Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Haley wins schoolyard award

The Haley pilot school has won the first ever Kirk Meyer Schoolyard Award, which was created to recognize a BPS school that best integrates its schoolyard into the life and fabric of the school and community. The Haley's outdoor space was renovated by the Boston Schoolyard Initiative in 1999.

The school definitely has a distinctive look that brightens up the neighborhood, IMO.

BPS gets grant to expand arts ed

Boston Public Schools has received a $750,000 grant to expand arts education in the school system, according to this press release. The Wallace Foundation's Arts for Young People planning grant will be used to "develop a long-term sustainability plan for expanded arts in schools across the system, including best practices in school arts program, professional development, improved coordination of schools and arts partners, communication and funding, and ongoing evaluation to assess progress."

Monday, October 26, 2009

WBUR: Pilot schools stalled in Boston despite high demand

WBUR had an interesting story this morning on pilot schools in Boston. A pilot school is one that gets to operate with more latitude in its curriculum and budget, but it's still part of BPS, unlike a charter school.

The piece said that demand for pilot schools is high, citing data from the Center for Collaborative Education, which found that 27% of parents' first-choice schools were for pilot seats. At the time of the survey, pilots accounted for 11% of BPS seats. Parents who didn't get placed at a pilot school were two to three times more likely to leave the district. "So clearly there’s a growing demand across both race and income for a different kind of school," Dan French, the center's executive director, told WBUR.

The city was supposed to have 29 pilot schools by this year, but there are only 23, according to the article. The West Zone pilot schools include the Lyndon, the Haley (newly turned pilot), and the BTU.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Michael Flaherty's education forum in Roslindale and a tale of two geeks

Probably like a lot of you, I recently received a flier in my mail slot that said, “THE SCHOOL LOTTERY DOESN’T WORK!” It was an invitation to a Q&A forum with mayoral candidate Michael Flattery and his running mate Sam Yoon. Since I write a blog on the lottery system, I felt obligated to attend an event with a title so provocative.

It wound up being part Q&A and part rah-rah political rally -- not too surprising since we’re just over a week away from the election.

In the initial part of the event, there was a lot of gloom and doom about the current state of our school system. Certainly, the dropout rate is high, and there’s a lot that could be better (e.g., more K1 spaces, better infrastructure at some schools, more efficient bussing system). From a political standpoint, I get it. In order to beat incumbent Thomas Menino, they need to get voters to think that the status quo is terrible (on all fronts) and that they have a better way to run things. But something wasn’t sitting well with me as they were talking.

It took another parent to identify that feeling. She said she had several children in BPS. Over the course of registering her children, she visited 17 public schools and she said she would be satisfied sending her kids to any of them. (Parents across the room asked for her list.) She asked whether Flaherty and Yoon were worried that they might scare prospective parents, like myself, from wanting to send their kids to BPS. Ah yes, that’s the feeling I was getting. Complete anxiety.

I feel like during this registration process, I have two little Geeky Mamas on my shoulders. One is the bad Geek who once a year pores over MCAS scores, listens to parents’ stories about being unassigned, looks at the current middle school options, and then screams in my ear, “OH MY GOD!”

Then there’s the good little Geek who diligently visits schools and is impressed by the students, teachers, principals, and parent involvement. That Geek calmly whispers, “See, everything is going to be ok.” I just need to take a deep breath, have an herbal tea, and visualize bunnies hopping through a meadow. And have a solid back-up plan.

Now to the substance of the forum. Flaherty said he would keep the lottery temporarily.

He is proposing getting off current zoning system. Currently 50% of students at a school are required to live within a school’s walk zone (1 mile for elementary schools). Certainly, a school can have more than 50% walkers, but half is the minimum. Flaherty proposes “within a year or two” incrementally raising the percentage of walkers at schools. BPS tried to increase the walk zone to 60% last year and got some pushback, so they kept it at 50%.

Flaherty said that three elongated assignment zones don’t work. Students have to sit on buses too long. In short, it sounds like he wants to take a neighborhood schools approach. Of course, that requires improving schools in all neighborhoods or there become issues of inequality.

He said he wanted to tap into the city’s bond rating to borrow money for capital improvements for schools, e.g., mold, leaks, windows, roofs, as well as building new schools to cope with increased demand.

And I believe I heard him say he wanted full-time K1 for everyone and more citywide schools. BPS seems to be getting away from citywide schools. They recently turned Mission Hill and Young Achievers into zoned schools.

And finally, they’re looking for more transparency in the lottery system, more school-based management, more charter schools, and for waste reduction in the system.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Urban education and the mayoral election

Half of registered Boston voters surveyed by the Boston Globe said they would consider moving out of the city to send their children to public school in another town, according to a poll about the mayoral race.  I guess this isn't entirely surprising, but I wish people would actually visit the schools and not just go on reputation.

In another question, registered voters were asked to rate the quality of education provided by Boston Public Schools:
  • 6% said excellent
  • 21% said good
  • 31% said fair
  • 17% said poor
  • 12% said very poor
  • 13% said they didn't know
A recent Globe op-ed piece by Jim Stergios and Liam Day called education the biggest issue of this mayoral election. I'm sure it will be a topic of discussion in tonight's debate between Mayor Tom Menino and challenger Michael Flaherty, which will be broadcast on NECN, WGBH (Channel 2) and WBUR at 7:00.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Popular West Roxbury schools to expand?

