The recently released proposed options for Improving School Choice raises too many questions, and provides not enough answers or information, to justify a rushed process to push through a decision in changing how students are assigned to Boston Public Schools.
There is a significant problem on how the traditional middle schools (Grades 6-8) are being addressed in this process and how they are identified in this process.
For example, the Lilla Frederick Pilot Middle School is one of the more highly-picked and sought-after schools in the West Zone. Some parents, from all parts of the West Zone, keep their students in the school rather than having them go to other schools (including exam schools). There has been a waiting list for students who wish to be assigned to this school. There is a disproportionate number of English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities who are assigned to the LGFPMS, because of the quality of the programs that are offered at the school.
Finally, the Grove Hall neighborhood has a quality school building that is new, with up to date technology (one-to-one laptop program), modern science facilities, spacious gymnasium and multi purpose field, auditorium, cafeteria and kitchen facilities, library and specific rooms dedicated to the arts, dance and music and supportive services that engages students throughout the school day, afterschool and Saturdays! The Grove Hall community also uses it intensely after school hours and during the summer given the lack of comprehensive, safe havens in the neighborhood.
When we look at the proposed plans, what do we see?
The proposed feeder schools for the Frederick will now be the Holland and Marshall which are in Fields Corner, outside of the Grove Hall neighborhood. The proposed assignment maps for both Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners excludes the vast majority of the Grove Hall neighborhood from the Frederick. This exclusion takes place even though the present student assignment process has disproportionately assigned a significant majority of students to the Frederick who are English Language Learners, former students from the English Language Learner program and Students with Disabilities. At the Frederick, students who are English Language Learners and/ or Students with Disabilities are not segregated within the school, rather they are included fully with all students throughout the school day.
Adding insult to injury, the proposed plan rushes through the idea of converting the Trotter elementary school into a K-8 school building with an undersized gymnasium and cafeteria, limited technology, library, science and arts resources. School officials are proclaiming the illusion that this proposed K-8 school will be equitable to the lost access, and opportunities that Grove Hall neighborhood students are giving up in not being able to apply to the Frederick under the proposed plan.
The Grove Hall neighborhood, which has fully supported the building and implementation of this school, during the past twelve years, will now be excluded from having an opportunity to choose this school. It is only a myth that Grove Hall will have school choice and an opportunity to go to a neighborhood school that has competitive resources!
In reviewing the five options for Improving School Choice, Option 1 (No Zone) and Option 2 (23 Zones) would accelerate the inequalities within Boston public schools by neighborhood and not address the fact that quality, neighborhood schools for students in a area like Grove Hall will be a myth. There are far too many students and not enough school building capacity in the Grove Hall neighborhood, especially with the shutting down of the Higginson and Dickerman school buildings. Students in the Grove Hall neighborhood will most likely be forced to get onto a bus to go to school. That is why these plans divide Grove Hall up, and will make it impossible for families who presently have children going to the Frederick, from having future siblings go to this school.
The plan does not address how many advanced work programs are there in schools within the Grove Hall or other communities, as compared throughout the whole city. There is often a disparity between the academic programs and resources that are provided within our neighborhood as opposed to other neighborhoods. For example, the Higginson (now part of the King K-8 school) would have two grade 4 classes and only one grade 5 class, which forced rising fifth graders out of the school in the past…as well if they were looking for an advance work program. The School Department has not provided the King School with the resources to adequately offer advance work classes for its students.
Options 1 and 2 are a much worse option than what we have now. Options 3 (11 Zones) and 4 (9 Zones) are not much better, they split up Grove Hall into three different zones. Neighborhood schools for Grove Hall are a myth, rather Boston Public Schools will just split up the Grove Hall neighborhood and have its students go into three different zones…rather than face the fact that there are not enough neighborhood schools in Grove Hall for the numbers of students that are there. We will have less choice, less opportunities and unequal accessibility.
What choices can you make? What schools or programs will you have access to? How did these schools do in comparison to what your choices are now? Are you going to have less school choices to make and how many seats will be available? How many seats will be open in your neighborhood schools and how many children live nearby? Who will disproportionately be bussed given that there are not enough schools in our neighborhoods, given how many children live here?
Let’s be clear about the disruption that may occur in this transition from going from one assignment process to another. Those issues need to be discussed thoroughly before rushing through a decision process. Let’s not repeat the same rushed, flawed process of the recent school closure decision and then realizing that there are not enough seats for new and young incoming students.
For decades, the Grove Hall neighborhood has suffered through inadequately funded schools and school buildings that were out of compliance. Over fifteen years of organizing took place by the parents, students and the community finally resulted in the significant renovation of the Jeremiah E. Burke High School/ Grove Hall Community Center and Grove Hall Library Branch. Over twelve years of organizing took place by the parents, students and the community that has led to the establishment of the Lilla Frederick Pilot Middle School as a safe haven for the Grove Hall neighborhood. During this process, we have also seen substantial renovations recently taken place at the Martin Luther King, Jr. K-8 School making it now wheelchair accessible. After all these years, it is ironic, that once comparable resources become available to our neighborhood, this “school choice” proposal is being floated that will exclude Grove Hall families from accessing these opportunities.
Michael Kozu is a community coordinator for Project RIGHT, Inc., a community-based organization in Grove Hall.