Jonathan is an East Boston resident and middle school student at the Elliot School in the North End but that school wasn’t his family’s first choice school. When his parents were picking schools eight years ago they needed a school that specialized in speech therapy for Jonathan. No programs existed in Eastie so Jonathan had to travel through the tunnel each morning to a school outside his neighborhood.
Now Jonathan is heading into high school next year and wants attend a high school in Boston, a school that some of his friends will be attending in the fall. However, Jonathan has been assigned to East Boston High School—a school he and his parents didn’t even put down when choosing school back in December.
Jonathan’s story is just one of hundreds of stories from parents and students frustrated with the Boston Public School’s student assignment process.
But there is hope for future students and families as Mayor Thomas Menino has waged war on Boston’s outdated student assignment process. In his annual State of the City address in January Menino directed BPS Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson to appoint a committee as a step toward adopting “a radically different student assignment plan — one that puts a priority on children attending schools closer to their homes” within the year.
On Saturday, the committee met with parents and students for the first time at East Boston High School. There the new 23-member board that makes up the city’s external advisory committee for improving school choice listen to stories like Jonathan and his family’s and worked in small groups to document issues and concerns with BPS’s student assignment process.
The board includes Eastie’s John Nucci, former President of the Boston Public School Committee, served as At-Large City Councilor and is the current Vice President of Government and Community Affairs at Suffolk University.
Nucci and the committee of 11 other men and 11 women will work over the next year to help advise the school department as it engages the community on the topic of improving the city’s school assignment system.
“The most important thing that we can do in this endeavor is to listen closely to parents, students, and taxpayers,” said Nucci at the meeting Saturday. “What I heard was that parents generally feel that having a school for their child close by is a major convenience and enables them to be involved in the student’s education. I’m also hearing parents say that the quality of the school that their child will be attending is a consideration that weighs heavily on their choice as well.””
Nucci said the external advisory committee has been meeting monthly in open meetings and will help advise BPS in community engagement strategies, identify data needs, and will provide feedback on possible school choice plans.
“We see this team of individuals as playing an important role in a transparent community engagement process,” said Dr. Johnson. “Our goal is for this to be an inclusive process that brings all voices to the table. This group will ensure we are analyzing this issue from every possible perspective.”
The Boston Opportunity Agenda, a partnership among the City of Boston, the Boston Public Schools and the city’s leading public charities, foundations and donors, is rallying behind Menino’s call to revamp the school assignment process in 2012.
Boston Opportunity Agenda partners have committed $400,000 to support this work.
“Any effort to revamp something as complex as Boston’s student assignment system needs to be structured to ensure that parents and community members are engaged and vital players in the discussion,” said Kristin McSwain, Director of Boston Opportunity Agenda. “Investing resources now in the planning increases the likelihood that a plan will be crafted which ensures community voice and equitable solutions.”
Member of the city’s newly formed external advisory committee for improving school choice, John Nucci, listens to stories of parents and students at Saturday’s meeting.