Should Charlestown High Move Out? So Boston Arts Academy Can Move In?

A group of parents are asking Charlestown residents to weigh in on a proposal to move Boston Arts Academy to the high school on Medford Street -- and move the high school to Hyde Park, where it could be transformed.

What does the neighborhood think about Boston Public Schools relocating and replacing it with the Boston Arts Academy?

That's the question a group of parents are asking the community right now. They're hoping you'll weigh in, and maybe even let the superintendent know what you think.

Dr. Carol Johnson, who heads Boston Public Schools, is currently considering a plan to move Boston Latin Academy from its current location at Townsend Street in Dorchester to the Hyde Park Education Complex, which was closed last year. The proposal would also move Boston Arts Academy, which currently shares a space with Fenway High School (right next to Fenway Park) to the Boston Latin Academy space in Dorchester. Fenway High School would expand under the plan as well.

But a few local parents think Charlestown High School should be thrown into the game of musical chairs -- they'd like to see Boston Arts Academy move into Charlestown High School's space.

Where would Charlestown High School go? It would be transformed into an International Baccalaureate school and relocated to the empty school in Hyde Park. (An international baccalaureate program gives students an internationally-recognized diploma and foreign-language proficiency.)

As for Boston Latin Academy -- local parents would like to see that stay put in Dorchester, so it would be a more commutable distance for Charlestown residents.

"This is just an idea," said Aliza Wheeler, a parent on Bunker Hill Street, who is advocating in favor of the change for Charlestown High School. "We just want to know if there is support in the community."

Tonight, the superintendent will be meeting with parents to discuss her proposal for relocating Boston Latin Academy and Boston Arts Academy. She'll be hosting the third in a series of meetings on the plan. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at Brighton High School. Wheeler is encouraging local parents to attend and help raise the idea of including Charlestown in the rotation.

According to Matthew Wilder, spokesman for Boston Public Schools, the superintendent -- a Charlestown resident herself -- would be open to hearing what the neighborhood has to say about the change.

"Anytime parents want to propose something to the school committee or superintendent, they are receptive," Wilder said. "The superintendent is always eager to meet with parents."

The community's troubled relationship with the high school

The proposal to transform Charlestown High School and relocate it might capture the community's attention, given the complicated relationship the neighborhood has had with the school over the years. There are a lot of negative perceptions of the school, some of the hinging on a shooting that took place in 2006 in a housing development near the high school. Security at the school has been heightened since then.

But the disconnect between the high school and the town goes back farther than that, to the time when busing, race riots and harsh stereotypes about Charlestown dominated the city.

Over the years, the number of high school-aged students staying in the neighborhood has dwindled. Now, of the roughly 900 students at the high school, less than 70 are from Charlestown.

Since last summer, , headmaster at the high school, trying to find ways to reconnect the community with the school. The hope was to encourage more local students to consider attending.

But now the group is shifting gears and pitching the idea of bringing the Boston Arts Academy to Charlestown. The goal remains the same: bridging the gap between the neighborhood, but it would also resolve some of the other challenges the school relocation will cause Charlestown families -- namely the distance students would have to commute from the neighborhood to Boston Latin Academy, were it to move to Hyde Park. (Wheeler's daughter is attending Boston Latin Academy next year.)

"That's at least a 74-minute commute," Wheeler said. "It would also affect Allston, Brighton and East Boston. It's a big deal in terms of high school options."

The group's main arguments for relocating Charlestown High are:

  • It would keep Boston Latin Academy in its present location with a reasonable commute for Charlestown residents.
  • Move the student body that is currently at Charlestown High School to the Hyde Park High school complex and reduce the commute of 70 percent of the current student population.
  • Move Boston Arts Academy to the Charlestown High facility, which would give it room to grow.
  • Add at least an  additional 1.100 seats of desirable high schools to the north and south areas of Boston. 

There is a bit of urgency, Wheeler said, for Charlestown residents to let their preference be known. On Sept. 7, Johnson will present her proposal to relocate schools formally to the School Committee.

Although the committee won't ultimately make the decision -- that rests with Johnson's office since this is not a policy issue -- the plan does need to be formalized soon to make the shift possible by the 2012-2013 school year.

Johnson's proposal has gotten some coverage in city-wide media. You can read (or listen to) an interview WBUR did with the superintendent to get more information about her plan.

Getting involved, speaking up

To send comments to the superintendent, contact Dr. Carol Johnson at 617-635-9050 or superintendent@bostonpublicschools.org. You can also mail leters to Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, 26 Court St.Boston, MA 02108.

And to get involved with the group of parents pushing for the local changes, contact Aliza Wheeler at dunleawheeler@yahoo.com.

jshore September 05, 2011 at 09:48 PM
As a teacher in a comprehensive public school, I am tired of being a dumping ground for the pilots. The students banished from these schools are emotionally shattered from having lost their community, and have real problems, which takes away from the students already in my class. If pilot schools want to expand it has to be with the written agreement that students would be chosen at random, no gate-keeping application process, and reflect the Boston Public Schools demographic for ELL and special education; once a students family selects a pilot school, they would have to remain in the pilot network. If a student was found “not to be the right fit,” for a particular pilot school, they would have the option of transferring to another pilot school, in the pilot school network. No dumping them back to comprehensive schools. On a positive note to Charlestown High School Parents and Students, I know several excellent, experienced, veteran teachers fleeing from turnaround and closing schools who have transferred to Charlestown High School this fall. These are great, committed teachers and we are lucky to get them! Please give them a big C-Town Welcome! Jimmy, I’m sure you are going to see a big improvement this year at Charlestown High.
Mary Doherty September 05, 2011 at 10:30 PM
I'm really glad to see dialogue about the public schools in Charlestown. While the Kent and Prescott seem to serve local kids the Edwards and Charlestown High do not. The kids at these schools have been abandoned by a system that separated them from their neighborhoods and their parents. I wish there were a 'Friends of the Edwards' group, made up of local Charlestownians -- you wouldn't have to have a kid going to school there to be a 'friend', just an interest in showing young people what strong love and support are all about. Dr. Amara and the Principal at the Kent--can't remember his name--have done so much for those schools --let's band together and do the same for the junior high and high school in our town. Let's make them strong.
Jimmy G. September 06, 2011 at 03:40 AM
What they heck is a Charlestownians? I thought we we're Townies... Jesh do you have to change everything ???
Townie September 24, 2011 at 02:28 PM
At Charlestown High School the students are learning and being prepared not only for college but life. 86% of their students are accepted to great colleges and universities. Yes, the community and high school are lacking a relationship but the students that take advantage of the great education are striving. Also the high school is working on bringing back the Hockey Team. That's a start!!!
Debbie Evans October 04, 2011 at 02:50 PM
I don't profess to know the answer to the problem, but the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the students at CHS are not from Charlestown. So, clinging to CHS as it currently is does not serve the needs of our community.


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