As the Boston Public Schools move to determine a name for the new Mattapan early education center at the soon-to-be-shuttered Mattahunt Elementary School, Superintendent Tommy Chang said last week that some upper grade levels may be restored sooner than planned.
The superintendent, speaking at a meeting of the Boston School Committee on May 10, said the department initially expected to address expanding the school beyond first grade in the next three years.
“After hearing from community, I’m beginning to feel like it’s important to us to add grade levels even sooner,” Chang said. “And if there is the demand for the seats and we can demonstrate to the school committee, to the community, to the state that we are demonstrating academic progress at the school, hopefully we can add grade levels sooner rather than later.”
The Mattahunt School has sat on the brink of state receivership for years. School officials in late 2016 recommended closing the school in June and reopening immediately as a school for K0 through first grade was the best way to leverage the Mattahunt facilities and avoid state takeover.
When the school opens in for the 2017-2018 academic year, it will feature the nation’s first dual-language Haitian preschool program for students in K1. Chang said there is “great excitement for the programming.”
Community members at the meeting asked for transparency and cooperation from the school officials in making decisions about the future of the school. The decision to close the Mattahunt and reopen it for lower grades occurred over protests from many local groups, they noted.
BPS leadership assured Mattahunt parents that the students in upper grades who would need to be placed elsewhere would be in schools ranked above the Mattahunt’s Level 4 status. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) determines school quality rankings.
School data show the 595 students leaving the Mattahunt for reassignment have been placed in Level 1 (23 percent), Level 2 (40 percent), Level 3 (23 percent) schools or schools with no DESE rankings through (13 percent). Spots were guaranteed for 55 students in K0 through first grade assigned to the Mattapan early elementary school.
The most common non-Mattahunt placement is the Mildred Avenue K-8 school, which is Level 1 and set to receive 54 Mattahunt students, according to BPS data.
About 48 percent of students were assigned to their top school choice, according to BPS, with 20 percent receiving their second choice, 9 percent their third, 3 percent their fourth, 1 percent their fifth choice, and 18 percent were administratively assigned.
The fate of the grade levels aside, Chang at the committee meeting said that he plans to embark on a community engagement process to select a permanent name for the new school.
Its current name, the “Mattapan Early Elementary School,” is a placeholder for the coming year. The BPS Office of Engagement will digest feedback from community members through the spring and summer, according to BPS officials, with the hope of proposing a name to the school committee in the fall of 2018 for the following year.
A running list of proposed names includes about 175 suggestions, falling mostly in three camps: suggestions including the name “Mattapan,” keeping the “Mattahunt” name in some form, and a third popular proposal incorporates Toussaint Louverture, the name of a famed Haitian revolutionary leader.
Other suggestions floated used the names of the Obamas, Frederick Douglass, state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, or even the late mayor Thomas Menino.
In community discussions of the name, some feel the Haitian leader’s name best reflect the large Haitian population around the Mattapan school. Others voice concerns that changing the Mattahunt is a slight to the native tribe that gave Mattapan its name.
“We do not want the name of the Mattahunt to change,” testified Lincoln Larmond of Mattapan United. “The Mattahunt honors the Native American tribe who lived there, the Mattahunt. We respect the history of the Native Americans who lived, loved, and raised their families in Mattapan before anyone else, and believe it would be disrespectful and tragic to change the name as though they never existed.”