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.



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.