South Boston Housing Demand Affects School Enrollment

Written by Maura Barrett

Elizabeth Barrett
BU News Service

© Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

© Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Housing demand is up 17.2 percent in South Boston since 2000, but these homes are filled with single, young professionals instead of families forcing educators to consolidate or discontinue their programs due to declining enrollment. South Boston, commonly referred to as “Southie,” is popularly known in the past as a crowded working class Irish American area of the city. However, gentrification in recent years is challenging this stereotype as young professionals move in and families with children flee to the suburbs in search of better schooling.

“Usually you wait until your kids are about 3 or 4 years old, and then you move out,” Damien Carthy, father of 18-month-old twins, said. “Unfortunately, that’s what everybody has to do because the schooling is not good.”

Francy Francis, the librarian at the South Boston Branch of the Boston Public Library, grew up and attended school in South Boston, but she says some schools that she would have recognized, like Middle School Academy, are closed now. She remembers a time when the library would be crowded with school-age children after school hours. Now, the situation is different.

“A ton of toddlers come through our children programs at the library,” Francis said. “But we don’t see them as they enter school-age because the families usually move to the suburbs at that point. You see a lot of young, single people in the neighborhood, then they get married and have kids and then they’re gone. There aren’t as many kids in grade 6 to high school at all anymore.”

The phenomenon of disappearing families is not an illusion for community members; from 2000 to 2010 there was an 11 percent drop in residents under 18 years old, despite the 12 percent growth of general population in South Boston, according to figures the Boston Redevelopment Authority compiled from the U.S Census Bureau data.

South Boston Monument High School merged with Excel High School in 2011, due to low enrollment, but their numbers are still significantly lower than other neighborhoods’ high schools. According to enrollment data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Excel High School currently educates 538 students from grades 9 through 12. This number is in comparison to 1,522 high schoolers at East Boston High School, 972 at Brighton High school, 962 at Charlestown High School, and 921 at Madison Park High School.

The Communications Central Office of Boston Public Schools was contacted without response regarding what actions the superintendent might be implementing to entice families to stay in the neighborhood.

Public schools are not the only ones affected by low enrollment. The current South Boston Catholic Academy was formed in 2007 when the former St. Bridget’s and Gate of Heaven schools combined because of a steady decline in enrollment at Gate of Heaven.

“When the archdiocese of Boston and their campaign for Catholic schools came on board to help with the collaboration, we conducted a lot of research looking ahead on the neighborhood’s population and how it was changing,” Principal Nancy Carr said. “We know that it was mainly people moving out of the area.”

However, unlike the South Boston public high school, enrollment at the Catholic Academy has increased steadily in the past seven years, according to Carr. This is due to the fact that they have students coming from neighborhoods outside of South Boston, such as East Boston, Stoughton, Quincy and the Seaport district.

Both public and private schools, along with neighborhood community centers, have increased resources for the students and families that do remain in the area. Francis noted that a bulk of children who still go to school in the neighborhood go to after school programs because both parents work. Both elementary schools, the Tynan and James F Condon schools, offer before and after school programs. The South Boston Catholic Academy does as well, where Carr estimates about a third of the students take advantage of the program.

The housing boom in South Boston shows no signs of slowing down, with construction and development constantly present and rising costs of living. This, combined with the addition of upscale boutiques and markets can only add to the economic value of the neighborhood but residents and neighborhood associations will soon have to decide whether devaluing education for their children is a cost they’re willing to accept.

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