Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Quick roundup of Globe’s BPS news

The Globe has an editorial today about who should fill the two seats on the Boston School Committee. The editorial board supports two charter school leaders for the position: Meg Campbell, founder and head of the Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester; and Mark Culliton, the CEO of the Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses and treasurer of the Boston Preparatory Charter Public School in Hyde Park.

Our local paper also has a story on why BPS decided to take a snow day Monday, but neighboring cities did not. Our preschool follows the BPS schedule, so we were also scrambling for child-care coverage late Sunday night.

Our list and my warped subconscious

In the spirit of the season, we've made our list of schools, and we've checked it twice (and thrice).  Now we're going to put the list away and not think about it again until it's time to register in January.  Seriously, I'm not going to think about it at all.  It's done.

However, I hold no sway over my subconscious in these matters. Last night, I dreamed I was roasting eggplant and as I was taking the cubes of eggplant off the baking sheet, I realized that the eggplant was the Sumner.  I don't even know what that means -- perhaps it has something to do with the Brussels sprouts I roasted last night.

I feel like this could easily turn into an SAT question: Eggplant is to Sumner as ______ is to West Zone ELC.
A) Peas with butter
B) Macaroni and cheese
C) Ratatouille
D) Slowly step away from the oven, crazy lady.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Not to leave you hanging on AWC

It turns out that the Boston School Committee did not hear the report on recommendations for Advanced Work Class on Wednesday. It looked like they had a lot of other business to get through. They postponed the Advanced Work report until a later meeting.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2 boys stabbed at Mary E. Curley school's gym

Universal Hub is reporting that two 13-year-old boys, were stabbed by another 13-year-old boy at the Curley's Upper School gym around 4 p.m. Tuesday. Both were stabbed in their left legs and needed a few stitches. The defendant was arraigned in court today.  Here is the press release from the DA's office.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lyndon school preview - Dec. 11

Finding a parking space near the Lyndon is about as difficult as getting your child into the school. I probably should have just walked. The Lyndon is technically in our walk zone. It really seems farther than a mile as the crow flies. Taking my usual route up to Centre Street, it’s actually a 1.8 mile drive (2.1 miles if you count circling for parking). I’m not about to argue with the walk zone fairies on this point.

I believe that the previous owners of our home actually got their child into the Lyndon, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility for us. But if you look at the lovely Kindergarten Demand Report, it really seems like you might have better luck winning an actual lottery. For every available K1 seat (44), there were 2.4 families who listed the school as their first choice and 6.5 who put the Lyndon in their top three choices. That’s the highest applicants-to-K1-seats ratio in the West Zone, not including the Hernandez, which is city-wide.

So what’s the big deal with this school anyway? Well, they have pretty solid test scores. They offer K1-8, which is in high demand these days. It’s a pilot school, so they have more freedom in curriculum and hiring.

They have a really involved group of parents that does a lot of fund-raising. Last month, we actually went to the first Lyndon Turkey Trot, a short race for children at Billings Field, and had a great time.

The school also has redeveloped playground areas and a gym.

For more details, check out my post from last year's visit.

At first glance, the student body didn’t appear to be all that racially diverse. According to BPS, the study body is actually 52% white, which isn’t monoracial by any means. It just feels whiter than other schools I’ve visited. I guess this is a product of having at least half of the students come from the West Roxbury area.

For parents who are only considering Lyndon or Kilmer (I know you’re out there. I’ve talked to you.), please look at other schools too. I really believe that our schools are only as good as we (i.e., teachers, staff, and parents) make them. For more on this, check out Sandra Tsing Loh’s book, Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$@ing Story about Parenting. She’s zany, neurotic, and irreverent, but I found her school choice experience in LA very informative. She was one of the inspirations for this blog.

Ok, stepping off soapbox now.

Advanced Work changes to be discussed tomorrow

The Boston School Committee will take up, among other things, potential changes to the district's Advanced Work Class at Wednesday night's meeting. They're also expected to get an update on the so-called "turnaround schools," including Kennedy and Trotter in the West Zone.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

We must be in Lake Wobegon

I was cruising through Universal Hub when I saw this gem of a post from Mommy on the Floor.  On school tours, she has noticed that people are always asking about how schools will accommodate their children, who may be intellectually gifted.  It's so true.

