BPS to seek state funding for new Columbia Point school complex

Ondrea Johnston, the head of school at the BCLA-McCormack School. Seth Daniel photo

The Boston Public School district and the Wu administration will be asking for state money to help with the funding of either a new school or a renovated school complex on what is now the McCormack School campus on Dorchester’s Columbia Point that is in the middle of a phased, multi-year merger with Boston Community Leadership Academy (BCLA).

The combined school will house grades 7-12 in what BPS officials hope will be a “state-of-the-art” facility on Mount Vernon Street.

BPS Superintendent Mary Skipper told the School Committee about the plan to seek funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) at the committee’s meeting on Feb. 29.

“I’m happy to announce that BPS plans to submit a Statement of Interest for a new core project at the BCLA McCormack 7-12 school through the MSBA,” Skipper said. “One of my priorities that I share with the mayor is to provide students with state-of-the-art facilities and buildings where they can thrive. If selected, she said, BPS will design such a campus “that will be embedded in the Columbia Point community and connected to the UMass Boston campus as part of our community hub school strategy.”

Mayor Wu highlighted the new partnership with UMass Boston to support the combined school during her State of the City address in January.

Ondrea Johnston, who is the head of school at the BCLA-McCormack, said Skipper’s announcement had brought a “sigh of relief” from her governing board and families.

“A new building will give us things we’re missing from the school now, like an auditorium,” she said in an interview with the Reporter last Friday. “We have to ask the Dever Elementary next door now to use their auditorium. We wouldn’t need to do that in a new building.

“Our kids want to form a baseball team, and we have a co-op now with South Boston, but it lacks athletic facilities for students to practice,” she noted. “The one thing we’re missing is we don’t have a baseball facility where you can practice or play. A new building gives us those options to get these kinds of things.” Other “dream” amenities and programs, she said, include a theatre and a library.

The Statement of Interest (SOI) that Skipper announced is the first step in a process to obtain state funding. Last December, BPS successfully won state designation to fund the construction of a new school to house the merged Shaw and Charles Taylor elementary schools on the Dorchester/Mattapan line.

A School Committee vote on the BCLA-McCormack plan was expected to be taken on Wednesday of this week, with the City Council asked to vote on it later this month. The SOI would next need to be submitted to the MSBA by April 12 – leaving extended community discussions for later in the process if the state accepts the plan.


A new school facility on Mount Vernon Street has been the topic of discussion since 2019, when BCLA began its merger with the McCormack Middle School by migrating its students — class by class— to the Dorchester campus. Currently, there are about 600 students in the McCormack building, with only the current senior class still attending school at the Hyde Park campus (the former Hyde Park High School).

BPS says a new facility is needed to house the merged school community’s existing enrollment and to accommodate an expected additional demand to serve a growing Columbia Point population stemming from the planned Dorchester Bay City (1,970 units) and life sciences development. BPS also points to Boston students who travel outside the neighborhood or opt for charter or parochial high schools as prospective enrollees at a new or renovated school campus.

The details of the new UMass Boston partnership have not as yet been fully laid out, but Skipper also nodded to it during her Feb. 29 presentation.

“It checks a lot of the boxes of a model and ideal as we go forward, and the UMass component is novel,” she said.

Delavern Stanislaus, chief of capital planning for BPS, said that in looking at BPS students living in Dorchester and in South Boston, only 21 percent attend grades 7-12 nearby. Most travel as far away as Charlestown High School or Brighton High School, or over to Excel High School in South Boston, or enroll in Boston Collegiate Charter School in the Polish Triangle. Many also choose all-male parochial schools like Boston College High School or private schools outside of Boston.

Stanislaus said that BPS believes the Columbia Point area can support a high school with as many as 1,600 students and that “there will be a higher demand for high school seats from Dorchester and South Boston students – and a draw for others from around the city.”

But not everyone is convinced on that point, with School Committee members Brandon Cardet-Hernandez and Chantal Lima Barbosa being two of the unpersuaded.

“I am struggling to understand how we’re using demand data to inform the choices,” said Cardet-Hernandez during the Feb. 29 meeting. He wondered if the plan still was relevant, and if there were enough students interested in such a school to justify it.

Skipper said the Columbia Point community has already bought into the plan, particularly because it offers an option to keep kids close to home for their entire educational pathway. And, like Stanislaus, she said that BPS believes it will bring back students that left for charters or parochial schools.

“This is sort of an ‘if you build it, they will come [situation],’” said Skipper. “I think it’s an interesting question because we’re not just looking to meet demand but create demand.”

Cardet-Hernandez said he thinks it will take more than just a building to bring students back to BPS.

“I suspect we’re not just losing families and students because of buildings; we’re losing them because of instruction,” he said. “I don’t want us to put all our eggs in a facilities basket when, at the core, families are making decisions and are smart enough to know it’s not just the wrapping paper, but what’s inside the box.”

Back at the school, Principal Johnston said the school community craves the “dedicated spaces” for things most high schools have. “That’s what excites me the most, having a place to build things,” she said. “We’re trying to form a band and we really want to form a band, but I need a band room to house the band…It’s those dedicated spaces.”



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