Wednesday, December 15, 2010

School committee set to vote on school closings tonight

The Boston School Committee is slated to vote on closing or merging nearly 20 schools at tonight's meeting at English High.

The Globe has an article about the Agassiz community feeling betrayed about being on the closure list since their test scores appeared to be improving and some facilities work had been completed.

If the Agassiz does close, the Lyndon may have to take 60 students from that school, according to this article from the West Roxbury Transcript. Other schools with empty seats in the west zone (as well as other zones) may also have extra students next year, but it doesn't sound like they're talking about increasing class size.

Friday, December 3, 2010

List of schools proposed to close next year

The superintendent presented her plan for closing and merging schools at last night's school committee meeting. In addition to the others mentioned earlier, the following schools may close:
  • Agassiz Elementary
  • Fifield Elementary
  • Middle School Academy
  • Farragut Elementary
Generally, children at these schools would have preference in other schools in their zone with open seats, after sibling preference is taken into account.

Rather than close, Clap Elementary will become an "innovation school".


 

The following would be merged under the plan:
  • Alighieri and Umana
  • Urban Science Academy and Parkway Academy of Technology and Health
  • Brook Farm Business & Service Career Academy and Media Communications Technology High School
  • Excell High School and Monument High School
The following schools would be expanded:
  • Holland elementary would add a K1.
  • Trotter elementary would add a K1.
  • King K-8 would add the K1 and K2 classes from the East Zone ELC 
  • TechBoston Academy will increase the number of high school seats.
  • Dearborn will expand to a 6-12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics program

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Additional school closings to be proposed

The Globe reports that the school committee will hear recommendations tonight for closing additional Boston public schools. According to the Globe article, the superintendent will recommend a total of about a dozen school closings. Earlier, five were recommended to close (Emerson Elementary, the East Zone Learning Center, the Roger Clapp Elementary School, the Social Justice Academy, and the Engineering School), and two may merge (Joseph Lee Elementary School and the Lee Academy Pilot School). So that leaves another half dozen or so that we may hear about at the school committee meeting at English High at 6 p.m. Stay tuned.

Edited to add: It appears that the Agassiz may be on the closure list. See comments below.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Guest blog: Now Nearing the BPS Lottery Starting Line...

I'm pleased to present a second submission from a guest blogger. This time, it's from a parent currently going through the lottery and school preview process alongside many of you. Stefan Lanfer writes about "the big mysteries revealed in the small moments" of fatherhood at http://www.dadtoday.com/. He is the father of two and lives in Jamaica Plain.

I'll still take submissions at kydecosta at yahoo dot com if anyone else wants to share their wisdom.

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We moved to Jamaica Plain in 2001. In 2006, we became parents. And in 2010, we are stepping up to the starting line of a process that feels overwhelming and only nominally under our control - the lottery and school assignment process for the Boston Public Schools. Last year, like many young parents across the city, we tuned in to the Braving the BPS Lottery blog. We enjoyed the warts-and-all account from a family in our neighborhood going through the process just one year ahead of us. While it didn’t make it all seem any less intimidating, it did demystify it a bit. This year, it’s our turn.

Maybe it is just stupid optimism – the kind of optimism anyone feels who buys a lottery ticket, or heads to Foxwoods with a pocket full of cash – but whenever the hypothetical scenarios play out in my mind, I tend to picture us winning big. I imagine our form letter from the Boston Public Schools informing us we’ve landed one of the coveted spots at one of the “highly chosen” schools – one of the schools with the epic wait lists, a school that makes it easier for families with choices to hang in there in the homes, and communities, and neighborhoods they love, and to give it a go with the City’s public schools. Even as we just near the starting line, we hear other parents refer to those schools in almost hushed tones, as if speaking them too loudly would somehow jinx their slim chances – the Lyndon, the Kilmer, the Manning (where last year, at least the rumor mill has it, after special needs students, and siblings of older kids, there were something like five open seats for the dozens of parents that selected the school as their first choice.)

