Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
For those interested, the Haley will be having their first school preview of the year Friday at 9 a.m. BTU president Richard Stutman will attend the West Zone Parents Group meeting on Monday to field questions about the union’s new pilot school.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING
November 19, 2008
Edward J. Winter Chamber
26 Court Street, Boston
Call to Order
I. Pledge of Allegiance
II. Superintendent's Report
III. Public Comment on Action Items
IV. Action Items
· CONSENT CALENDAR
o Foreign Field Trip – Boston Arts Academy
o Private School Approval - British School of Boston
o Globe Santa
· Pathways to Excellence: Pilot Schools
· Pathways to Excellence: Vacated Buildings
· International Baccalaureate: Approval in Concept
· Major Capital Projects
· Refocusing Literacy Education
VI. General Public Comment
VII. New Business
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
It sounded to me like a lot of parents wanted continuity and eliminating uncertainty about where their child would go to middle school. Sixth grade especially seemed like a rocky year if your child’s school ends in fifth grade. They have to go somewhere else in sixth grade, and if they get into an exam school, they’ll have to start over yet again in seventh grade. To try to help with this problem, the new BTU pilot school will start out by offering two sixth grade classes, as well as early grades.
A Philbrick parent brought up an interesting point - why not just add sixth grade at the exam schools? Johnson didn’t have a direct answer for this, but she did say she wants to go back with her team over the next couple of weeks to come up with some short-term options.
Another Philbrick parent mentioned adding sixth grade at the Philbrick. Johnson said she didn’t know if there was enough excess capacity at the smaller schools now.
Several parents mentioned not wanting to add more K-8 options. Rather, they said BPS should fix what they already have. Washington Irving Middle School was brought up by several parents in not such a favorable light. I believe one parent called West Roxbury High “a bomb.” Johnson was very diplomatic and said that there’s the reality of a school and then there’s the perception of a school. If parents believe that a school is unsafe or unfit -- whether it actually is or not -- then that’s a problem because parents won’t send their children there. I’m paraphrasing quite a bit here. I don’t think there’s solely a perception problem at Washington Irving. When your school is a frequent feature in the local paper’s police blotter, there’s a real problem.
Johnson said that they try to look at the top chosen schools that include grades 6-8 (Timilty, Murphy, Edwards, Rogers, Kilmer, and Lyndon) and try to replicate what’s good there in some of the least chosen schools.
As the parent of a young child, I was surprised to find out the number of schools a child could possibly attend during their time at BPS. There’s K1. Then let’s say the parents weren’t happy with that school or got a bad number in the lottery. So they re-enter the lottery for K2. That’s school #2. Then there’s the choice of an advanced work school, if the child qualifies - school #3. If that school happens to stop at grade 5, then you’re on to another school for grade 6 - school #4. And then, exam schools begin in seventh grade or you could stick through middle school and then enter high school - school #5. Wow. That’s a lot of transitions, especially in those middle school years.
Mozart and Bates had seriously discussed merging into a cohesive K-8 program, but the discussions fell apart. A Mozart parent said that a merger would have meant going down to a single class per grade and losing some students, and that was not an attractive option.
Johnson elaborated on the decision not to change walk zones from 50/50 to 60/40. Currently, 50% of slots in a school are saved for students within a school’s walk zone. There was a proposal this year to increase that percentage to 60%. But she got a lot of pushback from people who accused her of trying to resegregate the school community. In Roxbury, for instance, there are 6600 children and 6100 school seats, so in theory, there should be a shortage of seats. However, 3000 parents (or sets of parents) choose not to send their children to a Roxbury school. A 60/40 walk zone preference would mean a lot of those children would have to go to school closer to home. Johnson said this issue may come up again.
My impression from this meeting was that BPS knows parents want more K-8 options. They’re going to try to do something short-term and then also look ahead to long-term fixes. But all of this seems hampered by economic realities.
All of this talk has me a little anxious for the smaller schools in our zone, especially if the economy nosedives (further). I feel like my child might be a little more comfortable in a more cozy, community-like learning environment. It costs more per student to run these smaller schools. I hope they’re all able to hang on through the downturn.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
I’d estimate there were about 40 parents on this tour, the most I’ve seen yet.
