Addendum to Mission Hill Statement

Follow up blog,

Dear friends and colleagues,

My friend and long-time colleague, Bonnie Brownstein, had some interesting thoughts about my Blog in regards to “the late” Mission Hill school in Boston. She was worried that some readers would misinterpret some of what I wrote.

I wondered about it, and I decided to share them with you:

#1. Change of neighborhood: In 2012 Mission Hill was moved from Roxbury to Jamaica Plain. Jamaica Plain is a upper-middle-class community while Roxbury is more working class and poor and also has a greater numbers of people of color. Bonnie thought some might assume it was the reverse! In fact, the original school site had been chosen because of the neighborhood demographics!  We tried, successfully, to discourage having to many Jamaica Plainers, to whom the school had a natural appeal, from entering the lottery. (Liberal, well-to-do families often seek “progressive” education.) We wanted to demonstrate that what the rich offered theirs was also the best for all children—with some “ifs” that might overcome understandable distrust. By the time the school closed in Jamaica Plain, I was not surprised to learn that half the children now came from Jamaica Plain.

Given the amount of racial distrust in America, the fact that Ayla Givens was strong Black woman may have made it more difficult for her to deal with the White middle-class parents of Jamaica Plain that began to dominate the school then White principal might have had. (just as I may have had the opposite problem being a strong White woman in a neighborhood of people and students predominantly of color).

#2. Special Needs population growth: Mission Hill had always included many children with “special needs.” But once they moved the school, Boston Public Schools decided to assign more Special Education students to the school. By 2021, 35% of our population were not only Special Education but their disabilities were presumed to require them a separate education in separate spaces. We already had many students who qualified for Special Education and whose parents did not want them separated. We agreed. But there is probably a difference in what a school can do if a third or more children must be educated “differently” and have been assigned rather than freely chosen the school. It was not our choice, but I believe Ayla and the staff did a pretty good job finding solutions. However, it made it harder. Class sizes probably need to be much smaller than our budget allowed to do the best that all kids need especially given the high needs population.

#3. Architecture and space: Mission Hill, when it was in Roxbury, designed itself based on the space given them: one long corridor with windows and bathrooms at each end. The two wings were called the East house and the West house with a kindergarten/first grade, a 2-3, and a 4-5. The combined 6th-8th graders were in the middle along with common space. It worked. Mid-morning l could easily step into the hallway and tell how things were going. In addition, the corridor became a place for spill-over activity around the school-wide curriculum themes.

Alas. the new very modern building had no equivalent space and most classrooms were scattered on different floors and spaces which were hard to keep track of and teachers probably did less collaboration and everyone probably lost some of their sense of unity and mutuality that had formerly flowed so easily. Architecture matters.

Unfortunately, in addition, the principal of the high school in the building we moved into, had hoped to expand into the space given us and was understandably annoyed. Thus we lost the close comraderie we had with the high school in the former building for a far less comfortable one in Jamaica Plain.4. Curriculum: The final blow came when the system ordered Mission Hill to abandon their K-8 curriculum and instead use the city-wide standard curriculum. The curriculum, designed and revised by the faculty with feedback from families and other allies, over many years, was part of the schools essence and not an add-on.

#5: Support: Ayla Gavin had to confront all these changes, and unfortunately it came at a time that Boston Public Schools closed the position of Pilot liaison who had always been there to smooth difficulties that might arise between us and the System. Alas, we also lost the support of some key allies who died during this period and had to deal with several new superintendents who found it harder to accept the autonomies originally promised the Pilots.

Some of you no doubt had no trouble filling in what was left out. But, hopefully this is useful.