City Councilor John Connolly will lead the Council's review of the Boston Public Schools student assignment plan. His announcement comes days after Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's State of the City Address in which the Mayor called for "a radically different student assignment plan."
Connolly's order will be introduced during tomorrow's City Council meeting. No dates have been set yet for the City Council hearings, but Connolly wants to give parents an opportunity to weigh in on what makes a quality school, the challenges parents face with the current assignment process, and changes parents would like to see.
Interested in sharing your opinions or participating in upcoming hearings on the BPS student assignment process, please contact Connolly's office at 617-635-3115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Said Connolly, "It’s pretty clear from the Mayor’s statement that the policy is going to change... You have to start by recognizing the current policy is a failure. Unfortunately, many view this policy as helping our poorest underserved children. But the reality is this policy hurts the vast majority of children from every walk of life because it puts our kids in a lottery were we have winners and losers. We need to accept a plan that will create quality schools in every neighborhood, and part of doing that is going to schools closer to home and investing resources in community-based learning."
Added Connolly, a West Roxbury resident, "In other words you can’t create quality schools unless you’re building strong neighborhoods. A lot of that starts with going kids to schools close to home where schools are a central part of the community."
Connolly said a lot of our schools are often separate and apart from the neighborhoods they reside. "They’re just not as linked into neighborhoods because kids going there are scattered across the city. I don’t think it’s good for the city or the neighborhood. The current policy is the one that reinforced the status quo without quality schools."
The City Council hearings apparently will run during the same time BPS plans of running hearings throughout Boston neighborhoods. Said Connolly, “I hope our hearings will enhance the Boston Public Schools’ ongoing review of the policy by offering an independent public review of the policy,” said Connolly.
"We’ve been working on (the student assignment process) now for a better part of a year," said Matt Wilder, BPS Director of Media Relations. "There are two phases. One – we tackled last year making the registration process less beaucratic and more customer-friendly."
Wilder said changes at BPS' family resource center, and reducing the documents needed to register students, also helped improve the process. Wilder said phase two will be the convening of a number of community meetings in various neighborhoods "to really welcome a wide spectrum to the table to develop a new student assignment policy for Boston Public Schools."
Said Wilder, "We're going to neighborhoods to help draft a plan. This isn’t (BPS) going to the community and explaining a plan. We want residents of the city to be constructive partners of building a plan."
Wilder said BPS welcomes Connolly as a partner in creating a new student assignment plan. He added that no dates have been set yet for BPS' hearings. He said Menino wants a new student assignment plan phased in starting next school year.
Connolly, who quickly earned a reputation for his focus on BPS and wanting to improve the school system, spoke about the district's work.
"I applaud the mayor for making this one of his top priorities beacuse it’s so important to families across the city," said Connolly. "At the same time BPS has shied away from actually making changes when they’ve done this in the past. I think it’s important that there be an independent mechanism out there to review the policy. And I hope the City Council Education Committee can be that mechanism."
Menino's State of the City address included these comments about BPS, "I’m committing tonight that one year from now Boston will have adopted a radically different student assignment plan – one that puts a priority on children attending schools closer to their homes. I am directing Superintendent Johnson to appoint a citywide group of dedicated individuals. They will help design the plan to get us there and engage the community on this transition."
For Connolly, there's more at stake than ever before because his 3-year-old Clare is in the K-1 lottery for next year. Connolly said he and his wife have visited 10 schools in the BPS system, and they will be submitting their preferred choices by the end of the month - and he's not sure what he'll do if Clare doesn't get in to preferred schools.
"That’s it right now. We haven’t had that conversation yet. I'd be lying if we didn’t feel like were in competition with our friends and neighbors. And that's not a good way to build community," said Connolly.
When talking about his daughter's education path, you can hear the concern in Connolly's voice. He quickly became a father over being a Boston city councilor.
"We talk about (the BPS lottery) with friends and neighbors. Everybody is really careful about what they say, and what schools they're applying for. Parents talk to each other, but there’s an element of caution of how you order your choices. It’s really awful. Parents are essentially competing against each other over their child’s future. There’s an element of sadness when our child’s friend down the street play together regularly and might not end up in school together or be prompted to move if they don’t get a spot," said Connolly.
"We’ll look at the policy and give voice to parents and hopefully add to the process that BPS and their task force will help carry out," added Connolly.
“The hearings will be focused on listening to parent voices and building consensus among parents in every neighborhood on how best to reform the current policy,” said Connolly. “Most parents I talk to are frustrated with some aspect of the current system whether it is the lack of quality options or the inability to send a child to a school close to home.”
Focusing on parent voices is not new for Connolly. In 2010, Connolly chaired a seven-hour hearing providing parents, students, and education leaders, a voice in the ongoing contract negotiations between BPS and the Boston Teachers Union. In March of 2011, Connolly brazenly proved expired food was being served to BPS students. Connolly held two hearings on the expired food issue including one to give parents and students an opportunity to comment.
The first round of the school registration process for the 2012-2013 school year began on Jan. 3 and will run until Feb. 3.