The Notre Dame Education Center, proposed to be housed in a newly constructed facility at 200 Old Colony Avenue South Boston, according to reports from the affected parties, abruptly fired 15 teachers, including 3 nuns who had been there for 20+ years each, over the Memorial Day weekend. This decision stopped the Adult Education classes focused on English as a second language. Furthermore, students showed up on Wednesday May 29 to a notice that the building was closed. The Local 7 Ironworkers offered their meeting hall to allow the confused and disappointed students and their family and friends along with teachers to gather to try to make sense of what is happening to them.
Apparently, NDEC had been planning to close programming for all but youth/high school diploma students as of June 12th, leaving no adult education available in South Boston. Nonetheless, this precipitous action did not provide for the opportunity for teachers to speak with their students, and try to explain what happened, nor have the chance to gather their belongings. With no teachers returning to work, the management team, including the Executive Director, Mary Rose Duarte, has not only cancelled classes but had not even notified the students. many of whom do not speak and read English well yet. The Center educates three hundred ninety-five (395) students, many of whom are immigrants and people of color, taking English language classes (ESOL) and Adult Basic Education (ABE) classes.
In a fact sheet distributed the following is a chronology of events to date. According to NDEC Board of Directors, overhead costs are said to account for the decision to effectively shutter the program that serves approximately 88% of the school population. While all staff of ESOL and ABE have been terminated, the management team continues drawing salary. NDEC employs 3 full time staff on their executive team, 2 full time staff on their management team, and other full-time employees. This news also flies directly counters the assurances NDEC management provided to community members and elected officials during a controversial zoning process which culminated in approval on August 14, 2018. Supporters and opponents debated the plan for five stories of apartments atop a single floor owned free and clear by the Notre Dame Education Center.
More than 300 residents spoke out in favor of the proposal, based on the premise that the school and the mission of NDEC — To provide quality education and support services in a diverse caring community that empowers adult learners to realize their full potential — would be preserved. But now, the very programs that defined the mission will no longer be in existence. And incidentally, the two remaining Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur teachers were terminated.
Many now believe the story was presented in a misleading way to the Boston Globe on October 29th, 2018 in an article titled “Sisters of Notre Dame forge an unusual development deal to protect South Boston school” which outlined the controversial process of development for the site. Did the NDEC and the developers know, when proposing the partnership, that the organization could not sustain the programs about which they framed the storyline to attract residents’ support for their proposal? The story sounded good but what did they know and when did they know it. Despite significant opposition the NDEC was able to get significantly more support, including that of Mayor Walsh.
The school is in an area of South Boston “expected to be rezoned to allow for taller buildings,” wrote Jon Chesto. Chesto went on to write “So when the sisters found out their building was for sale; they did something bold: They bought the quarter-acre property for $4.5 million in August 2017.” According to Chesto “They…teamed up with a developer to build a six-story apartment building on the property that would also include a 10,000-square-foot condo space on the ground floor that the school would own, free and clear.” Chesto continued “The number of people who told the Boston Planning & Development Agency that they supported the project was nearly double the number of critics who formally opposed it.”
NDEC is now described as separate from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, an independent “sponsored ministry.” However, it appears that NDEC has no intention of keeping these promises, either clear or understood, to the Sisters of Notre Dame; or the students who dearly need these programs; or the taxpayers who fund the entire program; or the teachers who provided their time and expertise; or the community members who agree to re-zoning based on the promise of the school; or the elected officials who acted on the basis of that promise.