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

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

BPS proposes closing six schools, plus an ELC

At tonight's school committee meeting, BPS proposed closing the following underperforming schools at the end of this school year:
  • East Zone Early Learning Center in Dorchester;
  • Patrick F. Gavin Middle School in South Boston (would become UP Academy, see below);
  • Roger Clap Elementary in Dorchester;
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary in Roxbury;
  • Hyde Park Educational Complex, including the Community Academy of Science and Health; the Engineering School; and the Social Justice Academy.
Students in the affected schools would be moved to other schools next year.

They also proposed the following expansions or changes for next school year:
  • Start UP Academy, an in-district charter middle school in South Boston for grades 6 to 8;
  • Expand Montessori at East Boston Early Education Center;
  • Add K1 to Holland Elementary and Trotter Elementary, both in Dorchester;
  • Expand Umana Middle School Academy to a K‐8, renovate the school (reopen in 2012) and explore a two‐way Spanish bilingual program;
  • Merge Lee Academy with Lee Elementary and look at expanding to K-8;
  • Launch Boston Green Academy, an in‐district charter 6‐12 school open to all students through a lottery. It would aim to help struggling students develop skills in environmental science.
The BPS Redesign and Reinvest website has a few more details about each option, as does this Powerpoint presentation to the school committee. BPS estimates that the changes would save an estimated $8 million in FY2012. There will be public meetings to discuss the proposal Oct. 16, 19, and 26. The school committee is scheduled to vote on the measure Nov. 3.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Late buses early in the school year

I know families have been experiencing major bus delays since school started. (We're walkers, so we haven't been affected.) The bus drivers union leader told the Globe that hundreds of buses were arriving late. BPS says it's working to fix the problem. Boston switched to a computerized routing system this year, and apparently there are quite a few kinks in the system, like unanticipated construction on Blue Hill Ave. and the software not allowing time for kids to get settled once they board. The Transportation Department is looking at GPS data to analyze the routes. They rerouted some trouble spots this weekend and say that families should feel relief soon.

BPS says to call the back-to-school hotline if you still have delays -- (617) 635-9046. One family has also set up a wiki where people can add information about delays.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Discouraging, but not entirely surprising

The Globe has a story today on how schools in the Boston and Springfield metropolitan areas are among the most highly segregated in the nation. Boston ranked fourth in the country in terms of segregation of Latino students and 28th for black students. (Their definition of “Boston” actually includes much of eastern Massachusetts and some of New Hampshire.)

As the article notes, the segregation isn’t really limited to suburban vs. urban schools. There are major differences in racial make-up within Boston schools. They note that the Blackstone school in the South End is about 80% Latino, while the Oliver Hazard Perry School in South Boston is about 60% white. This sort of difference was apparent to me when going to school previews around the West Zone. With at least half of the student body come from within 1 mile from the school, schools wind up looking a lot like the neighborhoods.

The full report is here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

School-level MCAS results are out

The school-by-school results of this spring's MCAS tests are available online. You have to click the "school" button at the top, as opposed to the "district" button. Then you can use the pulldown menu to select an individual school. You have to click on the "Assessement" tab to see the scores. I'm not breaking them down like I did last year. You should be able to see which schools made AYP and which schools didn't. BPS notes that district-wide, math scores have improved and even outpaced growth at the state level.

First day of kindergarten

My kinder survived his first day of school. It was definitely a relief to find him where he was expected to be after school. The bus had indeed deposited him at the correct location, and he didn't appear to have any short-term psychological damage from the experience.

One of his first reactions to his school day was “How come we don’t get to play on the playground much?” So I had to sit him down and have the talk. “Son, you’re a man now. The carefree days of hours of outdoor play are over. During school, you may only get 20 minutes a day. That’s it.” He bowed his head, stuck out the edge of his lower lip, and seemed to realize that this was the end of an era.

Coincidentally, the New York Times happens to have an article today about how physical activity might make kids smarter in terms of executive control and memory. I’m just sayin’…

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Happy first day of school!

Happy back-to-school day for the older kids. I can already hear the buses rumbling down our street. For those of us with incoming kindergarteners, we still have them at home (or wherever) until Monday.

Until then, here’s a little light reading for homework. It seems everyone has stories on BPS in honor of the first day of school. I’m not even going to try to recap all of them. You just get headlines and links today.

Stories on turnaround schools:
Superintendent Johnson: We Expect To See A Turnaround In Schools – WBUR (with audio)
12 Boston schools face ‘make or break’ makeover - Boston Herald
- with sidebar An inside look at three key ‘turnaround’ sites

Contract negotiations:
Coalitions gather for school reform - Boston Globe column

School lunch ideas (I can always use more ideas, particularly ones that don't involve lunch meat, nuts, or hummus):
Lunchbox specials: Chef shares ways to prepare yummy, healthy school meals - Boston Herald

Teacher-led schools:
In a New Role, Teachers Move to Run Schools - New York Times, BTU's lead teacher is quoted.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Group rallies for changes to teachers' contract

A coalition called Boston United for Students rallied for teacher contract changes at Court Street yesterday on the last day of the teachers' existing contract. Negotiations are ongoing for a new contract.

This group, along with Put Students First Coalition for a 21st Century Contract, supports reform "that would allow longer school days, greater flexibility by administrators in hiring and assigning staff, and a stronger evaluation system," the Globe reports.

WBUR's Radio Boston devoted 19 minutes on Monday to negotiations between the school department and the Boston Teachers Union. They interviewed Richard Stutman, president of the BTU. Here is what the BTU proposed in June.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Reminder: Citywide kindergarten celebration at Children's Museum on Tuesday

I just wanted to remind folks about Countdown to Kindergarten's citywide kindergarten celebration at the Children's Museum tomorrow from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. We won't be there 1) because I have to work and 2) because I avoid major crowds when possible and I hear this thing is usually packed. On the other hand, it's free. Have your child wear their yellow I'm Going to Kindergarten T-shirt.

We checked out the kindergarten classroom exhibit in the museum earlier this month. It was okay, but it would have been better with an adult facilitating activities. Plus, it's tough to compete with the Peep and the Big Wide World exhibit next door. For at least one 4-year-old, Peep will win every time.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mass. wins $250 million in Race to the Top funds

Massachusetts was among the states winning Race to the Top federal funds yesterday. The state's $250 million will be split between the Department of Education and the districts, WBUR reports.

Meanwhile, Boston Public Schools is negotiating a new contract with the teachers union, the Globe reports.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Slipping off the wait list and hopping back on again

Quite a few parents I’ve spoken with the past couple of years have a horror story about the assignment process and/or the Family Resource Center. Up to this point, my dealings with them have been pretty smooth. No real complaints.

