New schools moving into Agassiz

(Gazette Photo by John Ruch) A worker repairs the roof of the Agassiz School on Nov. 8.

Despite fierce opposition from parents and City Councilor Mike Ross, the Boston School Committee on Nov. 15 approved a Boston Public Schools plan that will have two schools moving into the Agassiz School building at 20 Child St. next year.

The plan moves the Mission Hill K-8 School and the new Margarita Muñiz Academy—a two-way bilingual high school named for the founder of JP’s Hernandez School—into the Agassiz building. The Agassiz closed in June after another controversial school committee vote. There are no plans to change Mission Hill K-8’s name despite its move to JP.

Critics of the move say it undermines Mission Hill by taking away elementary school seats and that the Agassiz is an unhealthy building.

Since he was elected last year, local City Councilor Matt O’Malley has been pushing BPS to be transparent about its plans for the Agassiz site. He was not immediately available for comment following the school committee vote. He previously told the Gazette that he supports the BPS plan, known as the 2012 Facilities Plan, but thought community vetting process for it was too short. The plan, which also expands, moves or creates nine other schools, was announced in late October.

It will allow Mission Hill K-8 to add 30 new pre-kindergarten seats, for a total of 193 seats. The Muñiz Academy is intended as a 300-seat feeder school for the handful of two-way bilingual K-8 programs BPS currently runs, including the Rafael Hernandez School in Egleston Square, where Muñiz, the new school’s namesake, is still principal.

The Facilities Plan encountered stiff opposition from Mission Hill K-8 parents and advocates from that neighborhood, including Ross, who represents Mission Hill and part of Hyde Square. He threatened to withhold his vote on the upcoming BPS budget if the plan went through.

Ross told the Gazette he is opposed to the move because his City Council district, which also includes Fenway, the Back Bay and Beacon Hill, already has few elementary school seats. He and other community members expressed concerns that the removal of the school would take away an incentive for young families to move to the Hill, at a time when the neighborhood is being overrun by college students.

Mission Hill K-8 parent Bob Goodman said parental opposition is based on concerns about how the Agassiz building will be divided up between the K-8 school and the Margarita Muñiz Academy, a new two-way bilingual high school.

Parents also have lingering concerns about the Agassiz’s reputation as a leaky “sick building,” where some claimed mold issues were causing respiratory problems for teachers and students. And they are concerned that the Agassiz building does not get enough sunlight.

In response to the “sick building” concerns, the city moved forward with a roof replacement project, which is now under way. The city also replaced all of the windows at the school prior to its closure last year.

Muñiz was not available for comment by press time, but Ken Larson, director of operations at the Hernandez, told the Gazette that naming the new high school after her is “fabulous.”

Muñiz “has worked for BPS for a long time, and she is known throughout the state the country and the world as an innovator in two-way bilingual education,” he said. The honor “was too long in coming.”



2 comments for “New schools moving into Agassiz

  1. Wendell
    November 28, 2011 at 12:28 am

    Certainly there is the issue
    of the building loans to the State, but there is a bigger picture, which is the
    elephant in the room, Pilot schools can have up to 400 students. Many of the
    Pilot schools that Dr. Johnson is moving to larger buildings “to dramatically
    increase access to successful schools” are way under the 400 student cap.   These small schools, serving
    fewer than 400 students, still require a headmaster, assistant headmaster, SPED
    director, department directors, nurse, guidance, social workers, discipline
    directors, and their respective support staff.  They cost too much money.

    BPS is even planning to
    increase some Pilot schools to 500+, to accommodate more Special Ed and ELL
    students.  The pilots aren’t
    fighting this because it will increase the money the Pilot school receives with
    “level funding.”   But I will
    bet you the pilot schools will be even more “selective” with accepting students
    from those populations. 

    One of the reasons many
    teachers work at the pilot schools, which require many uncompensated hours, and
    where they give up many of their BTU benefits, is that these schools are small
    and they have selective populations. 
    That is the trade off.  When
    those Pilots schools move and get larger, the “school community” will change,
    and teachers will transfer to other schools. Why give up so much for so little commitment
    in return?

    One of the reasons cited by
    the superintendent when she closed and consolidated the small high schools last
    year was the cost of the administrative positions.   I think it is
    outrageous that Dr. Johnson is opening another small high school.  It seems to me that the proposed
    Margarita Muñiz Academy program can be absorbed into one of the under populated
    high schools like the Burke or English, using the administrative staff already
    in place, then use the money saved to hire additional teachers who are in
    direct service to students.  Frankly,
    why isn’t the Margarita Muñiz being moved to the Hyde Park Educational

  2. November 21, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Thank you for this report. Mission Hill School community objections to the school’s uprooting are more thoroughly represented here:

    BPS states that their relocation plan increases access to excellence. Yet moving MHS removes walk-zone priority access to this “high-performing” school for the 4 housing developments within a 1-mile radius of Alleghany Street: Mission Main, Alice Taylor, Mission Park and Bromley Heath. Dr. Johnson’s plan erodes equity in the city.

    Mission Hill School has deep roots in its neighborhood with many partnerships established over years. Those will be lost. More than half of our families chose the school based on walkability. An untold number chose us due to our location on their feasible daily route, which includes other siblings’ schools and parents’ workplace. Not all of us can make the move. Children who cannot make the move lose a whole world of nurturing connections; children who can move lose classmates, their community eroded.

    Some will not transfer because the Agassiz’ failed design has assured that no school placed there has ever succeeded. The debunked “open classroom” plan will overwhelm the children’s senses. The meager natural light shining through the few windows will stymie them, and the ventilation issues cannot be solved. Some children’s respiratory vulnerability will not allow their parents to experiment with a sick building.

    This is an assault on a small but thriving community in Mission Hill, a disenfranchised neighborhood that is being targeted again by the “global” interests of our city’s top administration. Jamaica Plain has been depicted as the winner in this situation. But a destabilized school in substandard facilities is not a gain for JP.  JP should use its greater clout and revenue to lobby for the restoration of Mission Hill School’s citywide status. That way everyone gains, and JP’s reputation for social consciousness is upheld.

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