Boston's public schools are strapped for space at the elementary school level, but they’re swimming in seats in the upper grades — where several high schools, including Jeremiah Burke and English High, are operating at less than 50 percent capacity. The system needs both a long-range facilities plan and a flexible attitude to solve its growing pains on one end and its contraction on the other.
Facilities planners have seen this problem coming for several years. But central administrators, including outgoing school Superintendent Carol Johnson, misplayed their hands during a series of school consolidations and closings between 2008 and 2010. Those steps removed some elementary school seats that would be useful today. Now officials are trying to regain some of those lost seats while figuring out the best approach to deal with a glut of 3,000 seats at the high-school level.
The decline in high-school populations won’t reverse until the school system gives parents the longer school days and rigorous academic environments that are characteristic of state-authorized charter schools, which are expanding across Boston. The popularity of these charter schools, suspicion of the city’s poorly performing middle schools, and demographic shifts point to sparsely attended high schools for many years to come.