.

On Tuesday, Supt. Perille announced that the Harvard-Kent would be one of six citywide schools to add a sixth grade to their school in September 2020 – well ahead of disappointing predictions made last fall to parents.

“The Harvard-Kent is a great example of some of the shifts and changes we made in response to community feedback,” said Perille in a reporters roundtable Tuesday. “The rollout of our initial Phase 2 plan in October did say that unless we were converting a middle school we were going to be able to respond to the pent-up demand to add a sixth grade. Charlestown and the Harvard-Kent were just one of many citywide who have long been waiting for this, whether it’s the Manning in Jamaica Plain, the Hale in Roxbury and about 35 or 40 schools that have indicated interest. So what we did was in response to that, I went back to the BuildBPS team and asked if we could come up with some criteria to identify a group of schools that could go early on an accelerated timeline.”

Perille said she heard from the Harvard-Kent and a number of other schools that were ready to go and could likely make the transition with little impact.

The interim superintendent was facing a challenge, and she said she went back to the drawing board and came back with a new path forward.

“That’s exactly what happened,” she said. “We came up with those criteria, shared them with all elementary school leaders in January…We put the guidelines out and 14 schools responded to raise their hand that they would like to be a part of that. From that we identified the citywide schools that includes the Harvard-Kent, and also all of the East Boston schools that want to move forward.”

In addition to the Harvard-Kent, five other K-5 schools citywide will make the move in 2020 – as will five schools in South Boston and Dorchester as part of a plan to construct a new Boston Community Leadership Academy High School on Columbia Point there. In East Boston, six K-5 schools will make the transition to add a sixth grade in 2021 as part of an overall planning revamp of all schools there.

For parents, adding that one single grade might seem insignificant, but it allays a lot of anxiety. Without a sixth grade, many parents had to scramble to find a school for one year to have their child attend before they headed off to a 7-12 school. Or, they had to choose a less desirable stand-alone middle school with Grades 6-8 that the district announced it will be transitioning away from. With a sixth grade, parents said, they can be assured of one educational transition after sixth grade if they so choose.

“The Harvard-Kent Parents Association is thrilled with the news that the Harvard-Kent meets the BPS criteria to add a sixth grade,” read a statement from parents on Tuesday night. “The addition of the 6th grade not only limits the number of transitions our students have, but also ensures them a seat in a high quality school for an additional year. We would like to thank BPS for listening and engaging with the parents of the Harvard-Kent community as we worked together to ensure the highest quality education for all students in BPS.”

Principal Jason Gallagher said he was extremely pleased the district saw the need at the Harvard-Kent and responded.

“We think this is lining up really, really well for the kids in our school,” he said. “It stops that extra transition that was happening. From what I’ve heard from parents so far, they are really, really happy…We’re really appreciative of the superintendent and her team taking another look at us. It shows a lot that they had that flexibility. We may have pushed back a little, but we understand we were a Boston Public School and would do whatever they came up with. We did it respectfully and I think that went a long way.”

Councilor Lydia Edwards said she was pleased to see so much attention on District 1, but said there needs to be even more certainty after sixth grade.

“I’m pleased to see substantial expansion investments to Boston Public Schools in District One,” she said in a statement. “The acquisition of a building in East Boston and re-purposed existing space in Charlestown are necessary first steps to ensure adequate seats are available for growing neighborhoods. However, Boston will continue to foster uncertainty in families without a guaranteed pathway for our children from kindergarten to high school. I will remain cautiously optimistic and work with BPS to ensure a well-developed plan is presented to parents for student tracks beyond the sixth grade.”

As part of the plan to qualify, the Harvard-Kent had to show they were including their Special Education/ELL populations in the expansion, that they weren’t wiping out art and science space for expansion, and they weren’t making significant impacts on feeder schools.

According to Perille, they met all of those requirements and were approved.

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