BPS reveals feedback about school assignment planning

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By Tayla Holman, Special to the Reporter
Jul. 19, 2012

About 20 parents showed up to the Mildred Elementary School on Thursday, July 12 for the Boston Public Schools “what we’re hearing” meeting. Jocelyn Wright, the senior director in the Deputy Superintendent’s office, and Mary Ann Crayton, director of the Circle of Promise and Community Engagement, presided over the meeting.

Wright said that for the last seven months, BPS has been getting feedback from parents – online and in person – about how to improve student assignment planning. According to her, many parents felt there was no evenness to the process.

“Parents felt like there was no predictability,” Wright said. “People have said, ‘I picked five schools and didn’t get any of them, and now I’m administratively assigned to one’ and they didn’t like that.”

On the other hand, Wright said, there are a few parents who have gotten either their top choice or a school at the top of their list, but it doesn’t work that way for many other families.

Kate Deeran, 26, who lives less than a mile from the Josiah Quincy School, said that she was unable to send her daughter there for K-1.

“I thought because I lived close to it, about half a mile away, that we would have gotten accepted there, but we didn’t,” she said. “That was my first choice, so it’s frustrating.”

Similar to Deeran’s concern, many parents were frustrated that some of the schools were further than they wanted to send their children. Wright said that in many cases, parents would choose a school that was underperforming as long as it was close to home. Those parents often didn’t want to send their children across the city on a bus as they were concerned about safety.

“To some parents, safety on the bus was about making sure their kids weren’t getting bullied, and that they were making it to school safely,” Wright said.

Of the nearly 2,000 parents that have given BPS their feedback, the general consensus has been that they value choice above anything else. For many, the ability to choose their neighborhood school so that their child could remain in the community was a main priority, even above the quality of the school. Some parents also said that they liked the priorities given for choosing a school, such as sibling or walking zone priority, while others felt that they limited their opportunities.

Palma McLaughlin Koenig, who has four children in different public and private schools, said the priorities weren’t a big issue for her.

“If a school fits my needs, that’s where I want my kids to go,” she said. She also said even though the city has been closing underperforming schools, “even the worst school can be right for the right person.”

Overall, Wright and Crayton said that parents felt that the assignment planning should focus on making sure every child has the same opportunities to get a good education. Wright said that parents felt a quality education meant “preparing students to reach their full potential, and serving the needs of the whole student – not just academics – for all students.”

The two acknowledged that this is the first time the city has attempted something so bold, and that naturally it would take a while for changes to take place. After all of the feedback and data is analyzed, 125 schools will be impacted by whatever changes are implemented.

An analysis of the feedback BPS has gotten is available throughbostonschoolchoice.org. A list of the remaining “what we’re hearing” meetings can also be found on the site.