But then I called Friday, just to see we stood on the wait list for the Haley. They tell me that I’m no longer on any wait lists. “Whaaaa?” In July, you may remember, I paid the FRC a visit to take my name off the Lyndon’s wait list. I asked that I remain on the Haley’s wait list. Amazingly, I still have the wait list action request from that visit. Both the Lyndon and Haley are listed, but under the column “Please remove my child from the following wait list(s)” I only circled “Yes” for the Lyndon, not for the Haley.

So it took me a few days before I could reach someone who could remedy the situation. He put me back on the Haley’s wait list where I was in July (#4). It sounds as if the wait list hadn’t moved in the last month, so no harm done.

I can’t really complain. We’re already assigned to a school we’re happy with. We’re still hoping for an indoor play area in the winter and an on-site after-school program, but if we don’t get that, we’ll manage. But what if we had been one of those unlucky unassigned families and suddenly discovered that we weren’t on any wait lists. Or what if I had not been neurotic and felt the urge to periodically check my wait list status. Tough luck, I guess.

I debated whether to write this at all. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. Mistakes happen, I get it. But I also don’t want to gloss over this and make it seem like every part of this process has been peachy.

Ultimately, I’m pleased the issue was resolved quickly and professionally. However, I think it points to a weakness in the system. Why can’t this all be automated online? That way, curious parents like me who want to occasionally check on their wait lists wouldn’t have to bother a human being who probably has better things to do. It would also reduce -- though not eliminate -- the potential for human error.

Imagine something like the Boston Public Library’s online system for requesting books. When you log in, you can see where you are in the queue for a given item. Decide you don’t want to check out that item any more? Click a box on that line and hit the delete button. No more human intervention unless you hit the wrong button. I guess someone could argue that with sibling priorities, people might get upset if they see that they’re suddenly bumped further down the list. To me, that would be a great opportunity to explain how the lottery works, perhaps at the bottom of the page have a little disclaimer. BPL has a similar disclaimer on why you might be bumped down the list for a book.

When your book is delivered to your library branch, you get a robocall. Something similar could be set up for when you’re placed into a new school.

I get that not everyone has easy internet access. Perhaps this feature could be an option you could select early in the process… like when you tell your bank you’d prefer to do all your banking online.

If a cash-strapped public library can do this, why not a cash-strapped public school?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Turnaround schools receive grants

Ten of Boston's turnaround schools will receive federal funds totalling $22 million to help improve student performance, the state announced yesterday. Each school will receive $1 million-4 million. The news release has the breakdown for each school. In the west zone, the Trotter elementary will get $1.6 million, and the Kennedy elementary will get $1.2 million. The Agassiz elementary is a turnaround school but it did not receive federal funds. BPS plans to submit a turnaround plan for that school, as well as Burke High, later this year, the district said in a news release.

The turnaround schools will have an extra 30 minutes of learning time, and this money will pay teachers an annual stipend of $4,100 for the extra time, according to BPS.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Little things that take too long

We've kept ourselves occupied this summer with little getting-ready-for-school tasks, like picking up our Countdown to Kindergarten T-shirt and packet from the library. We actually got two T-shirt postcards in the mail. I know some people never got theirs. Someone commented on an earlier post that you can just bring your registration information to the library and that should work as well as the postcard.

A couple weeks ago, we went to the West Zone Family Resource Center to take ourselves off the waitlist for the Lyndon, among other things. I don't think it will help anyone, since we were probably still in the 30s. Anyway, the place was packed. I expected to be in and out in five minutes. Instead, it was a half-hour project with kid in tow. I couldn't figure it out. Could people really be registering their kids for kindergarten or other grades this late? Maybe some of them recently moved to Boston. Later, I discovered that it was the only FRC open for the summer. Still...

Meanwhile, I think we've found our after-school solution. The Mozart doesn't have an on-site after-school program, so our child will probably be bused to the Roslindale Community Center, which has a program for 4-year-olds. We won't know for sure if he got in until late August. It's a state-licensed program, so the application is massive and massively redundant. I also had to fill out an alternative transportation form in order to get the kidlet on the bus. (The online form says it's for "2007-2008," but the person from the transportation department told me just to cross the date out and write "2010-11." You can also get a copy at the FRC.) You'd think this would be another simple five-minute project. No. For various reasons, this took a few days. I finally mailed that form yesterday. I think bus assignments come out in late August, so hopefully this will not be an issue.

Finally, yesterday, we got a couple of booster shots that we'd skipped six months ago. Initially, the kid thought it was going to be "the worst day of [his] whole life." But he brightened up a little when I broke out a new pack of silly bands and a ruler when he was done.

Check, check, and check. Now, I think we'll try to kick back and enjoy the rest of summer.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hennigan principal named Rookie of the Year

Amy Sprott, who just finished her first year as principal of the Hennigan Elementary, won the BPS award for rookie principal of the year. The award for principal of the year went to Valeria Lowe Barehme, who leads the Timilty Middle School in Roxbury.

Friday, July 23, 2010

WBUR story on the Mendell's turnaround

I'm pretty late to the party with this one, but it's still worth a mention. WBUR had a story this week on the turnaround of the Mendell school. It's called, "The Year the White Kids Came." The story is really worth a read or listen. Many of the reader comments at the end are just as valuable as the story itself.

The school is getting a new principal this fall, but parents got to help select her.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Civil rights groups pull out of student assignment process

Three civil rights groups have stopped working with the Boston Public Schools on a new student assignment plan, citing a lack of engagement with the community and slow progress, according to the Boston Globe.
Since the groups began meeting with the district in the fall, there has not been a single open public meeting, although there have been limited focus groups.

The organizations – the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of the Boston Bar Association – recommended that BPS improve communication with the public, confront the city’s history of school desegregation, work state governments and surrounding communities to develop a regional “equity and diversity” plan, the Globe reports.

BPS says it plans to have public meetings in January to gather public input. The school committee would vote on a plan later that year so that a new assignment process could be in place for the 2012-13 school year. At the same time, the district is trying to improve the quality of underperforming schools concentrated in Roxbury and Dorchester and also deciding which schools to close.

The fact that these groups have pulled out gives me pause. I question whether BPS will be able to come up with an equitable plan without their support.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

T-shirt postcards?

Has anyone received the postcard in the mail that can be exchanged for a kingergarten T-shirt at the library? The T-shirt allows incoming kindergarteners to be admitted to free events this summer.

