What’s a mother (or father) to do?

The ISEE has come and gone. Connie was so nervous that Saturday that her passport (her only picture ID) tumbled to the ground as she stepped out of the car. You’d have to know her to know how unlike her this is. The Parent Imperfect didn’t see it, either, as he was trying to scope out a place to park the car amidst the general chaos. The day could have taken a very bad turn in that instant, but one of her friends from the Irving happened to be coming down the street behind her. He saw the passport fall, picked it up and ran to catch up with her. How’s that for a good omen?

She finished the test wondering how she could have been so nervous. She’s most happy that she doesn’t have to wait another two weeks for the make-up day. There’s a lesson in that for her father, too.

Rumor has it that a letter from the Superintendent arrived in the homes of many BPS families yesterday, talking about the current school choice and assignment process. I’ve not seen the letter yet, but I hope it clarifies the effect that the current debate is likely to have on the upcoming assignment lottery. I expect that many families of entering K-1 and K-2 families are wondering just what sorting hat will be used this year.

What’s a mother (or father) to do? I don’t have any inside knowledge of what is going to happen, but I bet that the coming process will look very much like the one that happened last year. I remember very clearly that, during the first meeting on assignment that I attended last spring, the BPS was clear that very few of the changes being talked about would be implemented for the 2013-14 school year. They said that a decision made in January would be too late to implement for a lottery that would begin just a few weeks later.

That makes perfect sense, but my immediate question was, “If any changes we decide in January can’t be implemented for that school year, then why are we in such a hurry to make a decision in January? If planning for the next lottery takes place in the summer, then why couldn’t a decision on changes be made late in the spring? What’s the hurry?

I guess that was a rhetorical answer, The answer is obvious…the January timeline is not a technical deadline based on the assignment planning timeline; It’s a political deadline driven by other considerations. I didn’t get that answer that evening at the Irving School. I didn’t get any answer to my question, in fact, and I’ve not heard this important factoid about timing mentioned again, at any meeting.

Again, I only know what I’ve heard, but I’d be very surprised if any major changes were implemented before the 2014-15 school year lottery, which will begin in January 2014. I’m telling anyone crazy enough to ask me what they should do to look at schools in their current assignment zone (the three-zone scheme), and to pay particular attention to schools that are in their walk zone. I’d make a list of preferences for my assignment zone (the West Zone, in my case), and a back-up list that ranked my walk zone schools, in order of preference.

If I was feeling lucky, I’d also look at the Hernandez School, Boston’s only city-wide elementary school choice. There is no penalty in the lottery for choosing a high-demand school first. You’ll get the highest of your preferences that is available when your number comes up in the lottery. I wouldn’t worry that I’d be wasting my time looking at West Zone schools outside of my walk zone. I’m quite confident that those options will be available this year, and that some sort of grandparenting arrangement will be in place to allow my kids to continue at those schools, even if things change for next year, which they very likely will.

The meetings about the assignment process surfaced many suggestions from parents to make the BPS assignment process more transparent and efficient. Parents have also given the BPS a primer on how they should be communicating to families trying to secure a spot in the system. Many of these suggestions have been dutifully written down on butcher block paper, which was rolled up at the end of the meetings and taken somewhere. Listening for support for neighborhood schools, the BPS hasn’t been interested in these “details.” I can imagine a huge pile of rolled-up paper sitting in some closet on Court Street. This pile would be a gold mine for a listening and learning organization.

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4 Comments

Filed under School Assignment

4 responses to “What’s a mother (or father) to do?

  1. Hi there! This is Lee McGuire in the BPS Communications Office. I think I can help answer a few of the questions posed here. First, you’re right – the school choice process for the 2013-14 school year is going to be the same three-zone system we have used for nearly 25 years. In fact, School Preview Time is getting underway now and our School Showcases are happening all over the city (one of them is tonight in the East Zone).

    You also asked what happened to all that chart paper from our 14 community meetings. We heard from about 1,850 people in person and online. We tried to capture every comment and theme from each meeting and have rolled it all up into a 164-page report, which is posted here: http://bostonschoolchoice.org/get-involved/we-hea/.

    We heard lots of great comments both about the school choice proposals and also about steps BPS can take to make the process of selecting a school simpler and more transparent. This is actually something our Office of Welcome Services has been working on for more than a year — and the process has led to expanded night and weekend hours during peak school choice seasons, a much easier-to-use website (discoverbps.org) and ongoing customer service training for our staff. We’re still working on all of it, but I wanted to be sure you know that we are listening and responding to what parents are telling us!

    Thanks again for this thoughtful post and please stay in touch. There is lots of great work happening in this area and we’re excited about the important community conversation that is underway. Lee

    • Thanks for the clarification. I’m happy to know that you’re still looking at this. I’m even happier to hear that your colleagues are working with some of the “micro” input that you’ve gotten from this community discussion. From a PR perspective, I think it would be good to play more of that back when you talk about “what we’ve heard.” I look forward to seeing the innovations that result from this work.

  2. And one more thing — good luck with the ISEE! I hope it went well. And thanks for bringing that photo ID.

  3. Thanks, again. I have to confess that I’m not sure what it would mean for this to go “well,” but I appreciate the good wishes, in any case.

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