Wednesday, January 27, 2010

3 new in-district charter schools proposed for 2011

BPS Superintendent Carol Johnson proposed the creation of up to three new in-district charter schools for the 2011-12 school year in a presentation to the Boston School Committee Wednesday night.

She also provided sketches of what might happen at the 14 underperforming “turnaround schools.” Here were some of her recommendations to the school committee:
  • “Fresh Start” at 6 schools, meaning that every employee must reapply for their position.
  • Merge 2 schools with 2 higher performing schools, turning them into K-8s.
  • Remove teachers who are ineffective.
  • Create an RFP to find “highly effective charter management organizations and innovative models from BPS teachers to operate schools serving students with persistent achievement gaps.”
  • Work with existing charter schools in professional development and technical assistance.
She did not name specific schools for each item, at least not in the BPS news release.

For more details on the meeting, see this story from the Boston Globe.

Young Achievers school preview - Jan. 21

When Young Achievers went citywide again, I knew I had to check it out. When I was tucking in my son a few months ago, he asked, very seriously, “Mommy, will my next school have math?” I laughed out loud and said, “Oh, honey. They ALL have math.” (That’s one thing they all have in common.) No joke -- he actually gasped in delight. So, he seems to be curious at least about science and math.

Young Achievers is a K-8 pilot school focused on those subjects. Last year, they moved from JP to the old Lewenberg middle school in Mattapan. After the move, they absorbed the Lewenberg students into the 7th and 8th grade classes. The school is actually not that far from their old place on Walk Hill Ave., current home to the BTU school.

With some creative schedule wrangling, we made it to Young Achievers’ open house on Thursday. I confess – I was exhausted, so my notes from this visit are scant.

For starters, it’s a big school. This year, there were 550 students. Since we went at night, we didn’t get a chance to see the classes in action, which is a shame.

As a science and math pilot school, they try to embed math and science into other units of study. At the kindergarten level, their science development includes a touch table, neighborhood walks, cooking, plants, weather, that sort of thing.

There are five kindergarten classrooms, but K1 students are in the same rooms as K2 students. About one-third of students are K1, and roughly two-thirds are K2. At kindergarten, they learn a lot about nature and social justice. Their special subjects include yoga, tennis, dance, drumming, and tai kwon do. They also get PE... their gym has beautiful murals. Again, because we couldn’t observe students in their natural environment, I couldn’t really tell you how it was different from a non-pilot school. From my bleary eyes, the kindergarten classrooms looked similar to other schools I’ve visited.

Like most Boston public schools, they serve a wide range of learners. One-fourth of students receive special education, but they operate under an inclusion model. Students who are more advanced have the opportunity to go up to reading groups at higher grades.

They’re not certain of school hours next year. This year, the hours are 8:30-4:30 Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, students only attend classes from 8:30-12:00. The after-school program runs until at least 6 every day. From Monday through Thursday, after-school activities include Playworks, mentoring, Read Boston, and intramural athletics for the upper grades. On Friday after school, there are programs with the Boston Nature Center, Berklee School of Music, as well as tae kwon do and field trips. The before-school drop-in starts at 7 a.m.

Although the school day ends at 4:30, the last hour of the school day seems to be devoted to enrichment for the younger grades (some of those specials I talked about) and clubs for grades 5-8 (e.g., Boston Urban Music Project, First Lego League (!), girls’ self defense, theatre and performing arts, to name a few).

As far as lottery assignments go, their school bulletin that they handed out says that 50% of students will come from the neighborhood (not sure if “neighborhood” means walk zone or East Zone) and 50% will come from the whole city. You’ll have to check with the FRC or somewhere else for an accurate breakdown.

I’ve sort of made my peace with potentially sending him to a school in Roxbury since I’ve had some time to get used to the idea. We put a couple Roxbury schools on our list. I’m not quite as comfortable with Mattapan yet. Perhaps it was driving to the school at night in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Every parent has their own comfort level with these things. Some probably wouldn’t step foot in my neighborhood, which is certainly not crime-free.

Blue Hill Ave. is just one area that makes me a little uneasy, especially when we’re talking about my kid. The school is set back off Blue Hill Ave. in a residential neighborhood on a hill. That neighborhood felt safe. From this crime map, you can see that incidents mostly occur along the Blue Hill Ave. corridor and don't usually extend into the Outlook Road area. I probably just need to shift my thinking: “it’s just on the other side of the Boston Nature Center” sounds much nicer than “it’s a couple blocks off Blue Hill Ave.”

From the reviews of current parents, this school seems well-loved.