The Beethoven will be the feeder school for the Ohrenberger beginning next year. Beethoven is currently K2-5 and will transition to K1-2. The West Roxbury Bulletin had a write-up and an accompanying editorial about the merger this week.
Right now, the Beethoven's start time for next year, I believe, is 7:30, but they’re trying to get that pushed back a bit. (Our child gets up around 5, but I imagine this isn’t the case in most households.) If it were to stay at 7:30, they would start up an after-school program in place of their current before-school program.
They hope to bring the Ohrenberger K1 teachers down to the Beethoven since Beethoven currently begins at K2. In return, the upper grade teachers at Beethoven hope to transition over to Ohrenberger.
The K2 kids will move to another classroom so the K1 kids will have a classrooms with restrooms attached. We peeked inside the classrooms and they looked very bright and spacious.
They expect to have 44 K1 and 44 K2 seats available next year since they don’t currently have any K1 kids advancing to K2.
The younger children will have access to the side playground at recess, while the older kids will play on the blacktop area out front. They also have an auditorium, as I mentioned, and the Parents Council bought basketball hoops for it.
A science specialist comes into the classrooms to teach science once a week or so. Grades 3-5 have a mandatory science fair. It’s optional for grades K-2.
Their special subjects are art, social studies, music, computers, and physical education. Children were tuning their violins in the auditorium when we came in. Grades 3-5 can learn to play musical instruments through the Making Music Matter program.
I liked the principal’s approach to discipline. She said that if an infraction occurred on the playground, the children involved would help clean up trash on the playground. If it was a lunchroom incident, the children would have to eat lunch with her, and she wouldn’t speak to them during that time. Often, she said, the children start to talk to each other instead.
They handed out a sheet listing their recent MCAS performance. It appears they fell in between state and city averages in most cases.
This isn’t a peanut-free zone, but they do try to make the area safe for kids with peanut allergies, naturally.
The principal warned us that the library was small. I was fully expecting a closet, but it wasn’t actually that small. I’ve seen smaller in this district. Their library program is parent run.
My son isn’t eligible for K1 until 2010. I think I just may revisit Beethoven next fall to see how the transition went.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Friday, November 14, 2008
Sat Nov 15 11pm, 2/HD
Sun Nov 16 8am, World
Sun Nov 16 12:30pm, 2/HD
Mon Nov 17 12am, World
Mon Nov 17 6:30am, World
Mon Nov 17 12:30pm, World
Wed Nov 19 6:30am, World
Thu Nov 20 12:30pm, World
Thursday, November 13, 2008
I feel like I’m batting four for four. I’ve visited four schools so far, and I would be happy sending my son to any of them. Manning is currently K2-5, but they’re really hoping to expand to K1-8. It seemed to be a popular school – there were about 25 parents on this tour. The school day is 9:25 to 3:25, and they have on-site before- and after-school care from 8 to 6.
The Manning is relatively small. They only have one regular ed class per grade. However, they have a corresponding special ed classroom for each grade.
About 38% of the children are in special education. Grades 1 and 5 are integrated throughout the day, and the principal is pushing for inclusion for the rest of the school. I don’t have enough information yet to decide how I feel about this idea. I wasn’t able to observe a classroom with both special ed and regular ed kids together. Obviously, it seems that some special kids have greater needs than others and I wonder how well full inclusion would work for those children and whether a rigid inclusion system might be disruptive to regular ed kids. Like I said, I feel like I don’t have enough information to have a fully fleshed out opinion on this matter. The principal, Sara Stone, pointed out that full inclusion would help the Manning expand their school to other grades because it would free up some classroom space downstairs.
This is another school with a lot of parent involvement. One of the parents accompanied us on our tour. They handed out a kindergarten curriculum – very helpful. The Parents Council also helped get a full-time art teacher for the school.
