By Tara Vocino
During Wednesday’s School Committee meeting at Everett High School, the School Committee voted 5-4 to send a letter to the City Council recommending that the former Pope John XXIII High School be converted into a space for the Everett Public Schools.
Superintendent of Schools Priya Tahiliani said she views this property as ideal; however, she added that it must be a collaborative decision. Tahiliani said many of the schools in the district exceed capacity limits with growing enrollment predicted. That foresees 7,000 students district-wide by 2026, according to Tahiliani.
“It negatively impacts instructional, health safety, social emotional and physical safety impact,” Tahiliani said. “If it’s an option, we’d love to work with the community. If not, we’d love to voice our opinion to let students know where we stand.”
Ward 2 School Committee Member Jason Marcus, during a walk-through, said he saw students studying on the stairs, adding that that is unacceptable. “We want to help these people get this straightened out,” Marcus said.
Ward 5 School Committee Member Marcony Almeida Barros said that although this is not the first time this body has been talking about this, overcrowding continues to be a serious problem. “Research shows that overcrowding reduces students’ participation and often leads to violence,” Almeida Barros said, adding that he made a motion to submit this letter to the City Council to alleviate the serious overcrowding issue, and he asked for a second.
School Committee Member At Large Samantha Lambert, who seconded Almeida Barros’ motion, asked that the School Committee be a part of affordable housing conversations, as opposed to veterans housing currently being proposed for the Pope John HS building. “It affects students’ ability to learn,” Lambert said. “We needed to work on this a few years ago, but we’re here now – COVID certainly played a role in this.”
School Committee Vice Chairperson Michael McLaughlin, who represents Ward 6, said this issue is no secret to the community; however, it can’t be an a or b option. “We need both in this community,” McLaughlin said, referring to affordable housing and more space for schools.
McLaughlin added the councillors will make the decision in the near future. He suggested having a School Committee subcommittee to discuss the future of the property.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria said they likely have the space in the city, adding that they hired a firm to assess the cost to renovate Pope John. “We have space in the city,” DeMaria said. “More than likely, we probably have the space without using Pope John.”
He advocated for a vocational program. Three years ago, the City Council voted to convert Pope John to veterans housing. “There’s a serious need for veterans and affordable housing,” DeMaria said. “We also need adequate school space for our children.” He suggested looking at the cost to the taxpayers first.
Ward 4 School Committee Member Michael Mangan suggested having a fall joint meeting between the School Committee and City Council members to hear from parents and students. “I’m all for it, but want to look at the cost for taxpayers,” Mangan said.
Ward 1 School Committee member Millie Cardello agreed that a public hearing is necessary. “It’s about money and about doing the right thing,” Cardello said.
Lambert, who supported sending a letter to the City Council, said their kids can’t wait. “Our teachers are doing a great job, but they could be doing better if they’re given the resources,” Lambert said. “I know what our young people are capable of.”
McLaughlin suggested referring the matter to a property subcommittee since there’s a separation of powers.
Marcus said their job was to recommend it to the City Council.
Student Representative Riley Avelar said this matter shouldn’t be pushed out any further. “It’s a sea of people,” Avelar said. “We need space now.”
DeMaria suggested doing a needs assessment, adding that the former high school along Broadway may be a good space. McLaughlin echoed his sentiment.