An effort to bring a new public elementary school to downtown neighborhoods is gaining momentum, according The Coalition for Public Education, a group of parents from the North End, West End and Beacon Hill. The group recently held a meeting with Mayor Menino and Carol Johnson, Superintendent of Boston Public Schools, to discuss specific options that might be available. As more families decide to stay in the city, the choices for downtown children to attend a neighborhood public school are increasingly limited.
The only downtown public school is the North End’s Eliot School on Charter Street which is “bursting at the seams,” according to one parent. Despite recent BPS initiatives to increase the number of classes at the school, the waiting list for the Eliot is close to the total school population.
Citing an immediate need, the Coalition’s mission is to develop a new public elementary school to serve the downtown neighborhoods. Last year, the coalition focused on capturing space as part of the potential redevelopment of Government Center Garage. That project is currently on hold, so the group is asking city officials to research other possible locations. It is still very early in the planning process, but the Boston Redevelopment Authority is considering the feasibility of several sites throughout the downtown neighborhoods.
Some locations could serve as temporary space, while more permanent solutions are developed. Many sites have numerous challenges and some are privately owned or State property. Parents are hopeful that the City will come to the table at their next meeting with a list of options.
North Bennet Street School is also searching for more space in the North End and has expressed interest in the larger printing building on Richmond Street. NBSS Executive Director Miguel Gomez-Ibanez says if that happens, the Eliot School may be able to expand into the existing NBSS building.
Because of limited space at the Eliot, families are often confronted with a choice of sending their child to a school outside the downtown neighborhoods, moving to the suburbs or paying for private education if they can afford it. The number of families staying in the city has increased significantly in recent years. This has made the BPS lottery system much more competitive for the Eliot. It has also raised the fear among parents that their children will be placed in a far-away school or they will have to move to the suburbs.
BPS uses a lottery system reserving 50% space for children in a “walk-zone” area. For the North End parents, the “walk-zone” includes schools in Charlestown and East Boston. Parents are often reluctant to send their children out of the neighborhood. Children in Charlestown and East Boston nearly always get into their neighborhood schools.
Parents who attended the meeting are encouraged that the Mayor and BPS Superintendent are taking the time to engage in a process to examine alternatives. At the same time, they are senstitive that BPS is looking to close underperforming schools amid very tight school budgets. However, they believe creative solutions could exist, including public/private options given the amount of empty commercial office space in downtown. Such space could serve as a temporary solution or a feeder school to the Eliot.
The Coalition plans on meeting again with city officials in the next few weeks. Interested parents can join their Facebook group for more information.
A reader sends in this map showing the Eliot School relative to other public schools, pointing out the lack of downtown schools.