One thing I liked about the school was critters in every, or nearly every, classroom. I saw fish and turtles. This is part of their CTEc (Community, Technology, and Ecology) program. Behind the school, there are raised bed gardens and a heated greenhouse that children help tend. There was an outdoor classroom that the woods have reclaimed. The principal said she hopes to resurrect the classroom area.
We went inside the third grade classroom. Shower curtains with world maps covered up closet space. Learning targets (goals) were posted on the wall for different subjects. Children have a morning meeting every day to go over a morning message, greet one another, share, and do an activity. Stone said it’s part of the responsive classroom program.
They said the science teacher is very good and board certified. We didn’t observe their classroom. Children have science at least twice a week as one of their special classes. The other specials are art, physical education, and music.
They started Sports4Kids this year. In addition to daily recess after lunch, kindergartners have Sports 4 Kids once a week. A coach helps teach kids playground games and diffuse conflict.
The principal, who’s been at the Manning for a little over a year, acknowledged that their MCAS scores needed work. When she first came, she said they hadn’t made AYP for English Language Arts. But they made their AYP last year.
Their after-school program seems much more than glorified babysitting. They offer different projects and lessons for students. They already have -- or are trying to get -- guitar lessons, violin lessons in the fourth grade, French lessons starting in the second grade, sewing, woodworking, gardening, a regular instrumental program, and sailing in the spring.
K2 kids have homework beginning in January, and they have a week to complete their homework packet.
Half of their third graders were invited to do Advanced Work in the fourth grade last year. None of them decided to go that route; they all stayed at Manning. They all spoke highly of their new fourth grade teacher. Perhaps that’s a reason kids are not leaving for advanced work at that age.
Their library is about twice the size of the Mozart’s, but still nothing like Ohrenberger’s. They do have a full-time librarian. Faulkner Hospital funds hardcover books that get dedicated to students and staff on their birthdays.
As a self proclaimed word nerd, a little feature I liked was words with definitions (e.g. inaugurate, florid, hearsay) posted on the hallways of the schools.
Although they’re a small school, they do have a cafetorium. I imagine that this could be an indoor playspace during the winter months.
I attended the Manning’s school preview yesterday (full write-up to follow), and they said they really hope BPS will approve them changing from K2-5 to K1-8. The principal said she wasn’t sure when a decision would be made on this.
The Roslindale Transcript this week outlines a few K-8 possibilities for Rozzie:
"One option is to create guaranteed assignments with the Boston Teachers Union School (in Jamaica Plain on the Roslindale border) from one or more Roslindale schools. There have also been discussions of a feeder model system between the Bates and Mozart schools.
“Another Roslindale school option, albeit not a K-8 choice, is the expected conversion of the Haley School to a pilot school for next fall (the School Committee will vote on Nov. 19 to approve or disapprove the school’s pilot status).”
Monday, November 10, 2008
They now have a new outdoor classroom -- which includes planting beds, pulleys, thermometers, and rain-collectors -- two new jungle gyms, and world and city maps on the ground.
The organization is able to revamp about six schoolyards a year. The West Zone elementary schools who’ve already benefited from the program include: Ohrenberger, Hennigan, Beethoven, Trotter, Haley, Ellis, Mendell, Hernandez, Hale, Sumner, Fuller, Dickerman, John F. Kennedy, Bates, Kilmer, Philbrick. I know the Mozart principal mentioned that they were applying for this program.
Until I visited the Ohrenberger, I didn’t really understand how the whole Ohrenberger/Beethoven K-8 thing would work. Now I get it. My son won’t be eligible to attend the Ohrenberger until he’s in the third grade. Still, I don’t feel like this visit was time wasted. I got a feel for this school, and now I know I need to check out the Beethoven since younger kids from there will feed into the Ohrenberger when they get older. So here’s the breakdown:
- 2009-10 - Ohrenberger will become K2-6. Their K1 teachers will likely move over to the Beethoven.
- 2010-11 - They’ll be grades 1-7.
- 2011-12 - Grades 2-8.
- 2012-13 - Grades 3-8. And that is expected to be the final configuration.
