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The Polson Family

Family bio

Update The letter came hours after the Polson family had left for vacation in Florida -- but still they got the bad news that day.

A neighbor, who had checked the mail for them, called when they landed at the airport: The Polson's 4-year-old daughter, Ayla, did not get a seat at any of her three chosen schools -- the Quincy, Mary Lyons or the Hurley. Her parents, Kathy and Glyn Polson, sat in silence, as they drove to a friend's house. They were "stunned," and then wondered why they had been optimistic about such a random process.

Ayla was on the waiting list at St. Mary's in Brookline, and they remain open to moving to Andover or North Reading. Still, they love their South End neighborhood, and hope maybe Ayla is high on the waiting list at one of the Boston public schools.

Kathy and Glyn Polson never thought of themselves as urbanites. Each grew up in rural neighborhoods -- her in Vermont, his in upstate New York. But about a decade ago, the couple moved to Boston's South End, and instantly fell in love with city life.

About five years ago, their first daughter, Ayla, was born, and two years ago, their second daughter, Eliza. They fully expected their oldest child would attend a nearby kindergarten with her neighborhood peers.

And so it came as a shock when they realized that kindergarten slots in Boston were distributed by a lottery system - and worse yet, that they had lost an opportunity to boost their chances of getting their daughter into their top-choice school. Had they secured a seat for Ayla a year earlier as a pre-kindergarten student in that school, she would have been allowed to stay there in the years ahead.

"We were behind in the game," said Glyn Polson, 37, a lawyer and president of the Friends of South End Library.

And so, starting last fall, they began visiting open houses and learning the complex application process. They started to second-guess their decision to stay in the city, and wondered if a suburban school system, which usually assigns seats based purely by neighborhood, was better. Just as they became more involved in the South End youth soccer league, they began driving to open houses in Andover and North Reading. Still, they were committed to trying to enroll their daughter in Boston, much as it triggered deep anxieties.

"It's a lottery -- it's up to chance," said the mother, also 37, a nurse practitioner at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. "It's scary."

After much research, they placed the Quincy School, near Chinatown, as their top choice, largely because they were impressed by its offerings and it is within walking distance of their home. Their second and third choices were the Mary Lyons School in Brighton and Hurley School in the South End. They want their daughter's school to be strong in academic subjects, as well as offering programs in the arts, music and dance.

But mostly, they like the idea of proximity, and that their children will come to befriend others in the neighborhood. It bothers both parents that, even if their daughter obtains a seat in one of their top-choice schools, this random process will determine their fates for middle and high school. The father laments that this system "doesn't encourage community building."

For now, they are hoping for good news in the mail.

"We don't want to move," said the mother.

Videos by Darren Durlach, Scott LaPierre and Lauren Frohne/Globe Staff
Photos by Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff
Additional video by Wendy Maeda and John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Click on the map to see the family's school choices
South End
Glyn, 37, an attorney
Kathy, 37, a nurse practitioner at Dana Farber Cancer Institute
Family size
Two children
Child entering BPS
Ayla, 4
bps zone
Schools selected
Top three schools
1. Josiah Quincy
2. Mary Lyons
3. Hurley
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