The Exam School Choice #10, The Golden Fleece

The Golden FleeceThe Parent Imperfect has become something of a one-trick pony lately. It’s much easier to talk about (and do something about) “the assignment policy” than to help our own children find their way in the Boston Public Schools.

But while I’ve been sitting in interminable Boston School Committee meetings, the clock has been ticking inexorably toward another of those decision points. Being a sixth grader, dear Connie is in the midst of an assignment moment that was almost never mentioned in the year-long assignment policy discussion. If the walk-zone preference is the “Sacred Cow” of Boston school politics, then the exam schools are certainly its “Golden Fleece,” the mythical prize that knowing parents are supposed to have in mind from Day One of their BPS Odyssey.

Vince’s experience has shown that the fleece isn’t so golden for everyone. But, for the moment we’re talking about Connie’s choice, not her brother’s. It’s “once bitten, twice shy,” right?

Mail slotThe last time, the news came in through the mail slot on a Friday afternoon. For some reason, I first came home to look at the letter before I picked up Vince and Connie, who were then spending many of their after school hours at the Jamaica Plain Branch of the Boston Public Library. He was overjoyed at the news.

But times have changed…This past Friday, when I came home early from work, Connie was sitting in our living room with the white MacBook on her lap, staring at the screen.

Y  ¿qué noticias hay?, I asked as I came in the door.

“I don’t know. The website’s not working. not the app they gave us or the BPS site.”

It was true. Heavy traffic apparently had crashed the site through which the BPS was telling families where the sorting hat had placed them. Since at 2PM, almost all BPS children were still in school, it was curious parents who had overwhelmed the available bandwidth.

I can honestly say that I had forgotten that Friday was the day until Connie anxiously texted me the moment she got out of the Irving at 11:20AM (half-day on Friday because of the nine-hour Monday-Thursday marathon). She hadn’t really been talking much about the tension she was feeling about this day, but it was clear that everyone in her class had been talking about it that Friday.

“Vamos a volver a ver el sitio después de tu clase. Todo el mundo está tratando de ver su resultado de una vez.”

She picked up her sheet music and we headed off to her piano class. I wondered how she would be able to concentrate on “Fur Elise” with the sorting hat so much on her mind, but luckily, she’s much more focused than her father.

At just after 5PM, she was looking over my shoulder as the uncrashed website loaded on the screen. Just to build the suspense, I acted as though the site wouldn’t scroll the inch we need to see the key info, but she wasn’t buying it. Connie took the “Down” arrow into her own hands and, there it was…It was now officially her choice whether or not she wanted to be in the same school with big brother for the first time in four years.

A sort-of-audible, “Yes!” emerged from somewhere inside her. She was not as excited as her brother had been, four years before, but she was clearly happy that it would now be her choice (with a little help from her friends) whether or not she would attend the school that had caused so much sturm und drang in her house over the past 1400 days.

The logo for Boston Latin School's athletic teams

As far as the BPS is concerned, the decision is now made. The sorting hat has spoken. Those offered the Golden Fleece will, of course, either accept it, or abandon the odyssey for some other journey. But Connie will want to talk about this. She’ll want to talk about how she felt when she visited the nation’s oldest public school. She, more than I (I’m used to it by now), felt that BLS was doing us a favor by showing us their school, while a very different visit to Boston Latin Academy seemed intent on getting us to think of BLA as “our” school. She’ll want to talk to her good friend from the Hernández about how happy she is at BLA, but she’ll also be talking a lot to her friends from the Irving, many of whom will have gotten the same result she did. In those discussions, there will be much excitement about embracing the Golden Fleece, together, and less about the privilege the fleece represents. And she’ll want to talk about what she felt as we walked through the music department at BLS, where students just a couple of years older than Connie practiced the violin, the cello, the French horn and the clarinet. And she’ll especially want to remember the way her mouth literally fell open when we entered the library at BLS from above. The libraries at the Hernández (nonexistent), the Hennigan and the Irving, taken together, wouldn’t fill even a corner of the BLS space.

We’ll talk as if all options remain before us. Connie’s Mom, to her unending credit, will challenge Connie to remember that both schools have the same curriculum and to think about who she’ll be going to school with and to imagine how she will feel in the two schools. She’ll do all that challenging, and then she’ll listen to what Connie wants and we’ll make a decision…hopefully the right one.  Help!

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “The Exam School Choice #10, The Golden Fleece

  1. Nick

    identical curricula means little. The curriculum merely creates a possibility

  2. Lynn

    Hi PI,
    Thanks for not beign afraid beat the dead horse and congrats to you and your daughter! I’ve enjoyed your insight in this process. (I actually think some people don’t wrestle with exam school choice enough). My daughter is also at the Irving, also listed BLS first and is now honored to have that option.
    My daughter and I visited both schools and had several conversations about the choice. For us, it’s the peer thing, the faciltiies thing and she’s my first so here we go…
    But I’m with you in being somewhat torn and wishing that BLS had the same supportive feeling that BLA has, and in wanting my daugter to have the time to explore and appreciate all those extra-curriculars.
    While we are grateful for this opportunity, BLS should also be grateful for our children- I’ll be reminding them of that!
    Best,
    Lynn

    • Congrats to your daughter, Lynn. I’m glad to hear that you at least talked over the choice and visited both schools. Many people don’t bother…It’s BLS or private school, which is really sad to me. Now that she’s had a chance to find out that most of her friends got into BLS,she’s leaning heavily in that direction. A kind of momentum develops among the students that is really hard to resist, assuming anyone wanted to do so,

  3. mot

    I’ll hope you’ll write a follow up post about the ranking numbers you get in the follow up letter! The oddness of knowing exactly where your child ranked out of the other test takers but not wanting to share for fear of gloating or finding out your kid ranks lower then everyone else. My daughter was in the top ten, where did Connie land? (joking!)

    I feel proud of my daughter, who could have easily made it into and done better at BLS then her BLS dropout sister, chose BLA. But the weeks leading up to the announcement were filled with a lot of regret for her of not going with the pack of her friends who all put BLS first. In the end it turned out one good friend’s mother made the choice for her to put BLA first, and a few others in her class, albeit not her closest friends, will be joining her at BLA. In the back of all of our heads is the comfort that she can always re-test in 9th grade and join her friends- unless they join her first at BLA!

  4. Pingback: The Exam School Choice #11, The Letter and the Number | Parent Imperfect

  5. Angela

    My notes on that fateful Friday: Come ‘early afternoon,’ I finally put out a Twitter plea to @BostonSchools to please manage my expectations (if we hadn’t been told to get results by Web, we wouldn’t all have been hitting ‘refresh,’ would we?) @bpsnightmare was immediately able to tell me that if I simply called a number she provided, I could get my answer. Mercifully, this worked. I was very grateful for that option, but I would never have suspected a live BPS person, potentially fielding hundreds of anxious phone calls, would have been the solution, had Karen not said so.

    • I’m embarrassed to say that I never thought that the nightmare (or anyone else) would have the answer, but of course she would. That’s what I get for resisting Twitter. I should have known. The idea of some poor person or people sitting there answering those manic calls is truly a nightmare.

  6. Pingback: Something is rotten in…Roslindale | Parent Imperfect

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