MATCH made in heaven?

June 13, 2008
By

John Ruch

Charter school moves into church site

FOREST HILLS—The Brighton-based MATCH charter school will expand into the St. Andrew the Apostle Church complex for a few years beginning this fall as it searches for a possible permanent Jamaica Plain home.

Meanwhile, the Young Achievers Science and Mathematics Pilot School across the street expects to move away within the next two years, leaving the future of its large building in question.

“We’d love to be in Jamaica Plain permanently,” MATCH School Executive Director Alan Safran told the Gazette following a May 28 community meeting revealing plans for a MATCH middle school at St. Andrew’s. He said MATCH has looked at an Amory Street site he declined to identify.

The meeting was held at Young Achievers, which will also rent some classroom space at St. Andrew’s for a year or two, allowing a minor boost in its student population.

St. Andrew’s, at Walk Hill and Wachusett streets, is a former Catholic Church complex sold last year to the local Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.

The popular Young Achievers sought to expand into St. Andrew’s when the church’s own school closed in 2005. Young Achievers was even involved in a formal bid for the church property. But those plans faded when Boston Public Schools (BPS), under different leadership, said that buying the former St. Andrew’s school would be too expensive.

Young Achievers officials said it is now clear that if the school is to expand, it will have to be in a bigger building somewhere else.

“Maybe 2009, 2010 at the latest,” Young Achievers board president José Massó said of the move.

The fading of a city public school and the rise of an independent charter school at St. Andrew’s sparked frustrated comments from Don Gillis, a parent of former Young Achievers students and a longtime advocate for expansion at St. Andrew’s.

“If the [state] Board of Education can support the expansion of a charter school—which I think is great—why can’t the [Boston] School Committee support the expansion of the most popular pilot school in the city?” Gillis asked in a Gazette interview.

A pilot school is a specialized BPS school. A charter school is an independently run public school operating under the state, rather than local, authority.

MATCH is currently a high school with about 210 students. “MATCH” originally stood for “Media and Technology Charter High,” but is now just a stand-alone name that doesn’t stand for anything.

The new MATCH Charter Public Middle School for grades 6-8 will open in September in the former St. Andrew’s school at 46 Wachusett St. The expansion school will operate under the original MATCH charter and has already been approved by the state Board of Education, Safran told the Gazette.

The deal for the space has moved quickly, with Bethel AME pastor Rev. Ray Hammond saying MATCH approached the church in April about the site. There will be fix-ups to the building this summer.

“We’ll make that building warm and responsible and respectful,” Safran said at the meeting.

The middle school will open with a class of 90 6th-graders, Safran said. A 7th grade would be added next year, and 8th grade if the school is still there in the third year. The maximum student population would be around 240 students, he said. There would be about 30 staff members.

It will be a full-day school, though its exact hours have not been determined. Teachers will park in the St. Andrew’s parking lot, while two or three buses are expected to provide transportation for younger students.

Staff members might live on-site beginning in the second year, in the former convent at 84 Wachusett, according to Safran. That would require zoning variances, he said. It appears that the school’s move will not require variances.

St. Andrew’s is only a temporary solution for MATCH, Safran said. “We would look at probably a three-year lease,” he said. “I think in year three we might be looking for some space.”

In fact, MATCH is already looking for that space and hopes to find it in Jamaica Plain. Safran said JP’s green environment is a great match for MATCH middle-schoolers.

“I’ve fallen in love with Jamaica Plain,” Safran said at the meeting. He later told the Gazette, “I’m going to be in close contact with the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation [JPNDC] about finding a location in Jamaica Plain,” referring to the Amory Street-based community development corporation. “We’d love to be in Jamaica Plain permanently.”

JPNDC Executive Director Richard Thal told the Gazette that outreach has begun with some early conversations. “Our community development staff have said they’d be happy helping them look for space as much as possible,” Thal said.

MATCH appears to have a strong reputation as a tough, disciplined college-prep school.

Among the handful of JP residents attending the meeting was Andy Crane, a program director at the youth organization Tenacity, who said he works with some MATCH students.

“MATCH has got to be the only high school I’ve ever seen where if kids jaywalk on the street outside the school, they get a demerit,” Crane said. (Actually, it’s two demerits, as two students quickly pointed out.) He said MATCH can be trusted to handle such challenges as transportation in the area.

Residents appeared to welcome another school to the corner. “Whoever thought that, with [the redevelopment controversies that] happened over there, that we could end up with the church being used as a church and
the school being used as a school?” one resident said.

Asked about the possibility of joint activities with the community, Safran expressed openness to the idea and joked, “A little calculus for the neighbors.”

“You’d be surprised,” joked a resident in return.

Young Achievers

Young Achievers is a K1-8 pilot school with about 310 students. It has operated at 25 Walk Hill St. since 1999.

Young Achievers will have its own modest expansion at St. Andrew’s this fall. It will rent two classrooms in the former kindergarten or “community building” at 0 Wachusett. They will be used for art space, allowing new classroom space in the main building for about 20 more students, according to Massó.

“That gives us a little bit of breathing room,” he said.

But that is expected to be only a short-term solution. BPS is expected to announce this summer the results of a review of all BPS facilities, which could include closing and moving various schools.

“Young Achievers will likely be a candidate for moving into a different building elsewhere,” Massó said. That appears to be an educated guess, as no official results have been released.

If Young Achievers does move, it will happen “in a strategic manner so you will be informed,” Massó told the audience.

It is unclear what would happen to the large Young Achievers school building following a move. BPS could use it for another facility.

Asked if the building is of interest to MATCH, Safran told the Gazette, “It is.” But, he said, MATCH probably will need a permanent home before the Young Achievers building could become available.

Asked if Bethel AME might be interested in the building, Hammond told the Gazette, “I hadn’t thought about that at all.” He indicated he would more willing to let another school take it over.

Bethel AME

Bethel AME has yet to move into the St. Andrew’s site itself. It remains at its 215 Forest Hills St. home, now known as its “Parkside campus.” While Bethel AME will keep that site, it intends to move its offices and worship services to St. Andrew’s.

Renovations have delayed plans a bit, Hammond told the Gazette. The offices are on track to move into the former rectory at 38 Walk Hill this fall, he said. Worship services in the church at 40 Walk Hill may begin early next year, he said.

In the meantime, Hammond said, Bethel AME is collaborating with former St. Andrew’s parishioners on planning a mutual celebration of some kind. This year is both the 90th anniversary of St. Andrew’s founding and the 20th anniversary of Bethel AME’s founding.

Another idea for the St. Andrew’s site seems to have faded. That was a proposal for some type of memorial to survivors of sexual abuse by priests, including former St. Andrew’s priest John Geoghan. Maryetta Dussourd, a JP resident and mother and aunt of Geoghan victims, led that effort. But she recently told the Gazette she has focused her advocacy elsewhere.

“We haven’t heard anything more about it,” Hammond said of the memorial idea, adding that he is still open to discussing it. “A lot of that [effort] may have reflected the concern that the Archdiocese was going knock the building down, just obliterate it,” he said, noting that obviously won’t be happening.