For those who haven’t seen it, the Ohrenberger is a sprawling campus, almost like a high school. It’s nestled right next to Stony Brook Reservation. One parent told me that another parent occasionally led nature hikes into the park. It feels quite isolated. I wonder how many students can actually live within the walk zone. It’s .7 miles just from the school to Washington Street.
There’s a baseball field out front, as well as some new playground structures. There are currently 450 students and they expect to grow up to 700. It feels like a newer school, although I’m not sure when it was built. I'm also not sure who uses the baseball field, although they do have a community center attached to the school. (I had to bring my son along again, so my notes are definitely not complete.)
We were greeted at the door by students in the Advanced Work program. They served as great ambassadors to the school. They were all very well spoken and were eager to share their school. They brought us up to the library on the second floor. The library is huge and well lit. I think my son and I could have spent hours in there, especially since they plied us with doughnuts, muffins, and juice.
From there, we began our tour of the school. We went into one of the two K1 classrooms. My son made himself at home, joining another boy in the Legos area. It looked similar to the other kindergarten classrooms I’ve visited.
Students usually have the following classes weekly: art, science (2nd-5th grade), computers, gym, and music. We visited the art and music classrooms, as well as the gym. To me, it’s nice to see a place that is big enough for a gym for those winter days when outdoor recess is inhumane.
K1 and K2 have their own on-site after school programs and they hope to continue that. Overall, almost 200 students participate in the after-school programs.
It sounds like they have the same instrumental music program as the Mozart. Students in grades 3-5 can learn the trumpet, flute, clarinet, or violin. In third grade, students rotate through the instruments. In fourth, they choose an instrument. As the school expands to the eighth grade, they hope to continue musical instruction.
They have an informal uniform policy, and a full-time nurse on-site. They also have an outdoor classroom with benches.
Students can test into the Advanced Work program in the third grade. The Advanced Work students keep a blog and can learn Spanish.
They mentioned partnerships with many other groups, including Sports4Kids, City Year, Urban Improv, and Very Special Arts.
This was another school I really liked. I might not have looked closely at Beethoven before this. Now, it’s on my must-see list.
Friday, November 7, 2008
It’s a K1-5 school with a uniform policy, and it’s the closest elementary school to our home. I noticed that their 3rd grade MCAS scores weren't too shabby in 2008. I think they ranked 269 out of 1000 schools statewide in math and 465 out of 1002 in reading.
I had to take my son along for this one. This school is only about four blocks away, so I thought we’d have a nice walk there. It was rainy, and he was having none of it, so we drove. We’ve always come to Mozart’s playground as a way to burn off energy, and honestly, the playground has never impressed me. There’s a lot of blacktop and a very small play structure and some small evergreens.
However, I had never been inside the Mozart except to vote. My expectations for Mozart weren’t all that high, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. It’s definitely a small school, but I got the impression that they really make do with what they have and do their best to get grants for extra programs.
They only have one class per grade, and it’s definitely a more diverse student body than the Kilmer, the only other school I had visited before.
One thing that made a big difference on this tour was the classrooms were opened up to our small group.
I really loved the science classroom. I’m such a sucker for science. The teacher was working with older students when my son turned around and saw an open plastic box on a shelf with bugs inside. They were moving around on a bed of oatmeal and there was definitely some squirming underneath the oatmeal. He asked what it was and the teacher came over and explained that they were darkling beetles. She had examples of larvae and pupae in the box too. Then she showed us another structure that contained some caterpillars. I think they also had millipedes in the classroom. She also said they’re trying to get a compost pile started. For some women, the magic word that gets them all excited is “Ferragamo.” For me, it’s “composting.” I know. It’s weird. I think all students have science twice a week.
Along those same lines, the students are also champion recyclers. They recently won the citywide recycling progream and recycled 21,000 pounds of paper. Seriously.
I believe they have after-school programs for children with prior knowledge or children who need to catch up. I think a sizable chunk of kids move on to advanced work schools after the third grade. Sorry, I don’t have the numbers there.
The music area is next to the cafeteria on the lower floor. The music instructor is a jazz musician. Students play their recorders every year in the Roslindale Parade. Grades 3-5 can play the trumpet, coronet, violin, or flute in weekly music lessons.