Note: the school's citywide status is not yet finalized. The Boston School Committee still has to vote on it.

Boston School Committee still has to approve Mission Hill, Young Achievers changes

I haven't been to the BPS registration website in a few days, but I see that they've finally updated it to include information on the changes to Young Achievers, Mission Hill, and the Manning. Changing Mission Hill and Young Achievers back to citywide schools is not a done deal -- the Boston School Committee has not yet approved it. The changes are scheduled to be presented to the school committee on Feb. 3 and a vote is slated for the Feb. 24 meeting. So I guess there's still a chance that they could stay zoned schools next year.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Back at the Family Resource Center

Given a choice Friday between cleaning my house to get ready for company or going back to the West Zone Family Resource Center to make changes to my son’s K1 registration, I chose the latter. (I’ll do just about anything to get out of cleaning.)

I was seriously brave and brought my son with me. We came prepared with snacks, books, coloring, you name it. I warned him that it might be a long wait. He seemed to think this was a good idea.

The staff was so nice to him. They had crayons and paper already set out on a table. He was perfectly content.

We had to sign in as transfers since we’d already gone through the initial registration. We added the two new schools available to us (Manning and Young Achievers (YA school preview write-up to appear sometime this week)) and took off a school from the end of our list. I hadn’t visited that school. It was one I had tacked on at the last minute -- an impulse school.

We were in and out of there in 20 minutes this time. Friday afternoons are apparently less crowded than Monday mornings.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Plan for "turnaround schools" to be revealed

This Wednesday, Superintendent Carol Johnson will announce the district's plan for improving 14 underperforming schools, including the West Zone's Kennedy and Trotter elementaries and English High School. The Boston School Committee meeting will be held at English High in JP from 6 to 8 p.m., Jan. 27.

Friday, January 22, 2010

We're in the Globe

The Boston Globe has a feature on my little blog project. To the new visitors, welcome. I'm very flattered by the attention. I'm also very glad my hair didn't look terrible in the picture and that I didn't sound like a total buffoon. At least, I don't think I did. Others will probably disagree.

It's sort of like a job interview in that you think of all the things you should have said well after the fact. For instance, I should have said that it's important for our family to feel connected to our community -- that's one of the big reasons we're choosing public schools. Oh well.

There was just one misunderstanding in the article. I did write about the recent Curley stabbing, and I kept that post up. The post I took down referred to an incident involving some students from the Irving middle school and it happened well off school property.  It may have even been on a day when school was out. That's why I took it down.

So now that my cover is blown, if you see me in the street, please say hi. 


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Manning school preview - Jan. 20

I drank the Manning Kool-Aid. And it was good.

For starters, the residential neighborhood felt very safe, the staff was welcoming and accommodating, and their after-school programs are phenomenal. Here is the winter line-up (K1 will “likely” be able to participate in after-school next year, the principal told us):
  • Monday: BU Wizard Science program, BU arts & craft studio, Spontaneous Celebrations stilt walking & drumming
  • Tuesday: Spanish in Motion, karate, Showa, French
  • Wednesday: Lego club (before school), yoga, I think musical instruments were mentioned, but I don’t see it on the official list
  • Thursdays: Chess club before school, Showa, French, fencing
  • Fridays: Tony Williams School of Dance, Ballet Rox, hip hop, movies
Why can’t all schools model their after-school programs after this one? Money? Organization?

About half of this year’s third graders were offered placement in advanced work. I think the Manning has done a good job in recent years of convincing children to stay instead of leave for AWC in the fourth grade. The special classes for all students are science, music, art, gym, and library.

They just added a K1 integrated classroom. It may be going on the ground floor where the second grade currently is.
Now I have to snap back to reality because there’s no way we’re getting into that school at K1. There are 15 spots, 8 of those will go to regular education K1 students, 7 to special education K0 and K1 students. The principal, who just started this year, said there are at least three incoming siblings guaranteed K1 spots. That leaves, at best, 5 spots. We’re not in the walk zone, so we’re probably competing for 1-4 open seats. In other words, we have no chance.

I love this school so much, but I can’t bring myself to put it in my top three (You get put on the wait list for your top three schools.). I can’t see wasting a wait list spot like that, no matter how much I love a school. Strategy-wise, if you’re intent on sending your child to the Manning at K1, you almost have to put it as your #1 choice to have a shot at getting in. I already have one Hail Mary school in my top 3, so I have to be practical about this. Sadly, the Manning will likely be choice #4 for us.

There’s always next year. The K2 classroom has a normal number of seats.

