Last year in Boston, 25.4 percent of eligible parents made no choice at all when it came to selecting a public school for their kids entering sixth grade for the critical middle school years.
That’s not a good thing; those students ended up being administratively assigned – and in most cases those assignments were to the least desirable schools in Boston.
There are plenty of things we can’t control when it comes to parenting, like acne and bullying. Choosing your child’s school is something you can control.
The first registration period in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) comes in January. If your child is in a critical transition year—heading to kindergarten, Grade 6, or Grade 9— then registration began last week and runs to Jan. 29. If your child is in any other grades, registration runs from Feb. 3 to March 18.
If you miss these important registration periods, you can still apply to BPS but you probably won’t get your first choice. Most of the top-performing schools in the district have long waiting lists and usually, after the registration periods are over, only the lower-performing schools have seats available.
There are many factors to consider when selecting a quality school for your child. In 2014, BPS created a School Quality Working Group made up of BPS parents, academic experts, and business and community leaders. The group identified five key criteria for judging the quality of a school:
• Student Performance. How has the school performed on the MCAS? Although test scores are not the only way to evaluate a school, they do reveal important information about the level of achievement and how much progress students are making from year to year. Don’t just look at the test scores. Look for trends that show the scores are improving over time. If you’re selecting a high school, look at graduation rates and college matriculation rates.
• Teaching and Learning. Is the curriculum culturally relevant and engaging? Are there unique opportunities like experiential learning, and internships offered? Is there a focus on science and technology? Does the school offer AP or Advanced Work Classes?
• Community, Culture and Climate. Is there a sense of school pride? Do students and staff celebrate academic achievement? Is there strong parent and student engagement? Does the school have an active Parent Council?
• Student Access and Opportunities. What types of after school and enrichment programs does the school offer? Does the school provide classes in the arts like dance, music, visual art, and drama? Does the school have a library?
• Leadership and Collaboration. Who is the school principal and who are on the leadership team, and what is their vision for the school? Are teachers empowered to collaborate and learn together? Which community partners does the school affiliate with? Often, these partners bring a wide array of offerings that enhance the learning experience.
In addition to these five factors, there are other things to consider. How close is the school to your home? Hopefully, you will want to be an active parent, so it helps if you can get to the school easily for parent-teacher conferences, school plays, and other events. Do you have other friends and family members who have children at the same school? Having a strong sense of community and support is important.
Ultimately, you can never know the whole truth about a school by visiting the website or reading a brochure. Go visit the school and see for yourself. All schools in BPS hold Open Houses in December and January, where you can tour the school and meet the principal and staff. If you’ve already missed these dates, you can still contact the school for a private visit.
You can tell a lot about a school from the moment you step foot in the front door. Does the school staff welcome you when you arrive? Does the physical space seem inviting and conducive to learning? When you look down the hall or into classrooms, are students orderly and engaged in learning, or is there a sense of chaos. If you can bring your child with you for a school visit, that’s even better. Your child will have a good sense of where he feels most comfortable, and so will you.
Be proactive. Don’t get left out of the process. For more information about student assignments in the Boston Public Schools, visit: bostonpublicschools.org or a BPS Welcome Center in your neighborhood.
Ayele Shakur is chairman of the Education Committee for the Boston NAACP and Regional Executive Director for BUILD. Follow her on Twitter @AyeleShakur