By Nate Leskovic
Special to the Reporter
Critics are chipping away at sections of
Superintendent Carol Johnson's "Pathways to
Excellence" plan this week. A proposal to reserve
more seats in schools for those who live nearby is
being labeled discriminatory and school communities
have continued to rally against proposed
As part of her plan to trim the budget and
increase achievement, Superintendent Carol Johnson
has called for bumping the percentage of seats in
schools reserved for those within walking distance
from 50 to 60 percent, effectively reducing choice
for other students, according to City Councillor
Turner said Boston Public Schools has not shown
him the ratio of students to available seats in
each neighborhood of the city. He suspects there
are fewer spaces available in neighborhoods with
more people of color, such as Dorchester, Mattapan
"You're lessening the opportunity of parents to
find seats in another zone," said Turner. "Isn't
that, on its face, discriminatory to those
neighborhoods that don't have (as many schools) and
preferential treatment for those that do? If
students can request transfers from underperforming
schools, but you're lowering the opportunities for
certain neighborhoods, it seems that the policy is
a direct contradiction to state educational
It was a similar situation that led to the
lawsuit and subsequent busing decision in 1974,
"Decisions were being made that negatively
impacted students of color while not impacting
white students in the same way," he said.
Johnson called the criticism "troubling" at a
City Council hearing last week.
"(The comments) suggest that what I've laid out
here is going back to a period of history that
doesn't reflect what I feel I've invested in the
academic program that's before you," she said.
Johnson was scheduled to present her plan to the
School Committee last night, after the Reporter
went to print. She is expected to announce changes
to the original program, which has also stirred
controversy with plans to close or several schools
including the Stone and Shaw elementary schools,
the Noonan Business Academy and the Academy of
Public Service (APS). The School Committee is set
to vote on the plan, which Johnson estimates will
save $13.8 million over five years, on Nov. 5.
Councilor Charles Yancey questioned the impact
of the expected savings, comparing it to the more
than $2 billion city budget.
"We're really looking at an infinitesimal sum of
money in the broad picture," he said.
The walk zone change itself would not
immediately save funds, according to BPS spokesman
Chris Horan, but would lower transportation costs
over time as school enrollment shifts with each
The walk zone proposal is "vehemently" opposed
by the Boston Parent Organizing Network (BPON),
according to Interim Director Holly Lockwood, who
said parents should be able to pick a school that
is best for their children.
"We're seeing this as an issue which, on the
surface, appears to limit school choice for
parents," she said. "It looks like it has a
Horan said the walk zone proposal is not based
on financial considerations alone.
"I think we're hearing from more parents who
have interest in having access to schools closer to
their home so it's easier to be involved," he said.
"The superintendent is also interested in kids
spending less time on buses. They could be involved
in after-school activities instead."
Turner said he wants more detailed information
from the department about the rationale for each
proposal and the educational strategies of the
plan, including how it intends to boost achievement
in underperforming schools. He is especially
concerned that closing the Noonan and APS and
moving students into new buildings could influence
some to drop out.
"I think people are generally supportive, but
want more information," he said about the program,
adding much of the apprehension surrounding the
walk zone proposal is based only on a belief it
would impact some neighborhoods more than
"You have to assume assumptions are correct if
you ask for data and you don't get it," he said.
"If the department wants to go forward with a
policy that is discriminatory because it saves
money then I'm afraid we're heading back to court.
I feel we have a responsibility to continue to
fight for equal opportunity for students of
"Get the data or have the courage to take it off
the table for a couple months," said BPON's
At a public meeting held at the Pauline A. Shaw
school on Tuesday evening, the children's colorful
signs adorning the fence in front remained despite
the wind and rain. Likewise, the community there
remained persistent in battling the scheduled
closure of the school.
"The look of the school is not necessarily
impressive," said parent Marion Tinsley. But once
inside, you realize how passionate the teachers
are. They are educators who truly care about the
Honestly, I just haven't felt that
from an educational environment in a long
Supporters met with the superintendent on
Tuesday to plead their case and deliver a petition
with more than 600 signatures, despite the
likelihood their struggle may be futile.
"The truth of the matter is that the school is
going to close," said Rep. Willie Mae Allen, who
attended the meeting along with other civic leaders
including councilors Yancey and Sam Yoon. Hinting
at a possible change in her plan, Johnson suggested
moving the entire school into the Mildred Avenue
Middle School, instead of merging Shaw students
into the larger Mattahunt Elementary School. She
said the idea had yet to be discussed with the
Mildred and Ellison/Parks Early Education School
communities, which had requested and were expecting
to merge into a K-8 school next year. Moving the
Shaw would delay the Mildred-Ellison/Parks
The superintendent explained the closing is part
of a larger strategy to increase achievement and
the graduation rate in a system with a steadily
declining enrollment. She said around 60 percent
graduate from high school in four years.
"Seventy-five percent of parents chose BPS,"
said Johnson. "We want 90 percent."
Shaw parents were apprehensive about moving into
the Mildred and were concerned its older students,
attachment to the community center and proximity to
Norfolk Park would impact the safety of their young
"Are we going to wait until something bad
happens?" asked parent Elton Bocage, PTO chair.
"You say 'No Child Left Behind,' but I fear my
child might get left behind. Being in a big school
is not for her," said parent Karen Morson.
Johnson stressed if the Shaw is transplanted,
parents would still be able to choose a different
school on their choice cards.
"But they'll know the teachers at Mildred," she
said. "It won't feel as big as if they were going
on their own to a new school."
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