Horace Mann and Jackson/Mann moves postponed; Horace Mann learns Charlestown has dibs on their first choice for swing space
BPS July meeting notes say not to tell anyone: “Reiterate the confidentiality of this meeting — team will not share …, in particular to the JM community”
By Alain Jehlen
Horace Mann School community members reacted angrily Monday when they found out the Edwards Middle School building in Charlestown, which they thought had been offered as swing space when their own building is rebuilt, will probably be used for elementary or preschool students, mostly from Charlestown, instead.
Meanwhile, the Jackson/Mann School community, which shares the building in Allston with the Horace Mann, has had no official word. Staff have been asked to invite parents to a community meeting Thursday night but were not told what the meeting is about. They only learned what’s happening recently because someone from the Horace Mann told them.
(More on that below.)
A commitment to Charlestown parents
”At the Horace Mann community meeting Monday, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius did not completely close the door to using the Edwards as swing space, but she said that would delay for years her plan to use it for early education and break a commitment she made to Charlestown parents.
Her explanation did not go down well with parents and staff on the call.
“Charlestown community has received $30 million+ for new schools at Eliot. Now you have committed additional $millions for another school? Are you committing to privileged communities only?” wrote Charlie Kim, a parent who chairs the Horace Mann Site Council, in the webinar meeting Q&A. (Kim said he was not criticizing the Eliot, which he said is an excellent school. One of his children goes there.)
Cassellius responded that Charlestown has “a very large population of economically disadvantaged students within the community as well.”
School officials also told the Horace Mann community that they won’t be moving out of their current building in Allston next fall as planned because of delays forced by the pandemic. The soonest the move can now happen is the following fall, 2022, said Nate Kuder, BPS Chief Financial Officer, at the meeting.
BPS officials announced in April, 2019, that the building, which houses the roughly 80 students of the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and the 520 students of the Jackson/Mann Elementary School, must be torn down and rebuilt because of problems with the roof, ventilation, and other aspects of the building. They said the building would be closed in the fall of 2021 and swing space would be found for both schools while a new building goes up.
Finding that space has been tough.
A team with representatives of the school community and the BPS central office has been looking for swing space and examined three possibilities: the Edwards, the former Endicott School building, and the Cleveland Middle School building, which now houses two high schools, Boston Arts Academy and the Community Academy of Science and Health (CASH).
When 3 = 1
The understanding on the part of the Horace Mann team members was that they could choose.
On September 22, the school representatives told the central office they had chosen the Edwards. The Endicott was too small and the Cleveland had other drawbacks.
But at a joint team meeting two days later, the school representatives were told that the decision wasn’t up to them. Last Monday Cassellius gave a clear signal that she wouldn’t support them using the Edwards.
Principal Maritza Ciliberto minced no words in expressing her disappointment at the Zoom meeting, attended by about 100 Horace Mann community members Monday evening.
“We were presented with those three choices, and the more we have engaged in this conversation, the more clear it is to me that there was only one viable, or at least the district already had some idea as to which of the three offerings were really going to be a possibility. And it’s really disheartening,” Ciliberto said. “I don’t have to tell you that our school community is one of the neediest in terms of special needs and also demographics.”
Two-thirds of the Horace Mann students are English learners, four-fifths are low-income, and all are special needs.
An important coffee
Cassellius said her commitment to Charlestown parents goes back to right after she was chosen as superintendent, when Mayor Marty Walsh had a coffee for her with Charlestown parents.
“The parents there were talking to me about this need for early childhood space and … elementary-age children,” she told the Horace Mann community Monday. “I’ve met with them multiple times …I had pretty much committed that that was going to be a space for a school for that community in that area. … I don’t want to go back on my commitment to the Charlestown community.”
“Nate and I kind of crossed”
“I don’t know where Nate [Kuder]and I kind of crossed on that in terms of you guys going and touring. I think it just landed on a list as a school that was open, and so I apologize to the community for that misunderstanding.”
The joint central office–Horace Mann team has been meeting every two weeks over the summer. According to meeting notes, the school representatives were told on July 30 that the move had to be put off for a year.
Don’t tell JM
The notes show that the group was very concerned about what would happen if word got out. The notes include:
“Reiterate the confidentiality of this meeting — team will not share more broadly beyond this meeting, in particular to the JM [presumably Jackson/Mann] community.
“Not sure what the narrative that will come out is going to be… There’s a lot of historical presentations and commitments that have been made…
“Will aim to be more transparent about timelines and milestones as we move toward fall 2022 date… we have work to do before we’re ready to share anything with the Horace Mann community.”
The meeting notes are posted here.
Apparently the plan to keep the news from the Jackson-Mann staff and families was successful.
Some people at the Horace Mann and many at the Jackson/Mann believe the central office plans to close both schools permanently, although officials have denied that. (The BPS press office did not respond today to a question about closing the Jackson/Mann.)
Members of both school communities say the central office is steering students away from their school. Enrollment at the Horace Mann has been shrinking gradually, from about 140 ten years ago to just below 80 last year.
At the Jackson/Mann, enrollment has fallen more steeply, from about 770 in 2016–2017 to about 520 last year.
Last year, parents reported that the administration would not let them enroll their children at the Jackson/Mann, presumably in order to shrink its enrollment. The West End House Boys and Girls Club, which provides after-school programs for many Jackson/Mann students, told parents in an email last winter, “we are strongly encouraging families to choose a NEW SCHOOL FOR THE 2020–2021 SCHOOL YEAR” because the building was closing and it was unclear what would happen afterwards.
According to a teacher, the staff and parents have heard nothing, although the flyer teachers were given for parents says it’s a “BuildBPS Community Meeting.”