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After years of deliberation, 3 Boston schools will close this summer

Anita Moore, Principal of Jackson Mann K-8 School, points out damage caused by leaking windows. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Anita Moore, Principal of Jackson Mann K-8 School, points out damage caused by leaking windows. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

It was long expected, but three Boston public schools are now officially slated to close this coming June.

Next semester will be the last at two of Boston’s few remaining standalone middle schools — the Irving in Roslindale and the Timilty in Roxbury. The city’s school committee also voted to close the Jackson-Mann K-8 School in Allston, long plagued by its deteriorating physical plant.

In recent years, Boston Public Schools’ plans to close schools have inspired fiery resistance. But there was almost no outcry before the vote Wednesday night — in part because it was so long in coming.

BPS leadership has openly sought to “phase out” middle schools since at least 2018. A report published that fall as part of the district’s “Build BPS” master plan found their enrollment was collapsing as many families were opting instead for K-8 schools.

It also argued that the district needed to harmonize the way most students move through BPS — limiting the number of disruptive school changes they have to experience on the way to graduation.

School committee member Michael O’Neill acknowledged that “people get nervous when they hear ‘closing of schools.’ ”

But O’Neill argued Wednesday night’s closures were the fulfillment of “the policy that we as a governing body set a while ago — that we did not like that we had [over 20] grade configurations within BPS, too many transitions, too much uncertainty for parents.”

The intervening years gave families at the affected schools time to adjust — enrollment at the Timilty and the Irving has dropped by another 200 students since 2018.

Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said BPS has sought to find “a good fit” elsewhere in the district for the 200 or so remaining students — as well as for affected staff: “We’re in a significant labor shortage right now. And so we’ll do everything we can to retain our employees."

In April 2019, Jean Powers, then a Jackson Mann parent, wrote that she appreciated two years' advance warning about the closure of that school, which she noted was "hastily and poorly built ... It will be a relief to see it torn down." Still, on Wednesday, Powers expressed sympathy for the students and families that weren't able to enroll elsewhere before this final year.

The district's more deliberate approach continued through this fall. Wednesday’s vote was originally slated to take place in mid-November, but was delayed to allow for a final round of meetings with school families and staff.

Just before the unanimous vote on all three closures — from which the committee’s newest members, Rafaela Polanco Garcia and Lorena Lopera, abstained — chair Jeri Robinson noted that final delay did not “make [Cassellius] happy.”

Robinson said it was worth it to have final conversation with affected families: “It’s time to close the book on the old days, when decisions could be made and people would have to just accept them."

That said, more such closings could be on the way soon. After two years of steep decline, the district's actual enrollment this school year is 16% lower than the earliest "Build BPS" reports projected just five years ago.

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Max Larkin Reporter, Education
Max Larkin was an education reporter for WBUR.

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