The Eliot School Family Council (ESFC), a non-profit group that funds improvements and administrative leadership initiatives at the John Eliot K-8 School in the North End, voted last week to submit a proposal to the Boston Public Schools (BPS) to expand the school from its current cramped location to two other locations in the North End.
With a growing number of parents intarested in sending their children to the Eliot, the school, which serves families in the North End, Beacon Hill and the Back Bay, is facing a space crisis at its 16 Charter St. location. Urgency is mounting at the school, which has seen its enrollment increase from 175 students in 2008 to 320 this year, with a waiting list of more than 400 children.
The proposal submitted by the ESFC would move the school to the properties at 150 North St. (the city’s former printing building) and 130-140 Richmond St. (the former A-1 Police Station) as a way to resolve its space crisis.
The proposal would also enable the school to add a third line (strand) of grades K-8 classes and substantially increase the number of children it could accommodate in the neighborhoods the Eliot serves.
However, while the Eliot plans to bid on the two buildings, the ESFC said it would support the North Bennet Street School (NBSS) in its bid for the same buildings if BPS allowed the the Eliot to move into the NBSS building on the corner of North Bennett and Salem Streets.
The ESFC wrote a letter of support for the proposal to be submitted by NBSS, a school the Eliot has enjoyed a long partnership for the benefit of its students, to occupy the North and Richmond Street locations.
The NBSS, a century old private trade school in the North End has historically made accommodations for Eliot students and borrowed space at the school for specialty classes such as art and shop. However, this short-term solution will no longer be sufficient by Fall 2012 according to the ESFC board.
The ESFC letter of support for the NBSS bid on the North and Richmond Street buildings is contingent upon the current NBSS buildings being used by the BPS to expand the Eliot School.
“We remain open to exploring any and all solutions with the City of Boston, the Boston Public Schools and the North Bennet Street School, as long as the Eliot School’s untenable space issues are resolved in a way that enables our school to secure an adequate and effective learning environment for our children,” said Co-Chair of the ESFC. Israel Ruiz.
The ESFC recently initiated an electronic petition to garner support for expansion of the Eliot, which has gathered more than 800 signatures from individuals across the city.
In addition, a letter was submitted by the ESFC to both Mayor Thomas Menino and Boston Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson that pressed for a commitment from the city for both a short- and long-term solution to the Eliot School’s increasing space deficit.
“Due to the population boom taking place in the downtown neighborhoods of Boston, there is a substantial community need for our city to expand access to high quality public education.” wrote Ruiz in the letter. “We strongly believe that expanding access to the Eliot School offers a proven academic solution and that the City of Boston and Boston Public Schools should address this critical need before any decision is made on the sale of these large North End properties.”
Part of this rapid enrollment increase at the Eliot is due to the addition of a second strand of classes that was added in 2008 in response to demand for more seats in downtown schools. Next year, and each consecutive year until the second strand of grades K-8 is complete in 2017 (which would add one more class to each grade) a new classroom needs to be located by the school to house this class.
As a result, the Eliot School has had to sacrifice its library, music room and art room. Even the teacher’s lounge has been annexed for two periods a day for student instruction.
“I’ve seen the Eliot School population almost double in size since my children entered in 2008, yet the physical space remains static,” said Anne Occhipinti, whose daughter is in the Eliot School’s second strand class that will enter the third grade next fall. “I’m very concerned for my daughter that we could be facing more program cuts for next year – or worse – potential school reassignment, if the Eliot School is unable to secure more space by this September.”
City Councilor Sal LaMattina said he is excited about the plan the ESFC has come up with because it would benefit two North End schools that are running out of space.
“We have a lot of parents interested in the Eliot and the school is growing faster than any other school in the North Zone,” said LaMattina. “This plan would allow the Eliot to move from its cramped location on Charter Street to a much bigger facility.”