Postcards were initially scheduled to be sent to families of incoming kindergarteners in May, but I recall they were having problems with the T-shirt vendor. The Roslindale library tells me they now have the T-shirts, but I don't recall receiving the postcard. It's entirely possible that it got shuffled into the recycling along with the junk mail.

Edited to add: We got our postcard in the mail Thursday, and it somehow escaped our recycling bin. Thanks to Countdown to Kindergarten for being such a great resource.

2nd addition: We got a second postcard on Friday. I think we're good. No more postcards, please. (I hope I only registered one child. I'm pretty sure I only have the one.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We caught a break on school uniforms

Much of this school assignment process has been very bureaucratic and headache-inducing. But this one time, we seemed to have lucked out. Countdown to Kindergarten has a chart listing the uniform requirements for each school.

It turns out that the school we're in and the school we have a low waitlist number for have very similar uniform requirements. So at least I won't have to buy school uniforms in one color only to return them and buy new uniforms if my son gets into the second school.  At this point, we're thankful for small favors.

If anyone has tips for where to stock up on navy blue pants and white tops this summer, I'd appreciate it. What do boys do in the winter? Just wear white button-down shirts? That doesn't seem warm enough. Do they wear long-sleeved undershirts? Forgive my ignorance. We're used to surviving winter in zip-up hoodies.

Know a rising BLS 10th grader?

I'm giving away copies of the three books on the required summer reading list for Boston Latin School's 10th grade: Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood, Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons, and The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. I bought these all second hand, so to you, they'd be third-hand, at the very least. I'll throw in one of the optional books -- The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers -- because my bookshelves are over capacity.

If you can pick them up in Roslindale, they're yours. If you're interested, leave your email address in the comments field and we can arrange pick-up. First come, first serve.

Truth and Reconciliation commission may revisit 1974 Boston busing crisis

JP activist Horace Small and the Union of Minority Neighborhoods intend to start a Truth and Reconciliation commission to reexamine the Boston busing crisis of 1974, WBUR reports. It sounds like not everyone is comfortable revisiting the issue. It’s a good read.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Common Ground in the running for Globe's version of One Book, One City

Since Boston can’t seem to get its act together to hold One Book, One City, like other urban centers, the Globe is going ahead with its own version. Readers can vote online for one of 10 books with a local focus to start off the community reading program. One of these books is Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas.  It’s about the school busing crisis of the 1970s told through the eyes of three families. Right now, it’s second in votes, trailing Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919.

I can’t say I’ve read either book, but I suppose if you want to understand the recent history of Boston schools and why the system is the way it is today, Common Ground wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Voting ends July 13.

Renovation of Mozart's playground has begun

School is out, and work has begun on the Mozart school’s new playground. The old, tiny play structure is gone and a new wooden element is beginning to take shape. The West Roxbury Transcript has a copy of the layout, but I wasn’t able to enlarge it, so I don’t really know what I was looking at when I drove by the other day.

The article says that the renovated area will include more greenery, an amphitheater for performances (very useful since there is no space for this indoors), a volleyball court, a large play structure for recess, and an outdoor classroom.

Provide input for BPS changes

I am back from vacation, and I feel like my keyboard is about to melt in this heat, so posts will be short.

Thanks to alert readers who provided news links regarding the focus groups (Globe article, earlier JP Gazette article. All parents can provide their input on expansions/mergers/redesigns via a survey on the BPS website. I’m glad parents weren’t turned away from the focus group at the Roslindale Community Center. My invitation said to spread the word, so that’s what I did.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

West Zone focus group this Saturday. RSVP requested.

BPS is holding a focus group for West Zone parents this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Roslindale Community Center, 6 Cummings Hwy. These focus groups -- other zones will have meetings later this summer -- will allow parents to have a say in BPS's potential reorganization of assignment zones and school closures and consolidations.

Parents interested in attending are encouraged to RSVP to Mary Ann Crayton from the Office of Family and Student Engagement at mcrayton@boston.k12.ma.us.

Unfortunately, I'll be on a plane during this meeting, but I'd welcome any guest bloggers posting their notes and thoughts from the meeting here. (If you're interested, just leave your email in the comments and I'll email you to coordinate.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Longer school days approved for turnaround schools

Students and teachers in the 12 turnaround schools will have their school day extended by an hour due to a recent decision by a joint resolution committee.

Half of that extra time will be devoted to classroom instruction. The other half hour will be for teacher development, prep time, and tutoring.

The West Zone turnaround schools include the Agassiz, Trotter, and John F. Kennedy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Arts grants announced

Boston Public Schools are getting $800,000 in grants for arts programs for the next school year through the Arts Expansion Initiative, the Boston Globe reports.

The non-profit EdVestors coordinates the initiative's funds. Here is a full list of the grants. Among the West Zone schools to benefit:
  • The Hyde Square Task Force will teach Afro-Latin and contemporary dance in the Kennedy and Agassiz elementaries;
  • Those two schools will also get a program from Visual Understanding in Education;
  • The Community Music Center of Boston will offer choral, instrumental, and theater instruction in several schools, including the Hale elementary;
  • Irving middle school will get a visual arts program through the Eliot School of Fine Arts.

Friday, June 4, 2010

No money budgeted for Agassiz repairs; School closures & assignment process to be evaluated this summer

The Jamaica Plain Gazette recently reported that BPS does not have money budgeted for repairs to the Agassiz elementary school in the 2011-2016 capital plan. The gym leaks when it rains, among other concerns.

Meanwhile, BPS will begin to look at which schools to close this summer, with closures perhaps occurring in 2011. BPS officials say it's likely that six schools will close. The lack of funds allocated for repairs raises the question of whether Agassiz will be among the shuttered schools. BPS spokesman Matt Wilder told the Gazette that BPS will look at the following criteria for school closures: geographic location; use for outside programming; academic performance; enrollment; the building's age and health and additional services offered.

In addition to a school closure plan, BPS will be asking for community input this summer for redrawing assignment zones.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Reading our way through summer

Confession time: I have an odd fascination with lists. I also love books. Put them together into a book list, and ahh… nirvana.

The BPS summer reading lists are out. The K-3 reading list contains some familiar fare, like The Lorax and James and the Giant Peach, but I look forward to exploring some of the lesser known titles (lesser known to us anyway) with my son this summer.

For fun this spring, I started poking around Boston Latin School’s summer reading lists. I’m not a BLS wannabe or groupie, I swear. They just make darned good book lists. I wish someone would have handed me these in high school. They’re like everything I should have read by now but haven’t. How does a person major in Russian history and not read a Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky novel? Luck or simply clever evasion?

