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.