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August 25,2011
The School Department Replies

Some background first:

  Late last year, South Boston Online published a front page article in our November 11, 2010, issue concerning UP Academy, a new middle school that is a so-called “In-District” Charter School.  It is in the building on Dorchester Street that had once housed the Gavin Middle School.  The letters UP stand for “Unlocking Potential”; UP Academy will open for its first school year in two weeks.

  South Boston’s reception of UP Academy was very favorable.  But a rumor surfaced in late spring and early summer that another group of students – students with severe disciplinary problems from all over Boston – would be attached to UP Academy.

  This rumor proved to be true.  The problem students were to occupy the ground floor in the Gavin Building.  Their “academy” would have a separate staff and it would be called “The Middle School Academy”.  A hastily-assembled community meeting with the Middle School Academy officials was held on July 14.

  Despite the community’s anger at the change to the use of the old Gavin School Building, and at the failure to be informed of that change, the July 14 meeting was constructive.  But answers to many questions were promised.  That meeting (and the many questions that were raised) was the topic of Online’s July 21 editorial – “One School Building, Two Academies”

  Dr. Domenic Amara, the Academic Superintendent of Boston’s K-8, Middle Schools, stopped into the South Boston Online office a week ago Friday, August 12.  After some legwork and an assist from City Councilor Linehan’s office, a telephone interview was arranged with South Boston Online, Dr. Amara, and Lee McGuire from the BPS Communication Office.

  Dr. Amara confirmed that locating the Middle School Academy on the ground floor of the Gavin School Building, with UP Academy occupying the top two floors, was essentially a “done deal”.  This is required by the City’s economics - the need to close schools and trim costs, now that there are significantly less students in Boston. (NOTE:  Boston’s student population has dropped from a peak of nearly 70,000 to approximately 55,000 right now.)

  When asked to explain how two schools with very different missions could function, Dr. Amara stated, “The two student populations are different, but the missions are the same – a good education for all students.”  He also used the word “dividable” to describe how the shared building would be set up.  Shared areas would be limited to the outside grounds, a few lavatories, and doors and corridors where students from the two Academies would pass each other.

  He quoted some numbers:  there will be only a few students (if any) at the Middle School Academy in September.  He expects a maximum of 50 or so as the school year progresses.  Many will be rotated back to their regular schools, when their discipline problems are resolved.  The Middle School Academy will have 12 on its staff – one or more educator for every four or five students, with a school police officer on duty during school hours at the Middle School Academy.

  Dr. Amara is working on a shuttle to pick up the Middle School Academy students from their local “T” stations.  He has also proposed simple uniforms for the Middle School Academy students (UP Academy already requires uniforms for their students).  However, these are “off-budget” items, at least at this point in time.

  He confirmed that some of the Middle School Academy students could be a year or two older than the UP Academy students.  But in response to a question about potential conflicts, perhaps even some bullying, he emphasized the strict supervision that would be exercised, extending even to use of the lavatories.  Dr. Amara admitted that the Middle School Academy students could be “rambunctious” (his word), but then pointed out that most of their problems came more from a “difficulty in focusing” (his words again), than outright misbehavior.

  While this editorial does not reproduce every word spoken during the interview, the overall theme that Dr. Amara stated was, “We’ll make this work.”  In an e-mail following the telephone interview, he said, “The points made (by the South Boston community) have not fallen on deaf ears.”  In his e-mail, Dr. amara went on to say, “It’s my hope that everyone will help to make the Gavin complex work for both the South Boston community and all the students attending either the UP Academy or Middle School Academy.” 

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UP Academy, is a new middle school that is a so-called “In-District” Charter School.