Letter: Lee Academy, Lee School both deserve chance to succeed

To the Editor:

I am a parent at the Lee Academy Pilot School on Talbot Ave., one of several small schools targeted by the BPS superintendent’s “Redesign and Reinvest” proposal for next school year. Because the Lee Academy shares a building with the Joseph Lee School, whose MCAS scores have risen dramatically while ours have showed more modest gains, the superintendent proposed originally to eliminate the independent pilot school and go back to one full-sized (approximately 700 students) traditional elementary school. Part of the hope with this is that the Lee could, with access to the whole building, add on to its program to become a K-8 school, providing a middle school option to our neighborhood.

There has been strong, school-wide opposition to this plan, and at last night’s school committee hearing, the superintendent offered a revised proposal in which our full-sized, K-5 school would be scaled back to a kindergarten program only.

Here’s what I want you to know:

• The Lee Academy is not in any way a failing school.
• Of the seven grades in the Lee Academy (K0-5th grade) only two are underperforming (4th and 5th grade).
• Sound plans are in action to help the students in the two struggling grades improve their performance.
• Our principal and governing board believe strongly in the importance of academic achievement but are also clear that this must not crowd out our attention to social-emotional development, non-academic subjects, and community-building.
• The Lee Academy is a “pilot school.” This means that unlike a charter school where teachers can be exploited without union protection, and unlike a traditional public school where entrenched union rules often slow down creative changes, the Lee Academy Pilot School has union teachers who are so committed to innovation and community involvement that they negotiate with management each year to add 70 extra hours to their workload -- thereby enriching the school and our community and essentially donating the money value of that time to the district.

The amount of money this change would save the district is being debated. What is clear is that every dollar saved will be in human-power: our excellent, dedicated administrators (every single one of whom I have personally observed going above and beyond to serve kids and families) would be gone, and the student-teacher ratio would go up. These are resources our community needs, and if we also need a middle school then we should get both, damn it.

Confronted at its hearing last night with strong evidence that the BPS case for closing the Lee Academy was based on cherry-picked achievement data and faulty financial calculations, the Boston School Committee has signaled that it would like to hear a more thorough presentation of the facts before making a decision. The vote is currently scheduled for November 3 – so act quickly if you want to learn more and help advocate for keeping this important educational resource available to Dorchester families.

Our communities deserve creative solutions that don’t pit successful programs like the Joseph Lee School and the Lee Academy Pilot School against each other for necessary resources. The School Committee needs to know that we appreciate the vital importance of small schools and educational innovation. Let’s push back, demanding that both schools be allowed to survive and that a more serious consideration be undertaken to bring a K-8 option to our neighborhood.

For the names and email addresses of the School Committee, go to Bostonpublicschools.org/committee.

- Sara Burke