Agassiz could become a charter school

May 13, 2011
By

Rebeca Oliveira

JP SOUTH—The Agassiz School may end up as a charter school as a result of an unprecedented and controversial agreement between Boston Public Schools (BPS) and the Boston Alliance of Charter Schools.

The Agassiz building, located at 20 Child St., will close at the end of the current school year, displacing a city community center.

The closure is a result of BPS’s Redesign and Reinvest Plan, which was approved after a highly controversial Boston School Committee vote last December.

“It’s a disgrace… It’s disgusting. It’s shameful, but it’s what I expected,” Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teacher’s Union, said about the agreement.

One of the several commitments BPS offers to make in the charter school agreement, known as the “compact,” is “exploring the leasing of vacant or underutilized buildings to charter schools,” according to a press release.

No specific buildings have been named for lease, said Lee McGuire, chief communications officer for BPS. BPS would have first-usage rights to all closed school buildings he added.

If BPS can find no use for the buildings, the city would then have the option to convert them into community-oriented spaces. Only if the city can find no use for the buildings would they be up for lease by a charter school, McGuire said.

The compact was developed independently from the Redesign and Reinvest Plan, which is responsible for the closure of eight schools besides the Agassiz, he added.

“No matter what was going on, we would have to close some buildings…We’ve had extra capacity in BPS for a long time. Every year, we were spending money to keep those buildings open,” McGuire said. “Each of these things would have happened independently.”

“Many people feel that the compact is so vague that it is just a cover for the school department to lease the buildings and save face,” Stutman told the Gazette last week. “People feel the department [BPS] has sold them out.”

City Councillor Matt O’Malley held a hearing on the school closures last month.

“I found it regretful that we didn’t have any more concrete answers” as to the future of the buildings, he said, and so chose to continue the meeting at a later, yet to be scheduled, date.

At other hearings, however, O’Malley had the chance to ask BPS Deputy Superintendent Michael Goar about the Agassiz’s future. Goar did not provide any answers, O’Malley told the Gazette.

“We need more forthright answers from the administration,” O’Malley said. “I want to keep holding all stakeholders accountable.”

O’Malley stressed, “the compact is just that, not a contract.”

“These charter schools do need space…I was given to understand that the Agassiz would be used as [BPS] swing space,” O’Malley said.

Since the compact’s announcement, many people are speculating as to the MATCH School’s interest in the soon-to-be available Agassiz building, Stutman said.

“The Agassiz is going to the MATCH school, most likely…It’s prime property,” Stutman said. “Nine out of 10 people at the Agassiz feel like MATCH is moving in.”

But MATCH Executive Director Alan Safran told the Gazette, “I can completely shoot that down…I have not had one moment of conversation or thought about that.”

The MATCH middle school has been located at the former St. Andrews Parish School at 86 Wachusett St. since August 2008. According to the MATCH website, the school was planned to occupy the site for two to three years before it found a permanent home. Safran said the school will remain on Wachusett Street through 2012, but he added that he is looking for a new home for the school.

“More charter schools are coming online in the future,” McGuire said. “This compact is about setting down some ground rules before all that.”

Charter schools are often accused of cherry-picking their students for their grade-point averages and test scores and sending special-needs or English-learner students to BPS.

One of the charter schools’ commitments in the compact would be to “[serve] all students, emphasizing outreach and services for underserved populations”—theoretically, to accept more special-needs students.

“The language in the compact says that [the charter schools] will try to do it. But, if they can’t take the special-needs students, the city will take them back. It’s convoluted,” Stutman said. “It suggests that the charter schools have no intention [of doing so].”

This is the first such agreement in New England and one of a handful in the country.

Community Center
The Agassiz is home to a city community center that was slated to close this year. It is currently hosting community programming that would normally take place in Curtis Hall on South Street. Due to renovations, Curtis Hall will remain closed until September or October.

After the school year ends in late June, community programming organized by the Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF) will move to the Hennigan Community Center, at 200 Heath St.

“We’ll have more space there,” said Diane Joyce, BCYF director of programming. “Our regular programming will go back to Curtis Hall once it re-opens in the fall.”

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