Catholic schools remain off limits

Grassa O'Neill to cooperate with charters but not on buildings

 

THE HEAD OF THE BOSTON ARCHDIOCESE SCHOOLS is eager to work with public and charter school operators to improve education for all Boston students, but says the church’s recent policy of refusing to lease or sell vacant buildings to charters will remain intact.

Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill, the Archdiocese’s secretary for education, says the church’s policy on empty buildings is designed to fortify the dwindling number of Catholic schools as enrollments drop. Many observers say Catholic school enrollment is dropping at least partly because Catholic parents are choosing to send their children to charters. Cardinal Sean O’Malley is the one who appears to be the driving force behind the church’s policy on empty buildings.

“Right now, the cardinal is most focused on having high quality Catholic education everywhere,” Grassa O’Neill said after an event on Wednesday in Brighton celebrating the receipt of $3.25 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote a compact between Catholic, public, and charter schools in Boston.

As part of the compact, the city of Boston agreed to lease or sell several of its empty school buildings to charter schools, but the Archdiocese has instituted a policy that prevents charter schools from leasing or buying unused properties. CommonWealth focused on the policy shift as part of a story this summer on the sale of unused church property, highlighting a standoff in Lawrence where church officials refuse to sell abandoned schools to charter operators in a city with thousands of students on waiting lists for admission to charter schools.

Kevin Andrews, headmaster of the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester and chairman of the Boston Charter Alliance, said at the Brighton event that the Archdiocese appears to have a blanket policy of refusing to sell or lease empty buildings to charters. “Hopefully, over time we’re going to see a change in that position,” Andrews said. “We have the leaders of the three sectors together and that to me is most important. We’ve been told by the Archdiocese at this time [empty church buildings] are off limits. . .They’re in a stage where they have to make decisions on how they are going to use their buildings.”

Officials from the Boston Public Schools, the Boston Charter Alliance, and the Boston Archdiocese school system hailed the Gates grant to train 250 teachers and administrators for English Language Learners at an event at the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton, housed in the rear of St. Columbkille Elementary School. The three divergent groups, formerly at odds over tight available education dollars, entered into a compact last year to share “best practices” to improve learning and teaching at all schools.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

 “I represent every student in Boston, no matter which school he or she attends,” said Boston Mayor Thomas Menino in a statement. “This award will help all our schools work together to ensure every child gets a great education.” Menino, who is recovering from a lengthy illness, did not attend the event.

Grassa O’Neill says the focus of the grant and compact are to improve education for all the city’s students, regardless of what school they attend. She said the grant will allow teachers and administrators to visit different classrooms and share training.