For more on the Manning, see the post from my visit in 2008.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

School previews for Young Achievers & Manning

Young Achievers, which was just redesignated a citywide school, is having a school preview from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. this Thursday. I called to check, and that's their final preview. Logistically, that's a tough one for me, so if anyone convinces them to hold one more, please let me know.

The Manning, which just added an integrated special education/regular ed K1, will have an additional school preview this Thursday at 10 a.m. Thursdays aren't really feasible for me, so I'm going Wednesday (tomorrow) at 11 a.m. if anyone cares to join me. You might want to call the school and let them know you're coming.

I didn't call Mission Hill to check on preview times since that starts at K2 and is not an option for us this year.

You'd think that BPS would make it a priority to publicize all these changes they've made mid-registration period. I would expect a big flashing "Attention parents" message at the top of their registration website. Yet the following week, there is still nothing.  Not even a buried press release. How exactly are parents supposed to make educated decisions about their children's education? Word of mouth, apparently.

Totally OT: If you haven't already voted today, please go do so.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mass. education bill approved

Last week, the Massachusetts state legislature approved an education bill that will lift the statewide cap on charter schools, thus enabling Boston to open at least four in-district charter schools, according to the Boston Globe.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Young Achievers, Mission Hill now citywide, Manning offering K1 next year. Back to the FRC I go.

When I registered on Monday, Young Achievers and Manning were not on my list of school options. Young Achievers moved to Mattapan last year and went from a citywide school to a zoned school.  Manning, as far as I knew, began at K2.  Surprise surprise when I went into the "Where Are My Schools?" application today to find these two schools suddenly on my list of K1 options.

I called the Family Resource Center and they confirmed that Young Achievers had been granted citywide status again for the 2010-11 school year.  Woot!  Mission Hill has also returned to a citywide school, but it doesn't start until K2.

In other fabulous K1 news, the Manning is adding an integrated K1 classroom for the fall. I called the school and they confirmed this. This means eight extra regular ed slots.  Double woot!

For those of us suckers who already registered, we can return to the FRC with an ID and they'll take our additions.

I love how they publicize these sudden changes they make in the middle of the registration period.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

“Godspeed” indeed. Our K1 registration is complete.

“Godspeed,” my husband said to me as I left the house Monday to register our son for kindergarten. He didn’t know how right he was.

Because in the amount of time it took me to register, I could have launched in a rocket, circled the Earth once, and splashed down in the ocean. Instead, I spent a lovely two hours in the DMV-like Family Resource Center Monday morning. Believe it or not, I had preregistered online using BPSExpress. “Express” may be a bit of a stretch, but I’m certain I would have been there longer had I not preregistered.

I think my mistake was coming on a Monday morning. Perhaps the crowds thin out later in the week. Just in case, bring a book or a friend, or both.

When it was finally my turn, we didn’t have any major paperwork problems. My son isn’t yet 4, so he hasn’t had his 4-year vaccinations. I brought his vaccination records from his 3-year visit. I don’t think it’s necessary, but it seemed to put the person processing me at ease.

I hit a minor snag when I brought an online bank statement showing our mortgage payment. Instead of listing the date the payment was processed, the payment was so recent that it still said “pending.” The FRC person wasn’t too keen on that. Luckily, I had a back-up paper statement with a date on it.

After you register, they give you a children’s book (we got Zen Ties) and a literacy calendar that’s pretty cool. Every month, the calendar recommends a different book to read with your child and then they can draw a picture of their favorite part of the story on the calendar.

As far as our list of schools goes, I don’t think I would be doing myself any favors by posting our list in its entirety before the lottery. I will say that we listed 17 options, two of which I haven’t yet visited.

Overall, I’m very relieved to have this part behind us. I’m not feeling any regrets about our choices … yet. Now I feel like I should check out some charter schools (plan B). Their deadlines are approaching as well. I’ve listed some of them in this calendar. We have an appointment to visit the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton on Friday. We’ll see how that goes.

Advanced Work recommendations

At last week’s School Committee meeting, a committee on the Advanced Work Class program recommended increasing the number of AWC seats in neighborhoods that don’t have enough, like Roslindale and West Roxbury. They’re also looking at:
  •  new testing options for AWC to increase access to the program;
  • bringing the AVID program to all elementary schools;
  • revamping the AWC Spanish bilingual program for English language learners.
The superintendent will ultimately decide whether to implement some or all of these recommendations.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Could Mission Hill & Young Achievers possibly regain citywide status?