This spring, I picked up Franny and Zooey and As I Lay Dying (both from the 10th grade list) from the library. In one, people are too smart for their own good. In the other, quite the opposite.

This gave me an idea for a new project. Now that my child is a little more independent and could spend hours making sand/mud cakes in the backyard, I’m going to try to tackle more of these books this summer. I think I’ll start with the 10th grade list.  That seems about my speed. Call me sophomoric if you like. Their three required books are Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (already read it), and Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons. Then, students can pick two more books from a long list. The House of the Seven Gables, The Jungle, and Rabbit Run have been gathering dust on my shelves for several years. Now’s as good a time as any.

If I ever make it to the 12th grade reading list, then I can dust off the Russians. I know Anna Karenina is hiding out somewhere in my house, probably packed away with the samovar.

But first, I have to finish this Neil Gaiman book, American Gods, that I’m reading for One Book, One Twitter (#1b1t), the Twitter version of a book club. It’s a fantasy-thriller and not something I normally would have cracked open, but I’m really enjoying it. I hope the same holds true for the rest of my summer reading.

Y/BPS shutting down

As of June 1, Y/BPS will be no more. For those who don't know, it was a partnership between the YMCA and BPS to help parents understand and consider Boston Public Schools for their children. Kathleen Colby was the Y/BPS person who held the hands of those of us in the West Zone. She also helped every year with the West Zone Parents Group meetings. She was very patient, honest, and knew so much about the system. I feel sad that incoming families won't be able to take advantage of all her wisdom.

Boston Public Schools is taking over this effort with Team BPS. They're recruiting volunteer ambassadors, including parents. Parents, supporters, and prospective parents will also blog about their experiences. (What a fantastic idea!) I hope that Team BPS will present the full picture of schools, warts and all. Parents need to know that in order to make informed choices.

Friday, May 14, 2010

New principal appointments

I held off on posting about this until I saw something official from BPS. At the previous school committee meeting, the superintendent announced changes in school principals, including moving Karen Cahill from the Mendell to the Murphy K-8. I know a lot of current and incoming Mendell parents were upset to learn of this change, but I hope that the Murphy benefits and that they find someone equally dynamic for the Mendell.

In addition, Waleska Landing will be the new principal at the John F. Kennedy elementary. Most recently, she was assistant principal of the Sarah Greenwood school in Dorchester.

Teacher union negotiations on longer school day not going so well

Globe story today -- Teachers union, Johnson reach stalemate on plan: Can’t agree on issue of longer school day The gist is that BPS proposed that their turnaround schools should get an extra hour of instruction. However, they won't pay teachers for that extra hour.

This comes on the heels of a Boston Foundation report saying that charter schools in Boston, on average, had at least 62 full school days more school time than the city's public schools. A Globe editorial says charter schools had an average of 8.2 hours of daily instruction compared with BPS' 6.1 hours.

In my opinion, BPS schools do have shorter school days than what I'd expect (roughly 8:30-2:30). My school day growing up was always 8:30-3:30. I'm not saying we accomplished a lot in that last hour. I remember feeling pretty spaced out by the end of the day, but it did leave time for things like a real recess and things that weren't on the test. Imagine that.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

City councilor asking why fixes to Agassiz not completed

Universal Hub pointed to this request for a hearing by city councilor Chuck Turner asking why the air quality issues at the Agassiz elementary school (not middle school) have not been taken care of. Some fixes have occurred, according to the request, but water still leaks into the gymnasium after a rainstorm.

The BPS custodial budget for next year has been cut and building maintenance has been deferred. Custodians are the ones who clean the air systems and such, and about 20% of the custodial positions (or full-time equivalents) are expected to be laid off next year.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The wait lists are moving

I called the Family Resource Center today to check on our wait-list status, and it turns out we’re in at the Mozart. So congrats to those of you on the Curley’s wait list, you just moved up one. I’m glad I called because this was the first we’d heard of it. We already missed the Mozart’s welcome session. I guess I’ll touch base with the school and find out if there are any more activities planned. We’ve been hanging out at the Mozart playground lately so my son can practice riding his bike in an open space. Maybe we’ll try to gather some intel on any other events while we’re there.

With the Mozart, we'd definitely be able to walk to school in the morning. In the afternoon, he’d probably take a bus to an after-school program.

For our other wait-list numbers, we’re now #31 at the Lyndon and we moved up one at the Haley, so we’re #4. Part of me has a perverse pleasure in keeping our names on the Lyndon wait list. It’s definitely moving – we started at #42 – but there’s still no chance for us to get in. We’re ok with that.

I just realized this weekend that with this pinballing around to different schools as the wait lists move, we wouldn’t know which uniform to buy. (It’s these practical concerns that take up too much space in my brain.) Every school has their own standards when it comes to uniforms. Now, with the Curley gone from our list of potentials, that’s one set of uniforms we don’t have to purchase.

Have others already experienced the school switcheroo? I imagine those wait lists will move even more as we get closer to September.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Welcome sessions occurring now

I just wanted to remind people that schools are hosting welcome sessions for incoming students. We went to the Curley's welcome session on Friday. I had already toured the school, but I learned a few other useful things (e.g., I should begin thinking about after-school care for my 4-year-old because their after-school program isn't licensed for 4-year-olds, and even though our assignment letter says we are in the integrated class, we could wind up in either the integrated or the regular ed classroom.)

I emailed and called one of our waitlisted schools about attending their welcome session, but they never got back to me, so I wound up missing it. Grr. Some of these have been better publicized than others, obviously. Countdown to Kindergarten has a full list of all welcome sessions.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

City Year Boston's blog gives inside look at work done in Boston schools

One of my latest discoveries is City Year Boston’s blog, which showcases the work the organization does in Boston’s public and charter schools. It’s really inspiring to see all the enthusiasm these young adults bring into the classrooms.

Here are some recent highlights from posts about West Zone schools:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Philbrick wins grant for gardening supplies

The Philbrick has won a grant from Welch's for $1,000 worth of gardening tools, seeds, and educational materials, according to the West Roxbury Transcript. The students will be able to grow some of their own fruits and veggies. I'm curious what happens to the school gardens in the summer months. Do some diligent parents, students, and staff weed and water the gardens, keep an eye out for blight and that sort of thing?

Neighborhood Plus Plan proposed

Douglas Johnson of Boston has proposed a new assignment zone scheme he calls the Neighborhood Plus Plan. He laid out the basics of the plan in a letter to the Globe this weekend. He said that families from each neighborhood would be allowed to choose from five to eight elementary schools. That includes walk-zone, within about a 1-mile radius for elementary schools, and three to five other schools that would be "chosen for capacity, diversity, programs, and reduced transportation. This would preserve a range of quality school choices, provide educational continuity, and better match students and classrooms," he writes.