It's a legitimate question, of course, but it does seem like parents may be bragging on their kids just a tad.  Now please excuse me while I watch my child do a reading of the Saint Crispin's Day speech from Henry V.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bates (K1-5) school preview - Dec. 9

Because of the rush hour snow storm on Wednesday morning, it took me nearly an hour to drive from Roslindale to my son’s preschool in JP. Ugh. It made me think hard about convenience in a school.
So after I got back from preschool, I dried myself off and walked over to the Bates (8 min. walk, including a stoplight at Washington Street). This was my second visit to the Bates. I went last year too. I don’t want to repeat everything from my earlier post, so I’ll mainly just update what’s changed.

Because of last year's budget cuts, Principal Hung had to get rid of the music specialist. Then, after funding was restored, they got a visual arts specialist. Now, she’s trying to get a Making Music Matters grant, like Beethoven and Mozart, to bring in musical instrument instruction for the older students.

They have before- and after-school care, but that’s limited to those 5 years and up. They’re working on getting licensed for 4-year-olds by next year, but the principal couldn’t promise that would happen.

The principal also said that she’s working to get families more engaged.

There is one K1 classroom and it’s an integrated class, meaning there are 15 spots total and 8 of those go to general ed students. Then at K2 they have two strands of general ed. They also offer advanced work beginning in the fourth grade.

I’ve always been impressed by the teachers I’ve met in the lower grades. They’ve always been very warm and eager to answer any questions.

It's worth mentioning that last year, the Washington-Beech public housing development across the street from the Bates still existed in its brick form. Since then, the building on the corner of Washington and Beech streets has been razed and rebuilt. From what I understand, that corner building is reserved for seniors. The rest of the housing development will be transformed in the coming years.

For what it’s worth -- and in the eyes of a 3-year-old, it’s worth a lot -- Bates consistently gets my son’s vote for best neighborhood playground.

Convenience doesn’t count for everything in a school, but on wintery days like Wednesday, it’s definitely something. I’m probably more likely to be an involved parent at a school if I don’t have to schlep all over town.

Conley school preview - Dec. 8

This was my final tour of schools within my walk zone (the rest are Bates, Mozart, Sumner, and Lyndon). The pathetic thing was, I got lost on my way back home…. half a mile from my own house. So I got a free (de)tour of Hyde Park, a neighborhood with which I’m not very familiar. Brilliant. Half a mile quickly became five. What did I learn Tuesday? That I should still carry a map in the car to navigate through my own neighborhood.

The Conley’s small at 190 students, grades K0-5. There’s not a lot of space inside. A realtor might call it cozy.

The K1 math is a bit tricky, so please bear with me. For the most part, the school has two strands per grade, and one of those is special education.

But at the K0/K1 level, there are two classrooms that are both integrated special/general ed. Because of the integrated nature, they’re smaller classes at 15 students each: seven are special ed and eight are general ed. That’s a total of 16 total slots for general ed students. Then at the K2 level, the classes go up to the usual 22 students, leaving six extra seats for incoming students.

In one of the kindergarten classes, a small group of students was looking at a Roche Bros circular and writing up a shopping list. Very productive.

We convened in the library, which they’re in the process of refurbishing, possibly transforming into another kind of space. They lost their librarian to the budget cuts last year. Like at the Curley, students at the Conley are required to read or be read to 30 minutes nightly.

Their specialties are science (push-in for kindergarten, big kids go to science lab), visual art, and music. Grades 3 to 5 have violin instruction.

They don’t have a PE instructor. They just got a grant for more outdoor equipment and they’re looking at getting part-time help for physical education.

They’re working to improve their math scores on the MCAS with math tutoring in the upper grades.

At the moment, they have an interim principal, Joe Foley, who’s a former special ed teacher. They’re currently interviewing to fill that spot, and he is among the candidates.

There’s still the question of what happens after grade 5. The Roslindale K-5 schools are working to create a feeder pattern into the Washington Irving middle school, which has a new principal. Students from those Roslindale K-5 schools would automatically be placed in the Irving come 6th grade.

They have a new enclosed outdoor classroom that was covered in snow when I walked by. On warmer days, students can do science experiments or write there. They have a great play structure and plenty of blacktop for free play.

Foley said that food allergies were “a big deal.” The school is a peanut-safe zone. Children with severe allergies eat their lunches in the office, not the cafeteria.

Other crucial facts: Uniform is mandatory, and they have an on-site before- and after-school program run by the West Roxbury YMCA. I’m not clear whether that includes 4-year-olds.

