The Quest for More School Space
In a surefire sign that Superintendent Priya Tahiliani’s intense and unyielding advocacy for school space is resonating at the highest levels, the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has informed the Everett Public Schools (EPS) that it will conduct a Senior Study visit in regards to a new high school.
Senior Studies examine enrollment and program and/or facility issues that are highlighted in a district’s Statement of Interest (SOI) — in this case, a new Everett High School. The EPS submitted formal SOIs in 2022 and 2023, and while this announcement by the MSBA does not guarantee the district will be placed in the school pipeline, a Senior Study is a formal part of the Authority’s due diligence process. The MSBA communicated directly with Superintendent Tahiliani about this exciting development earlier this month.
“Any step forward is an important step,” said Superintendent Priya Tahiliani. “This is a meaningful validation in the work my team has done to highlight our need for more school space, and I thank everyone in the community who joined the effort — especially those who advocated so passionately for Pope John.”
The Superintendent added, “I am thrilled to have played a part in beginning what will hopefully be a long and successful partnership with the MSBA. I look forward to continuing the work of bringing a new high school to Everett.”
During the past two budget cycles, Superintendent Tahiliani and her leadership team have brought detailed attention to the district’s need to address a universally-accepted fact: EPS schools are overcrowded. In 2022-2023, the EPS’s student population topped 7,300 students. Independent sources call for that figure to climb to as high as 7,700 over the next 2-3 years. Present indicators point to the estimates being on point, as the school system is rapidly registering and welcoming newly arrived migrant families at its Parent Information Center.
The MSBA process demands that districts apply for funding for one school. In the case of Everett High, the school’s 2,200-plus student body easily exceeds the 1,800 students the building was intended to serve.
But overcrowding negatively affects the learning experience of students across the EPS — from the elimination of libraries and art and music rooms, to rushed lunch periods, to substandard spaces for small-group and special education instruction. In 2022, Superintendent Tahiliani led an effort to convert the former Pope John XXIII High School into a Junior High School for seventh and eighth graders. While the city is not acting on that plan, the robust conversation and debate shined a light on this critical issue.
“Our need for space is undeniable,” Superintendent Tahiliani said. “Finding 21st-century solutions is far more difficult. Hopefully, we can partner with the MSBA on finding answers that make sense from size, fiscal, and educational standpoints.”
Senior Study visits are conducted by MSBA staff member(s) and senior architects with extensive knowledge of building systems and educational programs. During the due diligence phase, the MSBA may perform several different types of assessments depending on the school building deficiencies that the district has identified in its SOI. This typically includes a review of the SOI and its supporting documents, and reviews of historical enrollment trends and educational programs, and/or site visits to the school facility.
During its site visit, the MSBA team will:
- Evaluate the physical condition of the facility, including major building systems (e.g., building envelope, HVAC, electrical distribution, interior finishes)
- Assess overcrowding or capacity issues
- Assess the ability of the facility to support the required educational program
- Assess design factors such as availability of natural light which make a school’s environment conducive to learning
- Examine site considerations
- Evaluate the school district’s maintenance of the facility
The MSBA is a quasi-independent government authority created to reform the process of funding capital improvement projects in the Commonwealth’s public schools. The MSBA strives to work with local communities to create affordable, sustainable, and energy efficient schools across Massachusetts.
While the announcement from the MSBA is undeniably positive, the fact remains that the district needs multiple solutions to its system-wide overcrowding. Converting Pope John into a middle school would have created ample space and learning opportunities at every K-8 school in the city, but would not have addressed space constraints at EHS. Conversely, if Everett is placed into the MSBA’s pipeline, overcrowding will persist at the elementary level during the several years it will take to construct a new high school.
“When it comes to our students, more is better, bigger is better,” the Superintendent concluded. “Hopefully, we can work with the MSBA while also continuing to pursue internal solutions — such as Pope John — to a problem that demands action.”