But you never can quite bank on winning the lottery. It’s possible that, after visiting, and visiting, and deliberating, and deliberating, and registering, and ranking, we end up just being assigned somewhere we didn’t choose, or not getting a placement at all (which does happen for K1 – Boston’s four year old kindergarten, which we’re looking at for James next year – where demand significantly outpaces supply, and placement is not guaranteed – as it is in K2). If that happens, we could revisit the budget, and tighten some and cut some, and pull off another year with our James (next year joined by Maya) at the private pre-school that we all love. And having them in the same place would be logistically a lot easier, if not financially. Then, we could try the lottery again next year, and hope again for the best. And if luck fails twice – then what?

Do we sell our home, and move into something half the size in a run-down corner of Brookline (does Brookline even have run-down corners)? Do we flee to some more distant suburb and convince ourselves that days and weeks and months of our lives on the commuter rail, or in road rage-y gridlock is a price worth paying for quality public education?

This was certainly the dominant choice for families in our boat for the last several decades. One set of our neighbors confided to us that they had given up on getting to know any of the young families who preceded us in our house. They churned through too often and too fast.

I spent much of this summer and fall training for the Marine Corps Marathon, which I ran on Halloween. On my long training runs, I often crossed out of Boston into neighboring Brookline. When I did, as the street signs switched from Boston’s white on green to Brookline’s black on white, I sometimes imagined life on that other side. Sometimes, sure, I admit it, I felt jealous – lately, above all for the luxury of top notch neighborhood schools, where enrollment is not based on lottery, but on address – as it was in the town where I grew up. I also just wondered who these people were, and how they could possibly afford such beautiful homes.

Yet on my last long run, my head was in a very different place. I made my way back from the Charles River along Market Street, through Allston-Brighton, and passed Boston College in Brookline’s Chestnut Hill Neighborhood. Then I added a loop around the Brookline Reservoir that sits beside Route 9 just west of the City line. The loop offers a hillside view of the Prudential and Hancock towers of Boston’s downtown. Then I made my way back towards JP by heading in to, and up, and over, and down, and through Lars Anderson Park. This time, instead of anxiety about the unknowns of school decisions arrayed before us, I thought about all we have, and all we get right where we are –

A car that sits in the driveway 90% of the time, because we can walk, or bike, or T to work and to play.

Nightly sunset displays from our back porch or dining room, and unobstructed views as the sky lights up over the lush hills of the Arnold Arboretum.

Over a thousand acres of green space in our backyard – nestled between the Arboretum, Forest Hills Cemetery, and Franklin Park, the jewels of Boston’s "Emerald Necklace."

One of the most diverse communities in Boston or anywhere, with a rich array of community traditions (the Wake Up The Earth Festival, Lantern Parade, First Thursdays, Worlds Fair, Open Studies, and more).

We are in such a special place.

And I know there are many special places, including many that would feel more comfortable, and more familiar to what I grew up with (and benefited GREATLY from) in an affluent suburb of another US city.

It does seem like something is changing. Some of our peers, including some among our friends, are already pulling the trigger, and splitting for Brookline, or Newton, or Needham, or Winchester, or Wareham, or Waltham, or some other town I have a hard time keeping straight on my mental map of Greater Boston. But there also seem to be new and different waves of young families, who are discovering, or rediscovering the kind of convenience and connection and quality of life that cities uniquely afford.

For all of the effort and dollars now focused on trying to fix public schools, sometimes I wonder if the most meaningful and impactful thing we could do – and that any family with choice could do – is to stay put. It is one of the few incontrovertible levers for lasting school reform – when more and more parents are more and more engaged, schools get better. Way better. Neighborhood and sense of community gets richer too. I know this kind of talk triggers clichés of bleeding heart liberal parents sacrificing kids on the altar of their ideals. But that cliché is based on a false paradigm. Because giving up on reaching for whatever it is the suburbs may have to offer isn’t our only possible sacrifice. There is gain and there is loss no matter what we choose.

I sure would like to stay.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Trotter in safe mode / Charter schools / Redesign & Reinvest timeline

The Trotter school (K2-5) went into safe mode/lockdown yesterday after two adults were stabbed on an MBTA bus outside a few minutes before classes started.

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The Globe had an interesting article this week about the state's charter school enrollment doubling over the past decade. I have to wonder if the economy plays a small roll in this, apart from people wanting a choice beyond public schools. Perhaps parents who would have chosen the private school route are priced out in this economy and are opting for charter schools instead. Just a thought.