I like the neighborhood, even though Poplar’s kind of a busy street. And I apparently have a tendency to get lost on it. The school's fine. I'm curious as to who they'll put in place as a permanent principal.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Kindergarten Demand Report

Now here’s a fascinating document. BPS has posted an Excel file called Kindergarten Demand Report, 2009-10. It lists the number of available seats at every K0, K1, and K2 school in the city (West Zone schools are at the bottom). Then they list the number of families ranking the school as their first, second, or third choices. They have cool statistics (never thought I’d say those two words together) on the number of first-choice and first-to-third-choice applicants per available seat.

It just gives you a glimpse into the popularity of schools and perhaps the likelihood of getting in, not factoring in walk-zone and sibling preferences.

If you click over to the K2 tab on the bottom, you can see what kind of turnover there is between K1 and K2.

Mendell school preview - Dec. 1

I don't know where to begin with this school.  I think it's fair to say that I've never met a principal quite like Ms. Cahill.  She's like this whirlwind of energy.  She's all about improving the school, and I really got the feeling like she's the kind of person who could get a lot accomplished.  She brought in several new teachers recently.

The Mendell is currently an undersubscribed school, but some West Zone parents got together last year and decided to give it a chance. Parents on the tour said there were about 10 families who were really active.  I wish this were my neighborhood school.  I loved it.  For us, it's a tad on the far side. It's near the Stony Brook T stop on School Street in Roxbury. Ultimately, if we were assigned there, we'd make the commute work.

They have a K0-K1 integrated regular ed/special ed classroom and two K1 classes.  There is capacity for two strands of all grades (K-5), but right now, some grades have only one class. The school currently has about 200 students.

I really liked the K1 classroom I visited. The teacher said the kids try to get outside every day. If there's ice on the playground, they might take a walk through the neighborhood instead. There was a poster on the wall with photographs of "A's" they spotted on a recent neighborhood walk.

The K1 teacher said her students have theater and art each twice a week and music once a week. Science is added at a later grade. I have in my notes that PE is also a specialty class, but I'm not sure where that fits in. The specialty teachers come to the classrooms, rather than pulling students out into a separate art room, music room, etc.

They have on-site before- and after-school for all ages at $5/hour. An assistant teacher runs the after-school program for 4-year-olds, and Bird Street runs the after-school program for the rest of the school. They just added twice-weekly martial arts to after school (that's extra).

The PE teacher uses the outdoor space because they don't have a gym. Their playground is fairly new. They're in the process of designing an outdoor classroom. It should be in place by next fall. I think they also got a grant for Playworks for next year.

I peeked in briefly at the basement library.  I think they have or are trying to get library students from Simmons College to help.

They seem to take food allergies seriously. One kindergarten classroom was peanut free. The principal said they were going to have to be more proactive with allergies. (She's an allergy parent too.) The K1 teacher was consulting with someone else on a recipe that the kids could make and suggested they substitute sun butter for almond butter. (As the parent of a child with a nut allergy, thank you!)

Now, this is sort of awkward to bring up.  One of the teachers that was heralded as one of the school's best actually seemed kind of stern with the younger kids. She definitely wasn't the warm and fuzzy type, at least when we were in the classroom. I wasn't the only parent who thought this.  Just thought I'd mention it, in case warm and fuzzy teachers are a priority for you.

Amendment may prevent opening new charter schools in Boston

The Globe has an article on the charter school legislation that the Senate passed last month. Apparently, one of the late amendments added by Boston's Sonia Chang-Diaz could prevent Boston, Lawrence, and other cities from opening new charter schools. The original point of the bill was to lift the cap on the number of charter schools in underperforming districts. Under the amendment, as interpreted by the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association and the state Department of Education, districts would have to be in the bottom 10% of both MCAS scores and improvement of MCAS scores to be eligible for more charter schools. That would whittle the number of eligible districts from 33 to 4.

Chang-Diaz said she was open to changing the language and it was not her intent to exclude Boston. Oops. She said she intended to have a combined list of MCAS scores and test improvement and have the bottom 10% of that list be eligible for charter school expansion.

The House is expected to take up the bill in January.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's budget time again

The Boston School Committee is getting updates on the FY2010 and FY2011 budgets at tomorrow night's meeting. I hope we don't have a repeat of last year, but I'm not too optimistic on that front.

Here's the draft agenda:
5 P.M. Feedback Forum: Five-Year Acceleration Agenda
6 P.M. School Committee Meeting
Call to Order
I. Pledge of Allegiance
II. Superintendent's Report
III. Public Comment on Action Item
IV. Action Item
· Grants for Approval
V. Reports
· Five-Year Acceleration Agenda Update
· Madison Park Admission Policy Update
· FY 2010 and FY 2011 Budget Update
· Education Resource Strategies Overview
VI. General Public Comment
VII. New Business