BPS is looking at expanding elementary schools in the West Zone, especially West Roxbury, "where demand currently exceeds supply," according to this BPS press release.
"[Superintendant Carol] Johnson is investigating and costing out modular classrooms and considering other expansion strategies to create more seats in highly chosen elementary and K-8 schools. She also has been meeting regularly with a group of Roslindale families to ensure a strong, seamless educational experience throughout the elementary and middle school years, including possible feeder patterns and improvements to the Irving Middle School."
I wonder what their expected timeframe is.  More seats for next year?  Which schools?  I feel like "highly chosen" in West Roxbury is code for Lyndon and Kilmer, but maybe also Beethoven.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

School preview times announced

BPS has published the list of school preview dates and times. School previews start in November and go through January. The principal usually give little tour, explains a bit about the school, and allows time for questions.

Over time, I'll try to add the previews to the calendar on the right. Be patient with me. And please doublecheck with the school before you head over. I really don't want to be responsible for someone showing up on the wrong time/day.

It looks like the new BTU school hasn't set tour times. The schedule says to call for an appointment. Hmm.  Perhaps a few of us can get together and set up a group appointment.

Auditions for city-wide string orchestra

BPS is piloting some new citywide music programs for students. Most of the programs, including a citywide chorus and marching band, appear to be geared more toward middle schoolers and high schoolers. But a new string orchestra, cosponsored by the Suzuki Institute of Boston and VH1 Save the Music, doesn't give an age limit (if you're interested, you might want to doublecheck this). The flier just says that the student needs to have been playing the instrument for at least a year. On Oct. 17, they'll be holding auditions for violin, viola, cello, and bass.

A Boston Foundation report earlier this year found that arts education varied widely across Boston public schools.

While I was poking around the BPS Arts website, I found mention of several local music teachers who've won awards in the past year:
  • Martha Watson, music teacher at the Beethoven elementary, was among those who won the BPS Teacher of the Year Award in June.
  • Rosalba Solis, music teacher at the Hernandez school, won the 2009 Dennis Wrenn Distinguished Music Educator's Award.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Charter vs. public schools -- Boston's latest hot button education issue

This Boston Phoenix article lays out the current debate between public and charter schools, saying that charter schools have replaced bussing as the city's most heated education issue. (Perhaps they forgot about this year's efforts to redraw the assignment zones.)  The comments at the end are also worth a read.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Agassiz air quality needs improvement

A report by the Massachusetts Department of Health details indoor air quality problems at the Agassiz elementary school. Staff had reported headaches and respiratory issues, and students have a higher-than-average asthma rate.

Carbon dioxide levels at several areas in the school exceeded 800 parts per million, indicating inadequate ventilation. A CO2 level of 600 ppm or less is recommended in schools.

The building also appears to have poor insulation, leading to temperature fluctuations. Because of this, condensation can form on the inside of windows. Over time, this has led to mold growth and rot of wooden window sills in some areas of the building.

The fan units in classrooms aren’t cleaned often enough, or are in disrepair, providing a chance for microbes to grow.

Also, they observed standing water in one classroom.

The school also has a rodent problem.

The report says, “According to [the Bureau of Environmental Health’s] physician, several of the [indoor air quality] conditions observed may contribute to eye or respiratory irritation; these include low levels of humidity, the presence of particulates, [volatile organic compounds] and dust, and conditions conducive to attracting rodents. The five cases reviewed show one commonality, rhinosinusitis (a condition involving inflammation in one or more of the paranasal sinuses) symptoms. Typically, rhinosinusitis is the result of irritation, allergic reaction, or infection.”

The report lists a series of short-term and long-term recommendations. I really hope BPS follows through with them. I've never visited this school, but this doesn't seem like an environment that's conducive to learning.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Around town Sunday; WZPG meetings set

Today, we made our annual pilgrimage to the Haley school's yard sale. It got rained out yesterday, so I hope they still did a lot of business today. It was slow when we were there. (If other parents arrived later to find the slides and playground equipment miraculously dry after yesterday's downpours, it's because my son soaked up all the water with his pants.) This year at the sale we scored a new bike, snow pants, a game, two kids' shirts, 10 books, and a cup of coffee.  Total spent: $9.  The Haley sale never disappoints. Really nice parents too. I highly recommend it.  And this comes from a certified yard sale expert.

Later in the day, we wagonned our way to the Roslindale parade. Several Rozzie schools were represented -- students from the Philbrick and Mozart played instruments aboard a float, while students and parents from Haley and Bates marched and chanted. There may have been other schools, but we left before the end.

In other news, the West Zone Parents Group has set up their meetings for the year. Thanks to the organizers! The meetings will be held at Curtis Hall at 7 p.m. on the following dates: Oct. 19, Nov. 4, Nov. 19, Dec. 1, Dec. 10, and Dec. 17.  I also entered the dates into the little calendar on the right-hand column of this blog.

I went to a couple of these meetings last year and found them incredibly useful.  Parents from different schools give fairly candid appraisals of their school's approach.  I work most nights, so getting to a WZPG meeting is often a challenge. In other words, I won't be blogging every single WZPG meeting. I hope someone will post notes on the WZPG email list.  Please.