Currently, BPS has divided the city into three large assignment zones. Families could potentially send their children to one of twenty-some schools. The district is currently reassessing its school assignment policy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

School start date announced

Most Boston Public School students will report to their first day of class on Wednesday, September 8, 2010. This is one day earlier than usual to accommodate Rosh Hashanah, which begins on the 9th. The district calendar did not specifically say this, but I suspect that kindergarteners will start the following Monday (Sept. 13), as usual.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More on Tobin and changing the school assignment process

Adrian Walker has a decent column in the Globe today about why school assignment in Boston is such a "third-rail" topic in city politics. City councilor John Tobin's child did not get into a K1 school this year, and Tobin has been pushing for change in the assignment process. This follows a Globe article on the same issue. I'm eager to see what he and BPS propose because there's no easy solution here.

A group of parents has also gotten together to advocate for change in the lottery system.

Walker gives some good background about the school assignment system, for those who are new to it. BPS tried to change to a five-zone system from a three-zone one last year, but that plan was withdrawn because of community opposition. Underperforming schools tend to be clustered in neighborhoods with a higher percentage of minorities.

I know that some families really like all the choice they have with our current system. I found it a little overwhelming. I like some choice, but 20-some schools is too much choice for me.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Councilor Tobin says school assignment system needs to be fixed

City Councilor John Tobin, who represents West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and parts of Roslindale and Mission Hill, had the pleasure of going through the BPS lottery for K1 with the rest of us this year.

And his child is unassigned.

He writes in the Allston-Brighton Tab, that he and his spouse were "outraged and disappointed," like other unassigned parents. "We believe in public education. We entered the BPS lottery with high hopes and were excited about our choices. We were not looking for special treatment. We wanted a seat in a quality school near our home."

In the past, Tobin has advocated for more K1 seats in the city. In 2004, when BPS was reexamining its assignment policy, he asked BPS "to increase the number of students allowed to walk to neighborhood schools from 50 to 100 percent. Once local kids had a chance to enroll, the remaining seats would be opened to children citywide." Obviously, that didn't happen. We're still at 50% walk zone.
Now, he calls for transparency in the lottery system, like holding the lottery in public, similar to what charter schools do. He also calls for a return to neighborhood schools (The city currently spends about $77 million on busing students around the city):

"The simple truth is the assignment system must change if we want families to stay in Boston. I am again calling on Mayor Thomas Menino to create a system that allows children to go to school in their own neighborhood. In the meantime, the Tobins and many other Boston families will go back to the drawing board and develop a back-up plan."

I wish his family luck and hope some positive change can come from his experience.

West Zone ELC may lose its prinicipal

Boston Public Schools plans to transfer leadership of the West Zone Early Learning Center to the Hennigan school and cut the ELC's principal position, according to a letter sent to families on the West Zone Parents Group listserv. Currently, the ELC exists within the walls of the Hennigan, but it is run by a separate principal.

With the author's permission, I'm reposting her letter here.
-------------------

Dear West Zone Families-

Below is a copy of a letter that the West Zone Early Learning Center Parent Council composed to inform ELC families and community members of the shocking decision of Superintendent Carol Johnson to roll the ELC in under the purview of the Hennigan School and terminate the Early Learning Center Principal position. This decision undermines the very reason why the ELC exists. We currently have a wonderful interim Principal, Kathleen Sullivan, who in her short time with us has made incredible and innovative ideas flourish, while continuing to uphold the stellar standards of her predecessor, Eunice Fernandes. The Early Learning Center is a unique gem and offers amazing resources, including a teaching and support staff that is unparalleled. Losing our Principal for the annual financial savings of approximately $12,000.00/year is asinine and a paltry sum with regards to the BPS budget. As the real ramifications of this decision such as staff attrition, reduced enrollment, loss of extended care programs, loss of grants, loss of services for children with IEP's, possible loss of NAEYC accreditation, come to light, it makes one wonder what is motivating this decision. Please join us in expressing your displeasure with Dr. Johnson's decision by calling her office at 617-635-9050. The ELC is a very special place and it breaks my heart to think that the children who need the services provided by this school might not receive them.

Thank you,
Sara Mallach mother of a 1st grade ELC student.

We recently heard the devastating news that BPS Superintendent, Dr. Carol Johnson has decided to terminate the Principal position at the West Zone ELC. This would mean that Kathleen Sullivan, our wonderful interim Principal, would not stay on as a permanent replacement for Eunice Fernandes. This decision will also have very distressing ramifications for the WZELC in the future. Please join us in expressing your outrage at this terrible decision. There will be an Open Forum meeting for WZELC families and community members at the school on Tuesday, April 13th at 5:15 p.m. Please join us! You may also telephone Dr. Carol Johnson’s office at 617-635-9050 and express your displeasure over this shocking turn of events.

Thank you, The WZELC Parent Council.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Vote for Latin School's Real Food YouTube video

Boston Latin School Youth Climate Action Network has created a 3-minute video describing what real food is. They're competing for $1000 for their cafeteria food project through Farm to School. They're up against the very adorable "I Fell in Love with Broccoli," so they could probably use the votes. You can vote for their video here. Voting ends Friday.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mass. not among Race to the Top winners

Delaware and Tennessee were the only two finalists selected for a share of $4 billion in Race to the Top education funds, leaving Massachusetts and several other states to compete for second round funding, the New York Times reports. Georgia and Florida came in third and fourth. Massachusetts had lifted its cap on the number of charter schools in order to compete for the funds.

Second-round applications are due June 1, and those winners are expected to be announced in September.

School might not start until mid-September

Boston Public Schools may not start come back from summer break until Sept. 13, according to the Boston Herald. School usually begins two days after Labor Day (Sept. 6), but this year, that falls on the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashana, which begins sunset Sept. 8 and lasts until Sept. 10. The Boston Teachers Union wants to delay the start until the 13th.

Other schools have pushed the start date before Labor Day. The Boston School Committee will decide on the start date this summer.

Police arrest two for breaking into the Sumner

Two suspects were arrested on charges of breaking and entering into the Sumner school on Sunday afternoon, the Boston Police Department reports.

