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.

Mary Doherty August 31, 2011 at 12:53 PM
Why not ask the students what they want?
shannon August 31, 2011 at 06:13 PM
Why not just leave it alone and stop making such a mess out of things
mary smith September 01, 2011 at 05:40 PM
I wonder how many of these parents have children who go to Charlestown High? I'm guessing not many from the looks of the folks going around with there little letters telling everyone how great this would be. Yes, maybe great for some folks who are part of the Stove Factory Gallery and want a place to maybe get a steady gig? Or some other folks who would like to rid their neighborhood of the kids who go to Charlestow High....The High School has been in Charlestown forever and some people ought to find something better to do with their time than meddle in things that have nothing to do with them.
David September 03, 2011 at 03:33 AM
Why don't they move Boston Arts Academy to Hyde Park. Also stop using Charlestown High School as a dumping ground of bad students for the Boston Public Schools and bring the Electrical Program back. Like they had in the past. The Head Master also needs to go! all of the good teachers are getting out of CHS because of her.
Kathleen Whelan Giordano September 04, 2011 at 01:34 PM
Charlestown High School should remain where it is. In stead of spending so much energy and time trying to fit it into this proposed mix, spend that energy in improving the school so that other parents in the community would consider sending their children there. CHS has a remarkable history of producing graduates who have become successful adults. I do not support the idea of moving it to Hyde Park to accommodate a few students who attend Boston Latin Academy. Come on folks, listen to how rediculous this sounds.
Jim Mansfield September 05, 2011 at 02:26 PM
Obviously Charlestown High has some major issues to overcome and looking at options to improve or change the school is a good thing. I am looking at high schools now for next year and have grave reservations. At this point Charlestown High would not be on my list for consideration. I realize that change is hard and Charlestown High has been here forever but is it serving our local kids?
Kathleen Whelan Giordano September 05, 2011 at 05:03 PM
Jimmy, It's not serving our children, that is so obvious. I don't envy your predicament in finding an appropriate school for Evan next year (can't believe he's that old). More of a reason for all Charlestown residents to fight to, not only keep CHS here in the neighborhood, but improve it's academic level so that more families would seriously consider sending their teenagers there. We only get one shot at educatiing our children toward becoming successful adults. Shame on all of us for letting our high school sink to this deterioration where it is no longer an option. Maybe it's time to roll up our collective sleeves and get our elected officials involed - with us - to begin to remedy this situation.
jshore September 05, 2011 at 09:40 PM
Boston Arts Academy and Fenway are Pilot Schools. They are supposed to be “small boutique schools,” they were never supposed to “expand capacity!” An increase of population would change their “community.” That was the excuse pilot schools gave for years when parents tried to get the BPS to fill empty seats in grades 10, 11, and 12! That is why they are “pilot schools” and “beacons of light” with admission applications that lend themselves to SELECTED POPULATIONS! If Boston Arts Academy were allowed to move into the Charlestown High Building, Charlestown would be in the same boat that Hyde Park finds itself in now with no comprehensive high school for Regular Ed kids. If you have a student who is not accepted to Boston Arts Academy, they could find themselves on a 3+/- MBTA ride daily to Hyde Park. No one has mentioned, what the impact on real-estate values would be, to a community that does not have a comprehensive high school open to all.
jshore September 05, 2011 at 09:43 PM
Earlier this year the BPS struck a deal with the pilot school network to fill the empty seats in grades 10, 11, and 12. BPS had to demonstrate that students from Social Justice and Engineering Schools, at the Hyde Park Education Complex (HPEC), were going to schools that were better performing then the schools BPS was closing. I look forward to the next School Committee Meeting when BPS is supposed to show us the “data” on where these students landed this September. The pilot school network agreed to take students from the closing HPEC – but only those students who met the criteria of a “B+ or better” and had “NO behavior problems” on record! The pilot school network creamed the best of Social Justice Academy and The Engineering School at HPEC. This left the remaining students to The Burke “turnaround school,” English “turnaround school,” Charlestown, and West Roxbury (consolidating 4 to 2) High Schools. I would like BPS to be transparent and release the GPA data of those HPEC students who were accepted to schools in the pilot network. In June, I would like to see the attrition rate of HPEC students from pilot schools. The pilot school network recognizes the writing on the wall. They are going to have to fill their empty seats; overnight they are chanting “expand”... because expanding will give pilot schools a bigger pool of students to cherry pick from.
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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