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BPS has pushed back the date for the school committee to vote on the Redesign and Reinvest plan, which proposes merging and closing some schools. The committee is now scheduled to vote on the measure on Dec. 8. They're still scheduled to vote on two proposed in-district charter schools today.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Guest blog: Worst Case Scenario turns into the Happy Ending

I'm happy to share with you my first guest blog post. It's a fantastic summary of the emotional rollercoaster one family faced over the past two years.

I know people all over Boston have stories similar to this, and it's that time of year when prospective BPS families are starting to tour schools and learn about the lottery process. If you'd like to share your story with others and publish it here, email me at kydecosta at yahoo dot com. Sorry, I offer no compensation, just appreciation.

--Kelly

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We were moving. It was March 2008. We just received our lottery results for the Boston Public School lottery. We put down 8 choices in the West Zone for K1, the program for 4 year olds. We were unassigned. We frantically called the resource center to find out our wait list numbers. At our first choice school, the Beethoven, we were number 78. At our second choice school, the Lyndon, we were 150. At our third choice school, the Haley, we were 44. You only get 3 schools that you can be waitlisted in Boston. We felt like we had no hope.

We found this out on a Friday. On Monday I went quickly after work to the Family Resource Center in Roslindale. I wanted to see if there were any openings anywhere. I wanted to know my choices. There were hardly any. The few I did find were miles from my house in an area I didn’t consider safe. I dropped my name from the Lyndon…150???? Just seeing that number made me sick. I put our name on the waitlist at the Conley. The Conley is right next to my house. I hear the school bell every morning. We were number 12 on a waitlist for only 16 spots.

What to do? We love our house and we love our neighborhood. We have the best neighbors in Boston. I grew up on our street. I bought the house next door to my parents. My brother just bought the house 3 doors up. People sit out in the front yards and talk to each other on summer nights. The girl I used to baby-sit for when I was a kid baby-sits my children. Who would want to leave all that? We put our house on the market.

Every time we had an open house I was hopeful and fearful. I wanted the best for my children. I didn’t want to leave the neighborhood I loved. It was a bad time to sell and we lingered on the market. We got an offer too low to consider. After three months we decided to take our house off the market. Our son had started preschool and he loved it. We decided to give the lottery one more chance. We had a little hope; it couldn’t fail us two times, could it???

Fast forward to Halloween eve 2009. My son loved his preschool. He had the best teachers in the world. Loving caring people from the Ohrenberger Community Center Preschool Program. Grace and Pat cared for him and taught him so much. Pat was actually my teacher in preschool when I had attended the Ohrenberger in the early 80's. She was now my son's teacher.

We get a call from the Haley school. Your son has a spot. He was number 44, he now had a spot. What should we do? Are we crazy if we turn it down? Would we traumatize him for life if we pull him from the most loving caring environment he would probably ever know? We kept him in preschool. We rationalized if it worked out this year, it would work out next year as well. The following spring we kicked ourselves for passing up this opportunity.

Lottery time came around again. This year we put in 16 choices for K2 (the 5 year old program). We were taking no chances. I visited a few schools. We still had a chance at the Haley and the Beethoven. Both have an extra K2 class. I visited the Philbrick and the Manning, both schools start in K2.

I loved the Manning. It was tucked away in a small neighborhood. It was a small school (120 kids total) with a tight knit community. Their staff seemed professional and students seemed engaged. I should mention here that I am a Boston teacher myself. I know what a quality classroom looks like. I saw this at the Manning; I saw this at the Philbrick, the Haley, actually at many schools I visited.

March came around again. We got a placement this time. We got into our 10th choice school. We were stunned, how could this happen to us again? We had a placement, but we didn’t feel too happy about it. I had not even visited the school, the Bates, in Roslindale. We had to wait until the next day to find out our waitlist numbers. That night we decided that unless we were under 5 on a wait list our house would go on the market again. We were not going to settle when it came to our child’s education.