Police were called to the Sumner following an alarm that sensed motion in the cafeteria and lobby. Police noticed a window open next to a basement door. They found two people on the third floor. The suspects fled, but police and some cooperating citizens caught them.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

School committee passes budget

The Boston School Committee passed the school budget last night, meaning further cuts and layoffs for the district. Custodians will be particularly affected. For details, check out coverage from the Globe, WBUR, the Herald, and NECN.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

School committee to vote on budget tonight

The Boston School Committee will vote on next year's BPS budget tonight.

Earlier this month, they were still facing a $3.5 million gap. Here are some of their proposed changes:
  • Eliminating the equivalent of 55 full-time positions in the schools (11 teachers, 43 other staff).
  • Reducing the spending per pupil.
  • Deferring building maintenance. 
  • Having elementary and middle school walk farther to bus stops. The number of bus stops will be reduced.
  • Having middle school students take MBTA buses rather than school buses if they live close to a T stop.
  • Turning the heat down (This is one I fully support. Some of those schools feel like a sauna in the winter.).
They're also looking at raising revenue by allowing advertising on school buses and leasing or selling empty buildings. (The AP has a story today about school districts around the country considering school bus advertising.)

The school committee will have a budget hearing at 5 p.m. (26 Court Street, Downtown) before their regular meeting and the budget vote.

Boston "beats" New York on length of public school wait lists

It's not just us. Some New York City public schools have very long wait lists too, according to this New York Times article. In fact, they're growing longer, owing to a fewer parents being able to afford private school tuition in a down economy and fewer families moving to the burbs.

One school on the Upper West Side has room for 130 kindergartners, and 111 are on the wait list. Compare that with the Lyndon or Kilmer, which each have space for only 44 K1 students and their wait lists easily top those of the New York schools. Based on the Kindergarten Demand Report, 282 families listed Kilmer as one of their top 3 picks in 2009-10 for K1. So that would leave a wait list of 238 if I'm figuring that right. The Lyndon's wait list went up to 242.

Some K2 wait lists in Boston can be even longer because most schools start at K1, leaving fewer open seats at K2.

We laugh at your puny wait-list numbers, New York. (And yet we share your pain.)

I've heard a few big wait-list numbers through the West Zone Parents Group. Someone commented here that they were #149 for an East Zone K0 spot. Anyone else care to share?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Staying on the wait lists

We got our letter from BPS in the mail yesterday. It appears we're in the Curley's integrated classroom. That's fine. It makes no difference to us in our decision.

We've decided not to take our names off any wait lists. My husband really likes one school on the wait list and I like the other just a little bit more. It was turning into a staring match that only the cat could win, and the cat has no opinion on schools. So rather than turn it into a big deal, we're just going to let BPS and the wait list system decide our fate. We'll be happy with whatever we wind up with: Curley, Haley, or Mozart. We're in the 40s on the Lyndon's wait list, so that's not even a consideration.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Boston gets anti-obesity grant; Will recess be expanded?

Boston has received a $6.4 million grant to help prevent obesity in the city, according to the Boston Public Health Commission. Part of that will be used to "enhance the integration of high-quality and frequent physical activity and education into the school day."  Does this finally mean that elementary recess will be longer than 20 minutes a day?

The grant will also help create more space for community and backyard gardening. Better yet, they should give some of the money to schools to help start or maintain schoolyard gardens.

Along these same lines, I'm eager to see Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, which will premiere on ABC next Friday. He goes into one of the unhealthiest cities in America, transforms the school lunches, and teaches the citizens how to cook at home.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Housekeeping note

The blog has been getting a lot of comments lately, and I'm having trouble keeping up with approving all of them.  Believe it or not, I actually don't want to be chained to my computer all day.  So I've turned the comment moderation function off --  comments will be posted automatically.  Please continue posting, but keep it cordial and no porn spam. That's why I turned on comment moderation in the first place.

Thanks,
The Management

We got our assignment

I called the Family Resource Center (617-635-8040) this morning and got our assignment. We got a spot at the Curley. We're very happy, but we don't know for sure whether we're going to take our name off the wait lists for other schools just yet. The Curley was our #8 choice out of 15 schools we selected. We would have been be thrilled with anything in the top 10.

Here are our wait list numbers for our top three schools:
1) Lyndon: 42
2) Haley: 5
3) Mozart: 3

There are some very good things about the Curley, and my husband and I are going to talk it over tonight. Our second and third choice schools have very low wait list numbers, so if we don't take our names off those lists, I think there is a very good chance we will be placed there, probably soon. I think we have to decide whether we're done with the whole uncertainty thing and want to take our names off the wait list, or that whether things we like about Haley and Mozart (proximity, for one thing) outweigh the uncertainty part. If our son has a lot of friends going to the Curley, that might be enough to sway our decision.

How did everyone else do?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Soon...

very soon.

Judging by the recent increase in site traffic, many of you are thinking the same thing I am.
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(edited to add:)  Apparently not so soon. I called the Family Resource Center at 4, like a lot of you, and was told that Court Street mailed school assignments to parents yesterday but the FRC couldn't look information up on the computers until Thursday or Friday. I don't really understand how the central office could have the information, but the resource centers don't. Am I calling the wrong place?

BPS to hold student assignment summit later this month

Boston Public Schools, along with several civil rights groups, will convene a Golden Opportunity summit to look at student assignment in this city on March 27.

Last year, Boston received a two-year federal grant to work with community members to improve school assignment options. They will also study how other urban schools equitably make school assignments. Eventually, the groups hope to make recommendations to the school committee on ways to redesign the student assignment and school choice policies.

They tried to redraw the assignment zones (from three zones to five) last year, in the middle of the registration period, but there was little notice given to parents ahead of time. For a while, it was even uncertain that existing students who lived outside their school's proposed zone would be grandfathered in and allowed to stay. Also, under the proposed plan, certain zones had a higher percentage of struggling schools. I’m glad they’re taking a more deliberative approach this time.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Haynes may lose violin program because of cuts; Nonprofit trying to raise funds

Music Drives Us is trying to raise $3000 for the Suzuki violin program at the Haynes Early Education Center. According to this nonprofit, Haynes is about to lose its strings program because of budget cuts.

Haynes teaches students from K0 (3 year olds) to first grade. Students ages 4 and up receive a 30-minute individual violin lesson and a 30-minute group lesson weekly.

You can make a donation through the Music Drives Us website.

Neighborhood House Charter School lottery

We received our final charter school lottery results this afternoon. We're number 29 on the wait list for Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester. We're happy that we got something lower than 70 this time. Neighborhood House has two K1 classes, so I suppose getting off the wait list is not out of the realm of possibility.  We may have found our Plan B.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Boston Renaissance Charter School lottery

We got our letter from Boston Renaissance Charter School today. We're number 71 on the waitlist.  At their current location downtown, they have 11 K1 classrooms, so being #71 may not be as bad as it sounds. However, I don't know how many K1 classes they'll have at their new Hyde Park location.

