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.