They have two classes for students on the autism spectrum, one is K-2, the other is grades 3-5.
On the downside, I thought that one teacher was a little short with a student. In her defense, the children were transitioning from one activity to another, and it was naturally a little chaotic.
The principal, James Brewer said they know their outdoor play area needs work and they’re applying to the Boston Schoolyard Initiative, which would help restructure the playground. They don't have regular PE or gym, but they do participate in the Sports 4 Kids program. A coach helps structure outdoor play before school and in the classroom. Obviously, there isn't a gym in a school this size.
There also isn't a formal art program, but students can do artwork as a part of normal classwork. We saw a painting on an easel in one of the kindergarten classrooms. I can already tell that my 2-year-old isn’t a big fan of structured art projects, so this would not break his heart.
The library is located off the music room on the lower level. I’ll be honest, it’s a little dungeon-like with its painted cinderblock walls and lack of windows. But they said most of their books are relatively new. That would be an improvement over the children’s collections in some of our local public library branches.
They don't have an afterschool program there. Kids are bussed off to other sites.
Overall, I came away from this visit really liking Mozart. Sure it’s an older building and it’s not big, but I got a real sense of community there.
The committee is expected to vote on Nov. 19 on whether to turn the Haley school into a pilot school.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
It appears the Globe is the only local outlet that covered it, but I did see a small blurb about it on WCVB this morning. Nada on their website.
Meanwhile, it was a landslide over at the Haley school, where 263 students voted for Obama and 19 for McCain.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Also, they're not talking about the change to the percentage of walk zone students. That was knocked down last week... at the meeting they're currently running on TV. Ugh. I'll be interested to hear second-hand what comes out of this.
For what it's worth, I did get the agenda from BPS earlier today.
Call to Order
I. Pledge of Allegiance
II. Superintendent's Report
III. Public Comment on Action Items
IV. Action Items
· Burke High School – Mission Statement and
Student Learning Expectations
· Pathways to Excellence:
Ø Conceptual Framework
Ø Reprogramming Recommendations
Ø Transportation Recommendations
· Proposals for New Pilot Schools
VI. General Public Comment
VII. New Business
My overall impression of the school – it’s nice, sure. However, I’m not sure it’s worthy of all the adulation. Then again, I haven’t seen what else is out there. These kids aren’t curing cancer by the third grade. They’re learning age-appropriate material while still having fun (and none of the kids I saw seemed like zombies endlessly reciting MCAS test prep material). The new principal, Jerome Doherty, seems really forward-looking. I suppose that counts for a lot.
I guess I have a couple of minor concerns. One was that they don’t offer instruction in musical instruments. Where I grew up, it was a given that you had the option of joining band and picking a musical instrument by the 5th grade. The principal, a former music teacher, said this is on his wish list. So is foreign language instruction. Right now, they don’t offer any foreign language.
This one is a bigger concern of mine. Neither of their buildings includes a gymnasium or a PE teacher. My son is very, very active. In the winter time, he really needs a place to run around and get out some of that energy. That’s one of the many reasons I like his preschool. They have a big hall where kids can play when it’s rainy or snowy. Let’s face it, in New England, that’s a good chunk of the year. So the principal said they try to incorporate movement into performing arts classes, including dance and yoga. They do have a nice outdoor play area and have daily recess for K-5.
Here are some of the nitty-gritty details:
-- It’s expanding to K1-8. Right now, I believe they’re K1-7. K1-3 are in a building on Baker Street and grades 4-8 are on Russett Road.
-- The onsite before- and after-school care is generally not for K1 students. That program is run by the Y and kids have to be 5 years old. Four-year-olds are bussed over to the Kidstop at the Y. If they turn 5 during the school year, they can stay on-site.
-- They have 44 K1 seats (2 classrooms). Like with other schools, most of those spots are filled by siblings of current students and kids in the walk zone. Translation: good freakin’ luck to the rest of us. If a child doesn’t get in at K1, there’s an even slimmer chance of sneaking in at the K2 level.
