Supt. Brenda Cassellius said in a recent interview that she would be supporting the idea of adding a middle school to Charlestown High and making it a clear pathway encompassing Grades 7-12, a vision that is shared with Charlestown High Principal Will Thomas.
At the current moment, Cassellius and the School Committee are working out an innovative School Budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, starting on July 1. However, once that is ironed out, a bigger discussion about high school re-design will commence, and Cassellius said she will support a middle school addition for Charlestown High.
“Charlestown High School is really going to be a wonderful school and we are really going to invest in it,” said Cassellius. “I do want to make it a 7-12 school. I have been pretty public about that (at School Committee meetings). The larger open high schools are going to need future investments.”
The current budget proposal focuses on 33 very high-need schools throughout the City, with one of them being Charlestown High School. Those investments include bringing in new services and social services as well. Year two of that process will be all about high school re-design, she said, and that will include conversations about Charlestown High expansion and the future uses of the Edwards Middle School – which is being phased out.
Principal Will Thomas said they have been thinking about the idea for the last four or five years, as it was once floated by a previous superintendent.
“We had been considering it and thinking about it since then and our staff would welcome it if it comes,” he said. “It’s up to the superintendent and we go by what she wants to do. We do welcome the idea though. We do feel a little sympathetic for the Edwards School. When a school is shuttered, it’s never a happy thing. We want to figure out what’s best for students…I think that could be a great idea, as long as we do it in an equitable way and distribute the resources to the highest need.”
Thomas said the physical plant of the high school is massive, and once held up to 1,200 students. This year, they are hovering around 900 students, so there is ample space for any expansion to a modest, separated middle school of between 100 to 200 students.
“If we were able to hold 1,200 students at one time, then there should be room for another 100 to 150 kids,” he said. “I think there’s a way to do it.”
Any expansion would require buy-in from the Charlestown community of parents, which is rather unheard of today. Most of the Charlestown High community comes from Mattapan, Dorchester and Roxbury. Only about 10 percent or less of the students actually hail from Charlestown. Few parents in Charlestown now even consider the local high school as an option – and that has been the case for decades, a remaining vestige of busing era.
Thomas said he still envisions his school as being an open enrollment school that is open to, and attracts, a diverse student body from all over the City, including Charlestown. He said they have made major strides in the last few years with their early college program at Bunker Hill Community College and Cambridge College, and he believes that could be attractive to parents in the Town – and could be expanded down to any new middle school.
Right now, the pathway programs include technology, business, and health careers. Freshmen in the program currently have an exploratory year at the high school, but sophomores make a decision on their pathway and Bunker Hill professors come to the school to teach the classes. By 11th-and-12th grade, students are going to Bunker Hill and taking classes alongside college students – giving them the ability to earn an Associate’s Degree by the time they graduate high school. That ends up saving a boatload of money once students move on to a traditional college, transferring the credits, getting ahead on their schooling and getting acclimated to college work.
In an expanded middle school, Thomas said he could see expanding those pathways to seventh-and-eighth graders and attracting new students to the school who want to get ahead with early college. It is one of the few schools in the City with such a robust early college partnership.
“I could easily see expanding the exploratory year to seventh-and-eighth grade to expose students to the pathways and they could do an optional extended day program for students who can stay until 4 or 5 p.m. for tutoring and sports,” he said. The discussion on high school re-design is slated to take place later this spring, and in Charlestown, will include discussions of the high school and the Edwards Middle.