More than 100 parents and residents filled the Murphy School’s auditorium Monday night for an update on Boston Public Schools’ student-assignment process.
As the city weighs several plans to overhaul the system, many in attendance see it as a historic moment for the school system. They said the decision would not only affect their children’s education but also that of future students.
“Take your time, be patient,” said Sean Weir, an area resident. “It’s been a mess for so long; a little longer is not going to make a difference.”
Since Mayor Thomas M. Menino vowed in January to change the current assignment process, BPS, its External Advisory Committee, consultants, and parents have been working to reshape the system and come up with a new plan to determine how the city’s elementary and middle school students choose their school.
A number of plans have been presented and in November the EAC narrowed the list down to five proposals. The EAC highlighted the 23-zone model, the six-zone model, the no zone model, and one created by an MIT student as front-runners.
A plan dubbed the Quality Choice Plan has also been submitted by at-large City Councilor John Connolly and a contingent of legislatures. Connolly said a petition, supporting the plan has received close to 7,000 signatures.
Each plan reshapes the system’s current three-zone model -- which divides the city into West, East, and North zones.
Dorchester is located in the East Zone along with Hyde Park, Mattapan, and South Boston. Currently in the East Zone there are only two “Level 1” schools, which are top-tier schools, according to data provided by BPS.
The average rating of schools in the East Zone is 2.92 out of 4, the lowest in the city.
“The current system is quite complicated and doesn’t work for the city,” Rebecca Frisch, a senior adviser to the Mayor, said Monday.
Representatives from the Mayor’s Office and BPS along with Connolly presented their proposals Monday, laying out the challenges.
“All the different ideas that have been generated were pulled together,” Frisch said. “A lot of ideas have come from the original BPS plans and ones heard from the community.”
One topic that was consistent throughout Monday’s meeting was the quality of the schools. While many wanted to send their children to schools close by, they also wanted good schools.
“We’re going to concentrate on bringing the bottom up,” Carlton Jones, executive director of capital and facilities management for BPS, told the crowd.
“Quality is key, that is the most important factor in any student assignment plan put forward,” Frisch added.
"We want to focus on quality above all else," Connolly said.
Parents eagerly listed in Monday, providing input and highlighting what they thought the school system should concentrate on.
“You need quality schools before you redo the system,” said Kenny Jervis, a South Boston resident. “You need to work on performance first.”
Quality was king Monday, but many also highlighted the importance of neighborhood schools.
“Neighborhood schools save neighborhoods,” said Weir.
“One of the pros of local schools is the kids who live in the neighborhood can spend a lot more time in the school after school,” said Sherri Neasman, a teacher at the Murphy. “To have more neighborhood schools would increase academic involvement.”
Parents and teachers also said local schools benefit the students and families, making it easier for parents to be involved in the schools.
Monday’s meeting was an introduction for some, but for many it was just another step to reforming a system that hasn’t been altered since the 1980’s.
“We get robbed,” said Julie Joyce, a Dorchester resident. “We really need to do this.”
Currently the EAC is evaluating the proposals and is expected to present a recommendation to Superintendent of Boston Public Schools Carol R. Johnson for her signature. Once approved by the Superintendent, the plan will be voted on by the Boston School Committee and will be implemented in the fall of 2014.
To find out more about the process and the proposals, provided by BPS, click here.
To find out more about the Quality Choice Plan, provided by supporters of the plan, click here.