In a meeting at the Edwards Middle School on Monday, a group of young parents met with Supt. Brenda Cassellius for an intimate talk about the future of the school – one that many young parents hope can be used for local elementary seats sooner rather than later.
Cassellius scheduled the meeting after hearing from the parents in large numbers, and at the request of Charlestown School Committeeman Michael O’Neill.
First on the agenda was squelching a rumor that the Edwards School was going to be demolished and turned into condos.
“This will be used for education,” she said. “I’ve never had a conversation with anyone, not the mayor or anyone else about this being anything other than a school. The question is do we demolish it and build a new school, or are the bones of the school good enough to renovate it. Renovation is a quicker solution, but maybe it isn’t the best solution. We have to look at the bathrooms, the electrical systems and the heating systems. We want a 21st -century environment that might look like the Eliot School…We have to do a Feasibility Study first. You wouldn’t want to put $20 million of renovations in and 20 years later tear it down because you have a major flooding problem come up.”
Parents of young children in Charlestown have been clamoring for the Central Office to address the numbers of seats available in the Town – as many parents applying for kindergarten routinely get wait listed at the Warren-Prescott, the Harvard-Kent and the Eliot. That puts them with the possibility of having their children assigned to areas far outside of the neighborhood like East Boston or Chinatown.
Few want that, and they see the possibility of the Edwards as being a solution very fast – perhaps even next year.
“There are kids that need to be educated now in our Charlestown community and waiting for a renovation isn’t going to help them,” said Janelle Bruno. “We want to know if the school can renovate half of the building and use the other half…We do have a sense of urgency. We really want to know what will happen come September for kindergarten.”
At issue are the numbers of seats versus the demand in Charlestown – something that parents have complained about for some time as they feel the City’s numbers are vastly incorrect.
Cassellius took that under advisement and said that would be the first order of business – to find out what the real demand is and what the real numbers of seats are. Getting accurate numbers, she said, would be something they do very quickly.
Cassellius and Deputy Supt. Tommy Welch said the budget cycle begins on July 1 and the Feasibility Study for the Edwards has been proposed in the current budget. While there are a lot of new initiatives and investments in the current budget, the Edwards School will be part of the conversation coming up after the budget regarding Grades 7-12 High School Re-Design. The Edwards situation will likely get moved into the conversation about Charlestown High School, which Cassellius said she would support going to a 7-12 model.
However, the matter of urgency in the situation – like within the next few months – was a topic that continued to come around in the meeting. Many families with kids that would come into kindergarten next September are in panic mode now as there is so much uncertainty on the wait lists.
“Families are going to move,” said Mandy Datro. “I know it’s been a hot topic…So there is a real sense of urgency and having another building – even part of it – could be a good option.”
There is a movement to find space in the Edwards next year, in one of its many spaces, for the extra students. The Edwards Middle is being phased out, and there will not be a sixth grade next year, only a 7th and 8th grade. There has been a suggestion by young parents that some of the Edwards and Warren Prescott Middle School students could be mixed in extra space at the Warren -rescott. That could potentially free up swing space at the Edwards to be used for the younger kids who need classroom space.
Cassellius said it is a possibility, but only if the parents in those school communities agree to it.
There are about 59 students that could be relocated if all parties agree, but Cassellius said that was going to take a lot of quick work.
“I know if it were something that (both principals) and the parents were all in on and it could increase the experience for the 7th and 8th graders at the Edwards and the 7th and 8th graders at the Warren Prescott, then I am open to it,” she said. “If it were a win-win then I have no problem with a win-win solution…Even if just one parent were against it, I would hesitate. We can look into that as an option, but I can’t commit to it.”
As the meeting came to a close, Cassellius said she would look into short-term solutions, starting with collecting the right data.
“I don’t have a solution for the short-term,” she said. “I want to go back to the data issues and see where in the pipeline we are.”
The idea of a new Edwards, or a renovated Edwards, will be a discussion that will transpire this spring, summer and fall. Meetings to address the long-term use of the school will go on simultaneously as the Feasibility Study commences, Welch said.