We're still waiting for the letter from BPS.

Roslindale K-8 feeder program approved

The Boston School Committee approved a K-8 feeder system for students at Roslindale elementaries on Wednesday. Fifth graders at the six Roslindale elementary schools (Bates, Philbrick, Mozart, Sumner, Haley, and Conley) will be offered priority admission to the Irving for sixth grade.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Conservatory Lab Charter School lottery

I drove up to Brighton to check out the Conservatory Lab Charter School's lottery, just for kicks and to see how it worked.

At 10:00, a woman from WGBH drew blue tickets out of a floral bag in their library. They had 18 non-sibling spots open at K1 and 130-some applicants. About a dozen parents attended, and of those, only one had her child's name pulled out. The rest of us are on the waitlist.

I did get my hopes up when they pulled the ticket of a child who had the same last name as my son. I kept thinking, "Maybe it's a mistake. Maybe I have seriously sloppy handwriting and they misread our application." But no, my handwriting was fine. They pulled my son's name out 10 minutes later. Our family is somewhere in the 70s. Oh well.

I think I can safely say that my child won't be attending Conservatory Lab next year. Congratulations to everyone who made it!

Another reason to pack a lunch

Twenty-two cafeterias in the Boston Public Schools failed inspections by the city this year, the Boston Herald reports. The central facility that prepares food for 21 schools without cafeterias also didn't make the grade.

The BTU, the Kilmer, and the Lyndon were the West Zone schools whose cafeterias failed inspection. The Herald said that at the Kilmer upper school, the hood vent hadn't been cleaned since 2007, and the BTU served pizza at 110 degrees, below the required 140.

BPS looking at shuttering some schools, Globe reports

Superintendent Carol Johnson told the Boston Globe that they're looking seriously at closing some schools: "The thing I worry about most is that this news is coming to families at a time when it could be unsettling. . . . I don’t want families to panic, but we have a responsibility to present the economic situation to the community and the School Committee."

The Globe then said that "Pursuing school closings at this point for next year could create headaches for many families because parents have already begun submitting school choices for next year."  That's putting it mildly. They said school closings for this fall would be a "last resort."

The School Committee is discussing the recommendations for cuts at their meeting tonight. They aim to have it finalized by March 24.

Monday, March 8, 2010

It's nearly mid-March...

Well, this will likely be an interesting week for us parents. BPS lottery results are expected to be mailed out soon, and some of the charter schools will hold their lotteries this week. Will the BPS lottery computer be benevolent or will it be a HAL 9000? "I'm sorry, Kelly. I'm afraid I can't do that." [Unassigned.]

I wish BPS was set up to email lottery results to families, or to at least give us the option of mail vs. email notification when we register. You'd think they'd save a lot on postage, not to mention the time the Family Resource Centers devote to fielding calls from anxious parents.

Speaking of anxious parents, I've tried to keep myself occupied lately and not obsess over my K1 choices. What's done is done. So I've caught up on a lot of reading, including TC Boyle's The Women and, embarrassingly, a certain series of teenage vampire novels. I'm nearing the end of my library cache, and I wouldn't mind any recommendations for new novels. I suppose I'm due for a good narrative non-fiction too. Any suggestions? I really need to keep my mind busy this week.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

City Year for Kids & winter vacation program at Haley and Ohrenberger

The Transcript has a little article on a winter vacation program for children at four BPS schools, including the West Zone's Haley and Ohrenberger. At City Year for Kids, students could participate in science lab, arts and crafts, teambuilding, active games, and performing arts classes. Children made origami, barley-filled maracas, Play-Doh, and homemade deodorant (good to know we could whip up a batch if we were suddenly in a pinch).

The vacation schedule for next year has been in the back of my mind, so it's reassuring to see that there are options out there.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

New principal for Kennedy; Trotter staff to reapply for jobs

As part of changes to the district's underperforming turnaround schools, five of the schools, including the Kennedy elementary in JP, will get new principals next year, the Globe reports. Meanwhile, all of the staff at six underperforming schools, including the Trotter, will have to reapply for their jobs. For more, check out the BPS news release.

Massachusetts a Race to the Top finalist

In brighter news, Massachusetts is among the 16 finalists for federal Race to the Top funds. Winners will be announced in April.

State's list of underforming schools released

The West Zone's Kennedy, Agassiz, and Trotter elementary schools and English High School are among the 12 Boston schools deemed "likely" underperforming by the state, WBZ reports. Most of these were included in the superintendent's list of 14 "turnaround schools." The new list also includes the Agassiz.

The Globe article says that the superintendents have three years to improve these schools. If they fail, the state could take over the schools. BPS superintendent Carol Johnson told the Globe that employees in roughly half of these schools will be asked to reapply for their positions.

School committee holds off on approving Roslindale's K-8 plan

The Boston School Committee delayed voting on whether Roslindale's six elementary schools should feed into the Irving Middle School, the Boston Globe reports. Some civil rights activists said it would create an unfair system in Roslindale because no other neighborhood has such an arrangement. However, Roslindale is the only neighborhood in the city without a K-8 school. The Beethoven/Ohrenberger, the Lyndon, and the Curley are the closest ones.

Here is what the superintendent told the school committee, according to the Globe:

"Superintendent Carol R. Johnson stressed last night that turning the six elementary schools into a feeder system for the Irving would benefit more than just Roslindale, pointing out that slightly more than half the students who attend those elementary schools reside outside Roslindale.
Many students, she said, come from Roxbury, a neighborhood with too many underperforming schools. Johnson also said the arrangement could help the city compete more aggressively with the state’s independently run charter schools, including the Renaissance, which is moving next fall from downtown Boston to a location near Roslindale."
The committee is expected to look at the issue again next week.

I know that for parents looking at elementary schools in the Roslindale area, the fact that they all end at fifth grade is a big concern.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Letter in support of Roslindale's library branch

As many of you know, Boston Public Library is facing a budget shortfall, and is looking at closing some neighborhood branches or reducing hours. I wrote a letter to the mayor, Rob Consalvo, and the president of BPL in support of the Roslindale branch. The BPL Trustees is meeting next Tuesday to discuss the issue.

There really is an education angle in here, I promise.

