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GETTING IN | INSIDE BOSTON’S SCHOOL ASSIGNMENT MAZE

An ideal of city loyalty tested by uncertain future

By Jenna Russell
Globe Staff / March 13, 2011
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Ita Berg seemed perfectly at home on a tour of the Rafael Hernandez School this winter.

The 4-year-old roamed the halls of the Roxbury elementary school in pink snow boots, eating a banana plucked from her father’s messenger bag. Her father, Andy Berg, trailed close behind; her mother, Anna Ross, carried her brother, Charlie, as the blue-eyed 1-year-old grabbed at her earrings. “Where are we going?’’ Ita asked as the tour group ducked into a stairwell.

It would have been easy for these working parents from Dorchester to be distracted. But they were intently focused on their task. At every stop on the tour, they had questions: Does the school have a choir? How long is recess? What is that humming noise in the basement?

Berg and Ross have been diligent and thoughtful, touring schools, researching test scores, talking to other parents. But in the end, a computer will decide Ita’s school assignment.

“It would be fine if we were going to do all this and get into a good school,’’ said Ross, 36. “But I feel like we’re going through all this, the anxiety, the taking time from work, and we’re probably not going to get what we need.’’

If they have to, they say, they will keep Ita at her private nursery school next year and try the lottery again when she is 5. But the odds of getting into a top school would be even slimmer then.

They are committed to their lives in the city. Ross teaches writing at Emerson College. Berg, 39, a union carpenter, grew up in Dorchester.

“I feel like I would be failing by moving to the suburbs,’’ he said. “It’s not what I want for my family.’’

But as they fed their children dinner one night, Berg chopping basil while Ross fed Charlie in his high chair, they acknowledged that they may eventually feel compelled to leave the city.

“On my worst days, I feel like I’ve already failed by living here, instead of somewhere where Ita could just go to school,’’ said Ross, who grew up in a Hartford suburb with good schools. “It’s like I was too idealistic, and am I going to sacrifice my kids for an ideal? No.’’

They listed nine schools on Ita’s application, and are reasonably confident they would like four of them.

“I’m not optimistic,’’ Ross said. “The odds are against me. But there’s nothing we can do but wait and see.’’

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