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Moving the O’Bryant to West Roxbury would be a mistake

Aparna Lakshmi & Robert Comeau

On June 6, Mayor Michelle Wu and Superintendent Mary Skipper announced their proposal to move the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science from Roxbury to the West Roxbury Educational Complex. We understand many students, staff and families have conflicting feelings about this proposal, but as longtime Boston school teachers, we believe moving the city’s most diverse exam school to the least T-accessible neighborhood in the city is not in the best interests of our students.

From our combined 39 years of teaching in this city, we know that the O’Bryant is a special place — our school is home to a culture of kindness, meaningful integration and a truly diverse faculty and staff.

Part of what makes this possible is our central location, which also allows our students easy access to partnerships at Northeastern University, Wentworth Institute of Technology and other local colleges; participation in enrichment programs like SquashBusters, 826 Boston and Youth Enrichment Services; and internships and jobs in the Longwood Medical Area, financial district and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Our location is rich in Black and Latinx history, and we are located near the Copley central and Roxbury branch libraries and the city’s flagship museums.

Wu and Skipper have promised that a move to West Roxbury would be equitable — that our school would maintain its current diversity, and frequent shuttle buses would compensate for that neighborhood’s current lack of public transit options.

Here is what we believe, however, would actually happen.

The O’Bryant’s demographics will change. We will see far fewer families from East Boston, Charlestown, Roxbury, South Boston and Dorchester choose to enroll their seventh and ninth graders at our school if we move to West Roxbury.

Students will be tardy to school and will be less willing to stay after school for clubs, sports or academic support, and the ripple effects on their college and career choices cannot be overstated. We have compared our students’ current commute times with their future commutes to West Roxbury. On average, students will spend 75 extra minutes per day on the MBTA. Students facing a much longer commute: 1,363. Students who will have a slightly shorter commute: 144. The district has promised shuttle buses, but the MBTA is already unable to hire enough bus drivers to fill their current routes and the district’s own buses have struggled to meet the desired 95% on-time rate.

It will be difficult to sustain our current partnerships, internships and college connections. Because students will be spending an additional hour-plus on the bus every day, they will have less time to participate in internships at Dana Farber or academic support and athletics at The BASE.

Wu and Skipper argue that there is no other space in the city that would afford O’Bryant a beautiful new campus. While it is true that the West Roxbury Education Complex’s almost 2 million square feet offer a much larger space for an expanding school, the current West Roxbury Education Complex occupies only roughly 70,000 square feet.

We believe there are alternatives that would allow us to build a vibrant campus in the heart of the city. We choose to highlight three here, but there are others:

• Move to Melnea Cass. We note that city-owned parcels in the area south of Washington Street, and bounded by East Lenox Street, Harrison Avenue, and Melnea Cass Boulevard, are being presented to the community for a visioning session. These parcels are close to the Orange Line and Silver Line.

• Redevelop Newmarket. This area is rapidly transitioning away from its traditional industrial base. Even a fraction of this land could be set aside for a stunning urban campus for O’Bryant — in the heart of the city and near public transportation and partnership opportunities.

• Develop Parcel 3. One of the city’s largest vacant lots sits right on Tremont Street, in between Ruggles and Roxbury Crossing.  We note that there are plans to develop its 330,000 square feet, but these plans could possibly be redesigned to include plans for a new O’Bryant as well.

We believe that students at all Boston Public Schools — including at both Madison Park and O’Bryant — deserve safe and accessible facilities, high-quality education and opportunities to connect with our city’s institutions of arts, commerce and higher learning. Moving the O’Bryant to West Roxbury would limit those life-changing connections. We urge all stakeholders to consider the alternatives.

Aparna Lakshmi is a history teacher and Robert Comeau is an English teacher, both at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science.