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Dear Mayor Menino, Counsilor Consalvo, and Ms. Ryan,

I'm writing to express my support for Roslindale's library branch. I know BPL is facing budget cuts this year, but I ask you to spare closing or cutting the hours of the Roslindale library. In terms of circulation, it's the eighth most utilized branch in the city. My family certainly utilizes this branch. (I have our card number memorized.) My 4-year-old son and I visit almost every week. He looks forward to our Friday excursions to read books and, yes, check out movies. He's benefited from their early reading program, and in a few weeks, we're heading to the aquarium thanks to a pass from the Roslindale library.

Its location in the heart of Roslindale makes it unique. It's an anchor for Roslindale Square. On Saturdays in the summer, we shop at the Farmer's market in Adams Park and then cross Washington Street for books. Occasionally, we visit the West Roxbury branch, but every time we do, I feel like we're cheating on Roslindale.

I know people have made the argument that students have access to school libraries, so why do they need public libraries. As you know, that's really not the case in Boston. Budget cuts and space constraints mean that many Boston schools, particularly in the West Zone, don't have their own libraries. Schools often help students get their own library cards, but what good will that do if these students don't have their own neighborhood library?

I know it's not the flashiest branch, but I, personally, will be heart-broken if Roslindale loses its neighborhood library.

Sincerely,
Kelly Young
Roslindale resident

Kennedy school among those to benefit from arts grant

Eight of the 14 "turnaround schools" will benefit from a grant from Target that will fund an artist residency and ticket access program, according to BPS. Students at John F. Kennedy Elementary, along with Orchard Gardens K-8 and Emerson Elementary, will participate in five-day artist residencies with Citi Performing Arts Center. At the end, students will put on a dance performance for their schools. Students will also attend a performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

Some of the turnaround schools in other zones will participate in programs involving The Lion King musical and City Spotlights. About 1000 BPS students are expected to participate in the program.

Monday, March 1, 2010

School committee to vote on Roslindale K-8 plan

Roslindale has some well-regarded elementary schools, but they all stop at grade 5. We're the only neighborhood, at least in the West Zone, without any steady K-8 option. At the last school committee meeting, the superintendent proposed creating a feeder pattern for Roslindale's six K-5 schools (Bates, Conley, Haley, Mozart, Philbrick, and Sumner) and the Washington Irving Middle School. Students from these elementary schools would be given priority over other students in admission to the Irving but would not be required to attend.

This project has been in the works for some time. Representatives from each of those schools have been working together this year to find ways to improve the Irving and make it a more attractive option for families. The Roslindale Transcript has a few more details.

The school committee is expected to vote on the plan at their Wednesday night meeting.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

No citywide status for Young Achievers & Mission Hill after all

Thanks to an alert reader for pointing this out. It appears that Young Achievers and Mission Hill won't be reverting back to citywide schools as planned because of budget pressures.  The proposal to go from zoned schools to citywide was supposed to be presented to the Boston School Committee this past Wednesday.

This is from the BPS registration website:

"* February 25, 2010: The proposal to restore citywide status to Young Achievers and Mission Hill K-8 Schools was not presented to the School Committee as has been previously planned. In light of the extreme financial challenges the district is facing, the Superintendent felt it would be premature to create additional city-wide options without knowing the full range of decisions that will need to be made that could impact student assignment. The schools will retain their current zone status."


Is this a busing issue again?  That was the rationale for initially changing these two citywide schools to zoned schools last year -- they would supposedly save money by not busing students from all over the city.

I guess I can scratch Young Achievers off my list. :-(  I really wished they hadn't teased me like that.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Our charter school applications are in

Sorry for the gap in posts. We were on vacation last week and I feel like I've been on an extended mental vacation since then. 

I realized this week that charter school applications are due and that I still hadn't completed our paperwork for Conservatory Lab.  (That app is due Friday, by the way.) We drove up to Brighton this morning to hand deliver it because I didn't think the post office could get it there it in time. Nothing like waiting until the last minute. The woman at the front desk had us pegged right away as a prospective family. We apparently had "the look." (Confusion? Desperation? Sogginess?)

Now, we wait.

I still haven't formally toured any charter schools. Since there's no harm in applying, we applied to all three that offer K1 -- Conservatory Lab, Renaissance, and Neighborhood House. If we happen to get into one of them, we'll have a closer look.  My biggest reservation is that none of these is particularly close to Roslindale.

However, Boston Renaissance is moving from Stuart Street to a new Hyde Park location next fall. I was hoping to get more information on this school and their move at the charter school showcase earlier this month, but they didn't have any representatives there (the flier had said otherwise). That would have been helpful to know before I made the trek down to U-Mass Boston on a Saturday. Demerit.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

BPS budget hearings rescheduled

The Boston School Committee has rescheduled most of its budget hearings until March. At the Mar. 10 school committee meeting, BPS CFO John McDonough will detail how the district will make up the remaining $32 million shortfall for FY2011. The public hearings will follow. Here are the new dates:

Thurs., Mar. 11, 6-8 pm
English High School Auditorium, Jamaica Plain

Mon., Mar. 15, 6-8 pm
Madison Park Vocational High School, Cardinal Hall, Roxbury

Wed., Mar. 24, 5-6 pm
Winter Chambers, 26 Court Street (prior to 6 pm School Committee meeting)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Advocating for smaller, but high quality, schools

The Globe has published a letter to the editor from Roslindale’s own Carter Wilkie advocating on behalf of the city’s smaller schools. BPS’ chief financial officer John McDonough had hinted at an earlier budget hearing that school size could play a part in determining which (if any) schools close in this year’s budget crisis.

"Underperforming schools that have proved impregnable to improvement efforts should be the first candidates for closing, not small schools that are performing well and attracting families in a time of declining public school enrollment," he writes. He cites the Mozart school as an example of a small, yet strong, school.

I hope BPS is listening.

Friday, February 5, 2010

BPS schools raising money for Haiti

Second-grade students at the Sumner have made a video to try to raise money for Partners in Health to help with earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. One of the student's parents is a doctor working with the organization in Haiti. They hope to raise $1000. So far, they're at $281. To donate, go to the Partners in Health website.
Other West Zone schools have also participated in fund-raising for Haiti.
  • The Beethoven raised $2,045 with a "Hats for Haiti" Day. Students who contributed to the Haiti relief fund could wear their favorite crazy hat.
  • The Ohrenberger had a "No Uniform Day" and raised $2,300. Students who made a contribution did not have to wear their school uniform for a day. 
  • The Kennedy school had a pajama day, in which students who gave $1 or more got to ditch their school uniforms for a day and wear pajamas. Sounds like blogging. They raised $610.
  • The Lyndon school held a penny drive.
Good job, kids.