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Following Criticism, Boston Superintendent Shifts Post-Closure Plans For McCormack Middle School

The John W. McCormack Middle School on Columbia Point. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The John W. McCormack Middle School on Columbia Point. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Following criticism from teachers and students, Boston Public Schools is making changes to its initial plans for the shuttering of a Dorchester middle school as part of its larger goal to get rid of middle schools.

Under the original proposal presented last month, the McCormack would have closed its doors at the end of next school year. The building would have been torn down, and a new 7-12 school built in its place. That plan also called for former McCormack students to enroll in Excel High School in South Boston, which the state has identified as underperforming.

And, in a first for the district, the occupants of the new building on Columbia Point would have been selected through a bidding process.

But now, interim Superintendent Laura Perille told WBUR in an interview that the McCormack will no longer necessarily be coupled with Excel High School.

Instead, she said McCormack teachers will help select a high school to partner with and create a new 7-12 school to move into the newly constructed building on the McCormack site. The shift essentially reopens the decision-making process for the McCormack community.

"It puts educators from the McCormack right at the table around meeting the needs of the students they know well," Perille said, "but also challenges them and all of us to ensure that the ultimate plan of this 7-12 [school] meets the needs of many students citywide."

Perille noted that the intent of the BuildBPS process has always been to solicit feedback from stakeholders before moving forward, so it makes sense. The district has held 11 hearings so far on the most recent proposal, which also includes the closure of two high schools in West Roxbury, as well as renovations and new construction.

The closure of the McCormack fits into the district's long-term goal of eliminating standalone middle schools. District officials said enrollment in the city's six middle schools has dropped by 1,800 over the last six years.

Perille said when she stepped into the superintendent's role over the summer, she kept hearing people asking, " 'Please put out a plan that we can respond to. Give us something concrete to respond to.' "

And they did. Several teachers at the McCormack said they were surprised by the plan, because over the last two years they had been talking to district officials about expanding to a 7-12 school rather than closing.

"It feels like a betrayal," Meliza Prieto, who teaches English as a Second Language, said. She participated in those meetings and said it was a "big shock" when she heard the McCormack was slated for closure.

Perille said, "We were aware that conversations had been underway at different levels and over an extended period of time" with district officials. Many of those conversations would have predated Perille's tenure.

"The sort of specificity and depth that the McCormack teachers had engaged in this work amongst themselves and on their own time became even more visible after we put the initial proposal out there," she added.

Teachers at the McCormack are meeting after school Tuesday afternoon to discuss the latest proposal.

District officials said they will still enroll sixth-graders at the McCormack for next school year, which will be its last as the McCormack. The new building in Columbia Point is expected to open by the fall of 2022.

Kathleen McNerney Twitter Senior Producer / Editor, Edify
Kathleen McNerney is senior producer/editor of Edify.

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