Weighing pros and cons of school choice: Parents offer views at Neponset meeting

More than 100 Boston school parents turned out at the Leahy-Holloran Community Center on Monday night to hear school officials and City Councillor At-Large John Connolly offer updates on the push to overhaul the city’s school assignment system.

A mayorally appointed group known as the External Advisory Committee is seeking to come up with a plan for Superintendent Carol Johnson to take to the School Committee. Separately, Connolly, who chairs the Council’s Education Committee, state Reps. Linda Dorcena Forry and Nick Collins, and other elected officials are offering their own plan to revamp the 23-year-old school assignment system.

The current system breaks the city up into three zones, with Dorchester and Mattapan in the East Zone. The school department has put several proposals on the table, but the advisory group is now looking at several hybrids, including variants of a 23-zone system. The timetable has Johnson presenting a final recommendation to the School Committee by mid-December, after another round of public meetings.

Some parents at the meeting were hopeful, while others were skeptical of the scheduling.

“We’re not going to have this opportunity again,” said Julie Joyce, a mother of two living in Lower Mills. She would like changes the school system to happen sooner rather than later, since she has a three year old and a two year old and is deciding whether to move to Milton or put her children into parochial schools. “It has taken us 20 years to get this far,” she said in frustration.

But Sean Weir, head of the Cedar Grove Civic Association, urged school officials to slow down. “Let’s face it: The school system has been messed up a long time. I don’t see rushing it.”

Kenny Jervis, a Roger Clap School parent and vocal critic of the school department, pressed for a halt to the process.

“You need quality schools before you change the system,” he said.

But Annissa George, a parent who lives in the Polish Triangle, said the speed of deliberations is “fine” with her. “I think it’s good that they’re discussing it” while adding that she hoped the final plan will be flexible.

“Sometimes a blanket plan doesn’t fix everything,” she said.
City Councillor Frank Baker organized the meeting, saying the top question from parents he heard while running for the District 3 Council seat was where their children would go to school. “This is something that is going to affect us all,” he said.

Connolly, in pushing the plan he and other elected officials are backing, said it guarantees an end to wait-listing, junks school zones, and instead guarantees students a seat at one of the four of the closest schools or at one of the 16 citywide “magnet” schools.

The councillor urged parents to sign a petition in support of the plan, which has already garnered 7,000 signatures from Boston residents. He said the signatures provide the leverage that will push for at least several elements of the plan to be included in the proposal that will be presented to the School Committee.

School officials hope to have any significant changes to the system in place by the fall of 2014. Current students would be “grandfathered” and allowed to stay in they already attend.

More information is available on the website school officials have set up for the overhaul: bostonschoolchoice.org. Related coverage of the school assignment overhaul is on dotnews.com.