There was resounding applause at the Eliot K-8 School on Tuesday night as North End and Downtown Boston families joined with City and Boston Public School officials to celebrate an agreement substantially expanding the Eliot to a second campus at the nearby North Bennet Street School buildings. Importantly, BPS Superintendent Carol Johnson announced that a third strand of classes, starting with 22 new K-2 students, will be introduced at the new space as soon as Fall 2012. The goal is to complete the third strand through the eighth grade that could expand enrollment by 33% at the overcrowded school. The celebratory event surrounding the expansion agreement was held in the North End at the Eliot School on Tuesday evening, May 22, 2012.
Highly regarded Eliot School Principal Traci Griffith expressed her excitement to lead the expansion of the “Best Public School in Boston.” The North End-based public school currently has 322 students, but a waiting list of nearly 300 more anxious to enter. Superintendent Johnson was quick to credit Griffith with a remarkable turnaround at the school that has reinvigorated public education in Downtown Boston.
Much of the credit garnered at the celebration went to Mayor Thomas M. Menino for leading the agreement to expand the Eliot School. For his part, Menino credited his Education Advisor, Martha Pierce. The Mayor presented a wooden toolbox to Principal Griffith that was hand crafted by Pierce’s grandfather in 1889 at the North Bennet Street School, symbolizing the historic trade school’s part in the agreement. Menino noted that the Eliot School hails back to the early 1700s and was once located on North Bennet Street.
“The Eliot School is a proud example of all that Boston Public Schools has to offer,” said Mayor Menino. “Over the past five years, the Eliot has emerged as a powerhouse – demonstrating remarkable progress in its MCAS scores. The Eliot’s explosive growth is brought about because of the intensity, focus, hard work, persistence, and the incredible spirit of the school’s leadership, staff, and parents.”
The Eliot expansion is made possible by a previously announced $11.35 million building and cash swap exchange between the North Bennet Street School and the City of Boston which is selling the 150 North Street (former police station) and 130-140 Richmond Street properties (former city printing plant). For NBSS, the swap will allow the non-profit trade school to consolidate and expand its own programs within the North End.
In addition to the breaking news of an immediate expansion toward a third strand of classes, BPS announced that the Eliot would be designated as an “Innovation School” allowing for more flexibility in operating the school. The decision, subject to school board approval, was praised by officials to introduce new educational methods that have been successful elsewhere in the city.
“The Eliot School has demonstrated it is a high-achieving school with so much potential,” said Dr. Johnson. “I can’t wait to see how far this school community will go in the years to come. This Innovation School status is exactly the right plan to move this school to the next level.”
Speaking at the event were ardent supporters of the Eliot expansion including City Councilor Sal LaMattina, State Senator Anthony Petruccelli and State Representative Aaron Michlewitz. Representing the Eliot School parents were Israel Ruiz and Carolina Garcia, co-chairs of the school’s Family Council.
Present at the gathering was President of the North Bennet Street School, Miquel Gomez-Ibanez joined by behind-the-scenes supporter Amos Hostetter of the Barr Foundation. Also signaling their strong approval in the audience were leaders of both North End / Waterfront neighborhood groups, NEWRA President Stephanie Hogue and NEWNC President Donna Freni. The two groups hosted several meetings and wrote letters in favor of the long-awaited agreement.
A short Q&A session revealed that many details still need to be worked out and officials asked parents to “engage in that process” with them. Still, the sense of accomplishment was readily apparent for a deal that will allow the North End and Downtown Boston neighborhoods to attract and retain families by offering a quality public school education at an expanded Eliot School.