Mayor Walsh, Superintendent Chang, next move on the Mattahunt closing is up to you

On Nov. 1, Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang announced his plan to close the Mattahunt, which the Boston School Committee has since voted to accept. The community has remained resolute in its opposition to the recommendation and plan. In all of the interactions I have had with parents through the four BPS meetings with the community, the Mattapan United Community Assembly, and the petition drive (172 signatures of mostly parents in two days), I have only met two people who supported the superintendent’s plan.

Parents and stakeholders along with Mattapan United have toiled tirelessly in the past two weeks to mobilize and take action in opposing the recommendation. I am so very proud of our parents and community. Determined to change the narrative and empower our community, we formulated a counter proposal to Dr. Chang’s that was scholarly, professional, and well researched. The proposal provided three options for BPS to consider that the community could support, all of which would result in the Mattahunt remaining an elementary school.

As the community looked for support from our elected officials they, unfortunately, were nowhere to be found, except for City Councillor Andrea Campbell who at first supported Dr. Chang’s plan, but later changed her position after hearing the community’s reaction and its counter-proposal. In fact, a BPS press release quoted all of the Mattapan elected officials enthusiastically endorsing the school department’s plan.

The question remains: Who is going to fight for our children? Who is going to fight for preserving the equity in our community? It is clearly not our elected officials other than Andrea. Tito Jackson has been extremely supportive in words and deed. The community does not want our children to be displaced. Period! We don’t want the loss of an elementary school or pushing our children further out of their community. We want to, and, in fact, we welcome the opportunity to work with Superintendent Chang and his team to fix the Mattahunt, not close it.

Parents value the ability to have a quick drop-off of their children at a community school close by. The stakeholders of Mattapan recognize that Mattapan is a community of working parents, many of whom are immigrants who work long hours. And as such the value of having a neighborhood school close by that affords parents the opportunity to drop their children off at school and have time to go to work is immense.

There is an entire ecosystem that gets disrupted when displacement occurs that impacts both children and parents. Furthermore, we believe that displacing our children introduces them to unnecessary trauma. The irony cannot be lost on anyone that the plan going forward is to create a trauma-informed early childcare center, yet we are about to visit wholesale trauma on a significant amount of children – unless of course, people believe that being uprooted, dispersed, and displaced is not inherently traumatic.

The Mattahunt was set up for failure. How can you have a school in Level 4 where in the last six years there have been four principals under three different superintendents? The school’s first year of Level 4 the principal and 90 percent of the teachers were new. Today, 40 percent are still new and 76 percent of the students are high needs. The school is a capacity school, which means that one in four of the students did not choose to be there, and between 40 percent and perhaps 60 percent of the student population is Haitian. Yet there are inadequate resources to meet the English Language Learners and cultural competency needs.

When Dr. Chang’s team arrived last year the school had no turnaround plan. People talk about Mattahunt getting $650,000 a year to help it get off Level 4, but does anyone really believe that the $650,000, which primarily went to extended day programming, was sufficient to lift the Mattahunt off Level 4 given the significant challenges that were in place? There should have been a community review board made up of parents, residents, stakeholders, teachers, administrators, and elected officials or their representatives.

Our next step is to reach out to the mayor and the Commissioner of the Department of Early and Secondary Education, Mitchell Chester. We met with Mayor Walsh on Monday and shared our proposal.

He indicated some interest and said that he would get back to us after speaking with Superintendent Chang.

Fifteen parents and stakeholders went to the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday where Mattahunt was on the agenda. Six of us gave testimony. The board members asked very thoughtful questions of BPS and several expressed concerns and willingness to recommend sending a letter to Superintendent Chang letting him know that the one year extension that we had requested to allow BPS and the community to formulate a more effective turnaround plan for the Mattahunt is something they think that he should consider if he chooses.

Board chairman Paul Sagan reminded the board, and all agreed, that the board had no role to supersede a decision the local district had made and could only act on the recommendation that was before them. The next step is up to Mayor Walsh and Superintendent Chang.

Lincoln Larmond is the co-chair of Mattapan United, a resident-led community group.