Community Academy dodges closure

The Community Academy school may dodge closure thanks to an updated Boston Public School (BPS) budget proposal created by the school’s community.

The small, alternative public high school that serves students who have struggled in traditional classrooms was pegged for closure in a recent BPS plan.

At a March 19 BPS budget hearing, BPS Interim Superintendent John McDonough announced that a new proposal, created by “Community Academy students, families and community members” would allow the school to remain open at its 25 Glen Road location for another year at least. The Boston School Committee was scheduled to make a final decision on the proposal on March 25, after the Gazette’s deadline.

“[This proposal] provides a service model that maintains the intensity and quality of support for the students that Community Academy serves,” McDonough said in a BPS memo. “It builds on the strength of Community Academy and addresses its current risks. It fits nicely within the construct and guiding principles of weighted student funding: it is student-based, equitable, and transparent,”

“We were elated,” Community Academy grandmother Angela Williams-Mitchell told the Gazette last week. Her grandson, Shyimel, is a junior at Community Academy.

“The superintendent changing his mind and withdrawing the proposition to close Community means they will get the resources that they need to function properly. It’s a viable, viable school,” she said.

“I’m happy for the kids. That’s the main thing,” Community Academy Headmaster Harold Miller told the Gazette last week. “We have some kids that could probably go back to a school and be OK, but we have others who would need a lot of support…It feels good to know that the kids who need [the school] will be ok.”

“It’s exciting news,” Miller said. “But we have a few details to iron out.”

Broadly, the new plan would increase the number of students admitted to the school, effectively raising the amount of revenue the school receives from the district. Currently, most students must be referred to Community after serious disciplinary issues, instead of choosing to apply before those issues result in suspension or expulsion.

According to that same BPS memo, per-student cost would drop to $16,894 per year. McDonough has previously told the Gazette that Community Academy currently spends, on average, $34,000 to $37,000 per pupil per year.

The plan would also “restructure” the school’s staff, lowering that expense.

“It wouldn’t be a major difference,” Miller explained. “It’s a few adjustments in certain positions.”

But Williams-Mitchell and Miller both mentioned transparency and process as a potential hitch.

Williams-Mitchell is concerned about the application for the new choice seats. When Shyimel applied for his seat, she said, the process was “mystifying.”

“I had to keep calling,” she said. “For someone who is not savvy on navigating the system, it could be very discouraging.”

And Miller said that BPS could do a better job of keeping everyone informed.

“BPS values what the community has to contribute, but sometimes things happen so fast [community input] can get lost,” he said. But “BPS has taken a huge step in how things should go forward” in listening and adopting the community-created plan, he added.

Community Academy mother Rosana Rivera told the Gazette that she did not know Community Academy had been proposed for closure as early as February until letters were sent home to Community parents earlier this month.

BPS spokesperson Denise Snyder said that a new “strategic plan, when complete, will provide the opportunity to make decisions and then reach stakeholders in a more timely way,” Snyder said.

McDonough is serving as interim superintendent through the 2014-15 school year, after which newly selected Superintendent Tommy Chang will take over.

BPS announced at its Feb. 4 budget meeting that it was facing a $42 million to $51 million budget gap next year.

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