As part of a federal grant to study student assignment in Boston, the superintendent is revisiting “the citywide admissions process that was changed at the Young Achievers and Mission Hill K-8 Pilot Schools,” according to notes from last Wednesday’s School Committee meeting. Last year, Young Achievers and Mission Hill went from citywide to zoned schools, purportedly to reduce spending on transportation. Mission Hill is now a North Zone school, although West Zone students can still attend if they live within the school’s walk zone (1-mile radius). Young Achievers moved from JP to Mattapan, making it an East Zone school. I know a lot of parents were upset by these sudden changes last year.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Available K1 seats per child in West Zone

Someone asked this at last Thursday’s West Zone Parents Group meeting: what are the odds of getting a K1 spot? In other words, how many K1 spots are available per applicant? Just for fun, I tried to figure this out, using the Kindergarten Demand Report. This does not take into account sibling or walk zone preference. The citywide school, Hernandez, also skews the results a bit because for that school you have applicants from all three zones.

According to the chart, there were 450 K1 slots available in the West Zone, including the Hernandez. There were 590 people seeking K1 seats. I got this number by adding up the number of students listing each school as their first choice. By these numbers, there were 0.76 slots for every child that applied last year.

If you don’t include the Hernandez, there are 427 K1 spots and 532 applicants. That means 0.8 K1 seats for every child who applies.

The message to BPS – please add more K1 seats, soon.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Future environmental sciences K-12 academy? Cool.

City Councilor John Connolly is floating the idea of building an environmental sciences K-12 academy at the old site of the Boston State Hospital in Mattapan, according to the Boston Phoenix. Isn’t that the location of the Boston Nature Center? Would this academy co-exist with the Nature Center, which is run by the Mass Audubon Society? I’d certainly like to hear more.

Right now, the rough price tag is $100 million, but as Chuck Turner pointed out in the article, there’s $500 million in school repairs waiting to be done.

I would love to see the city embark on a project like this.  Good luck with that, sir.

House passes ed reform bill

The Massachusetts House of Representatives just passed the education reform bill that would lift the cap on the number of charter schools in underperforming districts. The bill still has to be reconciled with the Senate version. They’re working on a pretty tight deadline. In order to qualify for federal Race to the Top funds (potentially $250 million for Mass.), the governor has to sign the legislation into law by the middle of January. Boston’s counting on this money to help turnaround 14 schools and help create in-district charter schools.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

School Committee to look at Advanced Work Classes tonight

The Boston School Committee will hear a report on potential changes to the Advanced Work program tonight. This report was scheduled to be presented at an earlier meeting, but it got bumped, probably because of discussion over the 5-year acceleration agenda and 14 lower-performing "turnaround" schools. Superintendent Carol Johnson is waiting to see whether the Massachusetts Education Reform Act passes before making recommendations on the turnaround schools.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Calendar snafus

As you may have noticed, the calendar on the right-hand side of this blog has not been functional for some time. My meager attempts to fix it have been futile, so if you're looking for West Zone events (e.g., school previews, WZPG meetings, application deadlines), check out the Google Calendar.

Two join School Committee

Two community members were sworn in as members of the Boston School Committee on Monday: Roxbury resident John Barros, executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, and Mary Tamer, a freelance education writer who lives in West Roxbury. Tamer’s two children attend the Kilmer, so we have some West Zone representation on the board.

 The Globe had advocated for the appointment of Meg Campbell and Mark Culliton, who are leaders in charter schools.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Kindergarten registration begins tomorrow

I won’t be standing in line tomorrow at the West Zone Family Resource Center (515 Hyde Park Ave., Roslindale) to register my son for K1, but other people will. The first round of registration for Kindergarten begins tomorrow and continues through February 5. I’d like to talk to some other parents this week to get a sense of what they’re thinking. Then I’ll take the plunge.  There's a West Zone Parents Group meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at Curtis Hall in JP for anyone who'd like to discuss school choices.

Over winter break, I gathered the necessary registration documents. BPS has a list of what you’ll need to bring.  My son isn’t yet 4, so I'll provide the vaccination records later. I was told you could do that -- we’ll see if that's actually the case.

My husband and I weren’t exactly clear on one of the items required for proof of residency. For those who’ve been through this process before -- does “a record of the most recent mortgage payment” just mean the monthly statement from the mortgage company or do they want actual proof that you paid? I’m not saying we didn’t pay. I’m just wondering what I should bring. [Edited to add: I found the answer to my question. This is from a BPS website on residency FAQ: "What can I use for proof of recent rent or mortgage payment? You may present a copy of a money order, cancelled check, or rent receipt. You also may present a copy of a bank statement that shows an automatic deduction for rent or mortgage payment."]