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Superintendent: Aiming for smooth transition in Latin Academy move

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  September 6, 2011 02:15 PM

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(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

The Hyde Park Education complex was closed at the end of the 2010 – 2011 school year, but it could be reborn as a new site for the Boston Latin Academy.

As students, parents, and teachers campaign against the proposed move of the Boston Latin Academy to Hyde Park, Boston's school superintendent said she hears their concerns and will work with them to make a smooth transition.

Superintendent Carol R. Johnson recently addressed questions from reporters about the controversial plan, which would move the popular exam school into the recently shuttered Hyde Park Education Complex at 655 Metropolitan Ave. The School Department would then renovate the existing Latin Academy building near Grove Hall and move the Boston Arts Academy into that space.

Johnson said the idea to move the Latin Academy actually grew out of meetings with parents who had concerns about the facility.

“They gave me a notebook with page after page after page of pictures that parents had taken of what they thought was wrong with the building,” Johnson said, “and so we tried to begin to think about responding.”

She said the department was able to make some improvements on windows and lighting, but “it’s a big building.” Parents were looking for more improvements, but the district already had a “priority list of schools that needed immediate response.”

So Johnson turned to the Hyde Park Education Complex, renovated a decade ago at a cost of $41 million, 90 percent of that paid by the state.

“We would give the Boston Latin Academy a better building before we offered it to anybody else,” Johnson said.

She said she understood parents’ concerns about the building being too far away from other parts of the city, but said many probably felt the school’s current location was too far away when it was proposed. She said the school system would work with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to identify hub sites for pickup and that the school day might start later to accommodate longer commutes.

Johnson said parents’ other main concern, that the Hyde Park building isn’t large enough, could also be addressed. While the current Latin Academy building is set up to maximize all its space and includes up to 30 students per class, the Hyde Park Education Complex consisted of three schools with separate administrative offices and many smaller classes, so the building was not being used to its full capacity.

But like many of the 835 who have signed an on-line petition opposing the move, Paul Properzio, who has taught Latin, Greek, and mythology at the school since 1997, is not convinced.

He said the school building at 205 Townsend St. had been reconfigured to the school’s needs and needed only cosmetic improvements, while he simply didn’t believe the Hyde Park building was large enough.

“The school committee continues to say that they’re analyzing the statistics,” Properzio said in a phone interview, “but it’s obvious that that building would not serve our needs unless they’re thinking of cutting our student population, which [Johnson] repeatedly says she is not.”

Properzio said the Latin Academy needs to remain centrally located to serve students from all over the city and allow them the access to the city’s cultural institutions that has been given as a reason for moving the Arts Academy to its site. He said the Townsend Street building is too large for the Arts Academy, and that the entire plan makes no sense to him.

“I think there’s an underlying reason which we’re not seeing here,” he said.

Johnson said unequivocally that moving to the Hyde Park building would not make it necessary to reduce the school’s enrollment.

“[T]he last thing you want to do is take a school that is very popular and well-regarded and heavily enrolled and make it smaller,” she said. “That would be really counterproductive to the overall goal of increasing capacity … at the two schools.”

Addressing concerns that this building could turn out to be just another temporary home, Johnson said she could not promise that the school, now in its sixth location, wouldn’t move again at some future date. But she hopes that the Hyde Park building could be its home for many years to come.

“I can’t predict the future, and I’m sure [parents] feel like I don’t know the past, because I think somebody in the past promised them, they feel,” she said. “But I think we would hope that this would be the permanent home for them, and hopefully a permanent home for Boston Arts Academy, too.”

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeremycfox. Follow Hyde Park on Twitter: @HydeParkInfo.

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