BPS Superintendent Carol Johnson and members of her staff met with Roslindale parents on Saturday to discuss possibilities for continuous K-8 education for their children. Roslindale itself doesn’t have any specific K-8 schools for children. West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain have K-8 schools or elementary schools that directly feed into middle schools. Roslindale children are eligible to attend these, but again, students in the walk zone get preferred status.
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.