-- We peeked in the classroom windows. They seem large and bright. The K1 setup seemed similar to our preschool --- different centers like a sand/water table, easels, a kitchen area, tables for other activities and a rug for circle time.
-- In the afternoon, kids go out of their classroom for special subjects. I think it’s a different subject every day, and I think they include science, performing arts, math, music, and computers. I can’t imagine 22 4-year-olds in a computer lab at once. My son’s already a YouTube junkie – he really likes to watch footage of trains. (Note: I recently learned that math is also taught every day, in addition to being a special subject).
-- The hallways had a lot of student artwork hanging on the walls, along with an explanation of the projects’ goals.
-- The principal said that last year (or maybe the year before) the Kilmer sent one-third of its sixth graders to exam schools. That’s why they only have one seventh grade class. They’ll stick to one eighth grade class too.
The preview happened to coincide with election day, and Kilmer served as a polling site. So we were kind of rushed through the lower floor. Like a lot of schools, they had their own ballot box set up for the kids.
The verdict: I really liked it, but I’m eager to see what else is out there, especially since our chances of getting in seem slim to none.
I plan to go to as many school previews as possible, focusing on schools within our walk zone and schools I’ve heard about that pique my curiosity. In case you’re new to this process, a walk zone school has to be within 1 or sometimes 1.5 miles of your home if the school also has middle school students. BPS has a handy website that lets you type in your address and see your walk zone schools. Fifty percent of a school’s students must live within the walk zone. Our walk zone schools are Bates, Conley, Lyndon, Mozart, and Sumner. But first up on the open house schedule is the illustrious, highly-touted, testing-off-the-charts Kilmer school. Parents, stop salivating. It’s just a school.
I may also post occasional news stories about the school system that may (or may not) be relevant to the selection process. For instance, I know the Boston School Committee plans to meet tonight and may discuss potential changes, like increasing the percent of students within a school’s walk zone from 50% to 60%. You should be able to watch it live online from 6-8 p.m. Stay tuned.
I actually missed the first meeting of the West Zone Parents Group. It’s a great resource for parents considering BPS. I think my absence had something to do with my husband working late hours that week. Hopefully, I’ll make the next one and report back.
I really want to send my child to public school in the city, and this blog is intended to document that process and record my impressions of various schools. I haven’t really seen anything else like it out there. There’s Y/BPS, West Zone Parents Group, and Countdown to Kindergarten, but I haven’t really found anything from one parent’s point-of-view. I guess you’re supposed to learn all about this sort of thing by networking at the playground, the tot lot, or preschool. I’m prone to shyness (and social awkwardness), so my interactions with other parents who’ve been through this have been… let’s say… minimal. I’d encourage other parents to comment and help me find my way through this thing.
So why am I so gung ho on public schools in Boston? I went to a public school in a small Midwestern farm town. Ok, so I didn’t really have a choice. It was the only school in town. My father was briefly a teacher in the LA school system. He went on to serve on two school boards. I believe in the mission of our nation’s public schools. Everyone deserves a quality education, not just those who can afford it.
I also value an education in diversity. That’s something I really didn’t have growing up. My school was 95% white. I’m afraid my son wouldn’t see much in the way of ethnic or economic diversity at a private school in Boston. I don’t have any facts or figures to back that up, just my impressions.
Look, we could have moved to the suburbs like a lot of parents. We certainly looked at affordable homes in T-accessible towns like Revere. I know Newton has an awesome public school system, but we would have had to live in a shed… in someone’s backyard… by the garbage bin. So instead, we bought a house with a yard in Roslindale just over a year ago. I think a lot of people, including acquaintances in the distant suburbs, thought we were crazy raising a toddler in the city. But we’ve managed and I’m sure we’ll find a way through the school system as well.
This blog is also intended to keep me organized and motivated. I’ll lose my handwritten notes if I don’t store them someplace electronically.
I hope other people can learn along with me. Remember – these are just one person’s impressions and aren’t intended to replace actual site visits or your own research. What I value in a school might not be what you value.
Wish us luck.