The next morning I called. We were 38 at the Beethoven (most of my son's friends attend this school.) We were 14 at the Manning. We were 4 at the Haley. I had hope. My husband did not. I rationalized we had been 44 last year at the Haley, how could we not get off the waitlist the next year at number 4? He argued that how could we leave our life up to chance. He wanted to take our future in our own hands. That meant again moving out of Boston.

I argued that we had decided if he was under 5 on a wait list we would stay. He agreed. We waited. We waited and waited. We called once a month to check on our numbers. The numbers did not move. Every week that went by the knot in my stomach grew. Everyone we talked to said, "Don’t worry, the numbers don’t move until August." It was torture, we didn’t think of a back up plan, we were number 4.

August came and the numbers did not move. We went to the play date for students entering the Bates. Only 9 children out of a possible 44 K2 students and 16 K1 students came to this event. I met the principal, Mrs. Hung. I was impressed, she seemed caring and smart. The playgroup, although small, went well. My son met a few children that he played with a lot. I exchanged numbers with a few parents. Weeks later I learned that the few he met were going to other schools. They had moved off a waitlist at the Philbrick or others close by. We went to the play date for the Haley just in case.

Our numbers still did not move. The Friday before Kindergarten I called one last time. When I hung up the phone with the Family Resource Center I cried. We had put all this hope in the system and it had failed us. I cried, my husband was angry. Boston was flawed. The lottery was flawed. I looked out my window and saw a school my child could not go to. I saw my best friends children in good schools they got into by luck, and we had none. Why should sending your child to a good school be a matter of chance?

We were moving to Westwood, Needham, wherever. We were going to buy the smallest house in the nicest town possible. We were going to sacrifice and we were going to leave the house we loved, the neighborhood we loved. We would commute. We had to.

But we had to let our son start school first. It was just Kindergarten. We would put our house on the market in the spring. Monday came, and my son started at the Bates, I was nervous. My husband and mother brought him on the first day (I was teaching.) They were impressed, and he came home happy. A week later he told me about the friends he had made, especially twins in his class that lived around the corner. He wanted to know if they could come over for a play date.

I met his teacher; she was organized, patient, and caring. She had a wonderful helper in the classroom. He was learning. I was surprised; I should have given this school a better look earlier on. He was still number 2 on the waitlist at the Haley. We decided we would probably keep him at the Bates, he was happy. I called the Family Resource Center. I was going to tell them to take him off the waitlists. I still wondered where he was on them.

When I called I found out he could start at the Manning tomorrow. The Manning? It was my dream school. It was so small, hidden away in a beautiful neighborhood. What should we do? I hadn’t even considered we would get in there.

We decided to switch him. The next morning I took off from work so I could bring him. He was crying. He didn’t want to leave his friends at the Bates. Had we made the wrong choice? The second I met his teacher I changed my mind. She was caring, she was warm, and she wanted to make the transition easy for him. "Where do you want to sit?" she asked him. When he came home from school that day I asked him how his day was. His answer, "It was great!"

We love this school and we love his teacher. He is exploding with knowledge. Every day he comes home talking about letters and sounds. He is trying to sound out words on his cereal box. He is asking questions about characters in books we are reading. I can see evidence of things he is learning at school daily.

My husband and I made a decision last week. We are staying in Boston... for now. We are happy with the education he is getting. Is there any guarantee if we move that he will love school as much as he does now? Will it really be better in the suburbs? We don’t really know. We still worry about middle school. We still worry about high school. But there is time to think about that.

I wanted to write this all down for a reason. I wanted parents to know that the worse case scenario can work out in the end. Many of my friends got their first choice school on the first try. Some of my friends moved. We waited. Some people thought we were crazy.

The secretary at the Manning told me how many parents cursed her out when she called to tell them they had a spot at their school. They had already put out a large amount of money for a deposit at a private school. They couldn’t lose out on that money. We benefited from their mistake. But we were also happy at the Bates, a school we had never really considered. The twins that my son met there have come over our house for two play dates already. They are still at the Bates, and their mother is happy with their education as well.

The moral of this story is keep on trying, don't give up. And don't forget to look at all the schools near your house. You may be surprised. There are a lot of great teachers in Boston. I know because I work with many of them. We went from having the worst-case scenario in the lottery to being in one of the top elementary schools in Boston. It can work, and it did.

-- Martha Jones