May 31, 2019
While Beacon Hill lawmakers thrash about looking for the magic financial bullet that will turn failing schools into better ones and good schools into great ones, a Boston public charter school celebrates its first class of graduating seniors Tuesday — 97 percent of whom will be going on to four-year colleges.
These 71 young people from Roxbury Prep High School will be moving on to Boston College, Holy Cross, Swarthmore, and Carnegie Mellon, among other schools. Collectively they will be doing so with $1.3 million in scholarships and grants. Together these grads amassed 367 college acceptances, and they did it under conditions that were far from ideal — in two temporary classroom sites located five miles apart.
So as the Class of 2019 moves on, the several hundred classmates they leave behind are hoping to continue their education in a new state-of-the-art building proposed for a section of Roslindale — which, by the way, currently has no public high school.
That proposal, which has been before the Boston Planning and Development Agency since May 2018, enters a critical juncture just as those new grads are picking up their diplomas. The school has been aiming to be in the new facility by September 2021 — and it still can be, but only if the BPDA gives its approval soon, allowing building to begin during this construction season.
Now you’d think that a well-designed high school within a short walk of a commuter rail line, and that would replace a now-defunct used-car dealership and tire store, would be a welcome addition to this or any neighborhood. But there remains a degree of inexplicable NIMBYism among some residents of the Belgrade Avenue and Bellevue Hill sections who apparently prefer decrepit buildings to the prospect of sharing their neighborhood with 562 over-achieving young people, most of them students of color. (The student body is 57 percent African-American and 39.5 percent Hispanic.)
Roxbury Prep, founded in 1999, serves a total of some 1,500 students in grades 5 through 12. Its high school program, begun in 2015, was a natural outgrowth of a collection of middle schools that also now serves as a feeder program for the city’s exam schools. School officials, who originally wanted to enroll as many as 860 students at the new high school, have already reduced that number as part of an accommodation to the neighborhood.
The building plan includes parking spaces — but only for staff and visitors (students are prohibited from driving to school unless there are extenuating circumstances). Some 90 percent of students take public transportation, which in addition to the commuter rail will include four bus lines. The new school will also include a cafeteria, a gym, and a performing arts center, all of which would be available for community functions at the end of the school day and none of which are available to Roxbury Prep students now.
The BPDA’s comment period — and a lively one it was — ended two months ago. Lawn signs urging the agency to “Stop 361 Belgrade” still dot the neighborhood. But, too often, issues of traffic congestion or bus overcrowding — both raised by neighborhood groups — mask the more obvious issue of a largely minority student population attending school in a largely white neighborhood. The more opponents protest that this isn’t about race, the less convincing they sound.
The school has also amassed supporters, including some who believe a well-managed high school is actually a good thing for a neighborhood. Their voices may not be as loud, but they do have common sense and the common good on their side.
So here’s to Roxbury Prep’s class of 2019 for all that they have accomplished, and with their hard work helping to lay what should be the foundation for a new home for the class of 2022.