If there is a key cog in the wheel of public education in Charlestown and East Boston, that critical cog is the Edwards Middle School on Main Street.
As School Department officials rolled out major changes to the landscape of public education citywide on Tuesday, one of the major two-year planning processes described was for the Edwards – a planning process that will be as critical for East Boston as it is for Charlestown.
Interim Supt. Laura Perille said the Edwards Middle 6-8 houses about 55 percent of kids from East Boston, and about 40 percent from other parts of the city – with virtually none of the students coming from Charlestown.
Yet, at the same time, East Boston families want more seats for middle school in their community so kids aren’t so far from home, and Charlestown parents of younger kids want more seats in the Town.
Enter the Edwards Middle and the intricate balance it plays in the education of students from across the city – but not necessary from Charlestown.
“If you pull the thread on one side of the bridge, you see its impact at a school on the other side of the bridge,” Perille said. “Putting those together is why we believe all of the changes across East Boston and Charlestown should be done in a completely transparent planning process – the same two-year time period we think is responsible to do shifts of this scale and thus aim for the beginning of implementation in the beginning of September 2021.”
Perille said they want to engage the communities of Charlestown and East Boston so that both demands can be met for families. She said they believe by building more middle school capacity at East Boston High and other places in Eastie, they can free up the Edwards for a new kind of early education and elementary school property.
“Across both East Boston and Charlestown there is demand for sixth grade, but also demand for K1,” she said. “So we have an early elementary as well as an elementary need. That’s where our numbers are. The Harvard-Kent is a high-performing and popular school and the Warren-Prescott is a high performing and popular school. They are both at their maximum, particularly the Warren-Prescott, which is actually using leased space in buildings around the corner. Between that and additional demand for elementary seats, we imagined that the reconfiguration of the Edwards is about adding early elementary and elementary seats. The possibilities are there. We are announcing the planning process about the plan that will be developed, but the discussion topics in that plan are fairly straightforward.”
That process will begin soon, but no meetings are scheduled yet.
She said it could result in some partnership with the Harvard-Kent or the Warren-Prescott, or something new.
“There is an opportunity to add elementary seats, both K1 and sixth grade,” she said. “Whether there is a combination of the Edwards with the Warren-Prescott or Harvard-Kent or some other constellation as yet to be suggested, that’s what the planning process will do.”
Edwards Principal Laryssa Doherty said there are mixed reactions, but the school community sees opportunity.
“It’s an opportunity for the school,” she said. “Increasingly students come over from East Boston. They deserve an opportunity to go to a school within a walkable distance from their home. That solves a problem through an equity lens…We’re looking forward to working with the district for a plan that works for the community inside and outside the school.”
She said there is some anxiety from students and staff about what might come next, but she also said many are ready to dig in and see what opportunity might be next for the Edwards.
In East Boston, to free up the Edwards, the City is allowing six elementary schools to add a sixth grade by 2021. They are also looking at expanding East Boston High School from a 9-12 configuration to a 7-12. In addition, they have purchased a parcel of land in Eastie to build a new K-6 school. With those things happening, Perille said they believe they are ready to make a timeline and a plan for the Edwards.
“These schools in East Boston are tremendously interconnected as they are also with the Charlestown schools, but we now see our way clear to start the beginning of the intensive planning and community engagement process around the reconfiguration of the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown as well,” she said. “So that will involve not just the (East Boston schools), but on the Charlestown side we will have the Harvard Kent…, the Warren Prescott, the Edwards Middle School and Charlestown High School. In the middle is the North End and the Eliot School, but these shifts will predominately impact feeder patterns in Charlestown and East Boston. However, it is our belief that all of them have to be looked at simultaneously.”
She stressed that they cannot forget about Charlestown High School, and while they look at Eastie High for a 7-12, they will also look to see if Charlestown High also could expand its grade configuration.
Councilor Lydia Edwards said she wants to see stability in grade configuration and in the finances of the schools – as they have routinely been on the chopping block for cuts during budget season.
I have expressed concerns about recent operating cuts to area schools, and given this, Boston Public Schools must provide a plan to stabilize funding levels and expand high schools from the seventh through 12th grades in addition to proposed elementary and middle school expansions,” she said. “I look forward to working with newly appointed Superintendent Dr. Brenda Casselius, the Walsh administration, and BPS officials to guarantee certainty, stability, and opportunity for both parents and children. Additionally, my office will be reaching out to discuss transitional plans for the school community at the Edwards Middle School.”
Perille finished by saying – as Principal Doherty also said – that they must consider the children now in these schools and how the possibility of change could affect them.
“We are planning those changes for Edwards two years from now to provide ample time to engage in thoughtful public dialog and plan as a community and maintain fulfilling educational experiences through the transitions,” she said. “There are children in all of these schools now. There will be children in the Edwards, so while we’re planning we need to pay attention to the impact on the pathways and transitions for students in any school that might be experiencing change and that’s incredibly important to us.”