Flurry of meetings to focus on school assignment reforms

By 
Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Mar. 22, 2012

School assignment reform hearing at English High: Dr. Lisa Gonsalves, associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the College of Education and Human Development at UMass Boston, spoke Monday as Kim Janey, of Massachusetts Advocates for Children, looked on. Eric Esteves photoSchool assignment reform hearing at English High: Dr. Lisa Gonsalves, associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the College of Education and Human Development at UMass Boston, spoke Monday as Kim Janey, of Massachusetts Advocates for Children, looked on. Eric Esteves photoDorchester’s Harbor Pilot Middle School will be one of four places on Saturday where parents will have a chance to weigh in on the Menino administration’s attempt to overhaul the school assignment process. The community meeting will last from 9 a.m. to noon at the Fields Corner school on Charles Street. Vietnamese translators will be available, the school department said.

“This is really the opportunity that residents have to be a part of the change that will be presented later this year,” said Matthew Wilder, a Boston Public Schools spokesman, referencing the ongoing work of an advisory group on a plan to revamp the placement policy that the School Committee would take up at the end of the year.

Saturday’s meeting likely will follow the template set on March 10 at the Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury. Attendees will first meet in a large group before splitting off into smaller groups. The conversations of the small groups will be reported back to the larger group and then folded into the work of the mayorally appointed advisory committee.

Members of the 27-person advisory panel and the school committee, which is also mayorally appointed, could be in attendance. The advisory committee is co-chaired by Dean Hardin Coleman of Boston University and Helen Dajer, a former Boston School Committee member and BPS parent who co-chaired the 2004 student assignment task force with Dr. Ted Landsmark.

In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Menino again called for a “radically different” school assignment process, cited rising transportation costs, and pledged to have the overhaul done this year.
The next meeting of the advisory group is scheduled for April 23 at English High School.

The school assignment policy divides the city into three zones for elementary and middle school students, while high schools are citywide. As of 2001, race and ethnicity have no longer been factors, and a new algorithm for assigning students has been in place since 2007, according to the school department.

The concerns of parents whose voices will be heard at the community meetings will likely echo the laments of those who have spoken up at past attempts to revamp the school assignment policy. As the 2004 task force noted in its report at the time, “The paramount concern among all who commented was that all schools need to be of high quality.”

The other locations for community hearings and public comment this Saturday include the Shelburne Community Center on Washington Street in Roxbury, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; East Boston High School on White Street, from 9 a.m. to noon; and the Jackson/Mann K-8 School, on Armington Street in Allston, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

On the following Saturday, March 31, the Mildred Ave. K-8 School in Mattapan will be the site of a community meeting, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Additional meetings, tentatively planed for April, are still in the works.

The City Council, which has an Education Committee chaired by Councillor At-Large John Connolly, is expected to hold its own hearings on the school assignment policy.

More information on the BPS effort is available at bostonpublicschools.org/choice.