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.
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.“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.