Wu, Skipper look to move O’Bryant school to closed West Roxbury complex | #schoolsaftey

Mayor Michelle Wu and BPS Superintendent Mary Skipper speak outside Charlestown High School in Charlestown Staff Photo by Nancy Lane/Boston Herald (Wednesday,May 31, 2023).

on the Boston Common on Wednesday, in Charlestown, MA. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald) May 31, 2023

Boston’s mayor and school superintendent are proposing that one of the city’s largest high schools move into the vacant West Roxbury Education Complex, which officials closed four years ago for safety reasons.

Under the proposal, the John D. O’Bryant School and Mathematics and Science would move from the Malcolm X. Boulevard campus it shares in Roxbury with Madison Park Technical Vocational High School to the West Roxbury site, which would house a grade 7-12 school facility, Mayor Michelle Wu said.

The plan would need approval from the Boston School Committee. The city is not seeking funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, Superintendent of Schools Mary Skipper said.

“It can be scary to talk about such big changes,” Wu said. “As prospects happening in Boston, this is on the scale of a generational change that we haven’t seen in quite some time in the district.

“But we really believe this is the scale of opening up opportunity that would really create room for all of our BPS students to have what they need and deserve in the generations to come.”

The move would allow O’Bryant, one of the city’s three exam schools, to increase its enrollment by roughly 400 students, from 1,600 to 2,000, and would give the school its own sports facilities and lab space, Wu said.

Today, O’Bryant admits half as many seventh-graders as ninth-graders due to space constraints, which prevents older students from acclimating to their new school environment, the mayor said.

Madison Park, the city’s only vocational school, could, in turn, take over the entire campus it now shares with O’Bryant. It would expand to include the seventh and eighth grade, increasing enrollment to 2,200 students, Wu said.

This would allow for more “public-facing interaction” and hands-on experience for students, like what’s seen at other technical schools across the state, Wu said.

“I think sometimes we settle for incremental change in education and we tweak, and that doesn’t really make the difference to our students,” Skipper said. “And I think our school system is indicative of that over the long haul.”

Skipper added, “I think of the generations of students that settled. They settled and we don’t want our students to settle. We want them to thrive.”

While the West Roxbury Education Complex was closed in 2019 due to its poor condition, per a School Committee vote, Wu and Skipper said the facility won’t need to be torn down and rebuilt prior to the move.

It will, however, need a complete gut renovation, “down to the studs,” to accommodate the influx of new students, officials said.

Wu said $18 million has been proposed in the city’s capital budget for project design, which will help to determine how much it will cost to renovate the West Roxbury facility. Another $45 million has been allocated for design on Madison Park, she said.

When pressed, officials said they were confident renovations, rather than a tear-down, was the best approach to take for the West Roxbury Education Complex, citing the results of a feasibility study that was done on the building.

Officials are aiming for construction to start in early 2025, but there’s no timeline for completion or when O’Bryant would be moved to the West Roxbury campus.

“There will be a brand-new beautiful high school campus in that location,” Wu said. “We believe this is the most feasible (approach) right now.”

Skipper also announced that Charlestown High School will become the city’s first “open enrollment high school,” which will offer early college and dual enrollment to every student, through a partnership with Bunker Hill Community College.

The vision, Skipper said, is that when students graduate, they will have stacked enough college credits to qualify for an associate’s degree.

This is similar to the Year 13 pilot program that was announced earlier this year for Fenway High School and the University of Massachusetts Boston, she said, “only this is on a magnitude much larger because this will impact all Charlestown High School students.”

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