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Coalition says BPS needs to improve quality of schools before tackling school assignment

Posted by Patrick Rosso  November 15, 2012 03:22 PM

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As Boston Public Schools go through the tedious process of redesigning the student assignment system, a coalition says the problem isn’t the policy, but the quality of schools.

Nearly 75 activists, parents, and advocates from USW Local 8751, the Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts, the Lower Roxbury Coalition and other groups met Wednesday night at the St. Katherine Drexel Church on Blue Hill Avenue to discuss how they can get the message to the policy makers that Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan will lose no matter what the new plan is because those communities don’t have quality schools.

“It makes no sense to deal with the student-assignment plan without addressing quality,” said Barbara Fields, a member of the Black Educators’ Alliance, a cosponsor of the event.

Earlier in the year, Mayor Thomas M. Menino requested that a 27-member committee made up of parents, nonprofit leaders, and educators come up with a new way to determine which schools elementary and middle school students should attend. Currently, the city is divided into three large zones; East, West, and North.

The deadline for the committee's decision has been pushed back to Dec. 14.

A number of models have been developed by various groups including a 23-zone model, 11-zone model, nine-zone model, six-zone model, and a no zone model. Separate proposals have also been presented, including one by City Councilor John Connolly and a contingent of legislatures.

But even with a number of proposals on the table, those in attendance Wednesday said none address the specific concerns of their community. Some at the meeting said that if BPS were to adopt a “neighborhood” model, it would leave children in underserved neighborhoods stuck.

“My concern is a large number of schools in Dorchester are not getting better,” said Janet Williams, a Dorchester resident and retired educator.

But BPS contends that it has been responsive to school quality issues, citing its move to convert the Marshall Elementary School in Dorchester to an in-district charter school.

"The Superintendent has been very focused on the quality of schools," said Matthew Wilder, director of media relations for BPS. "I think folks need to look at the plans out there to turnaround our schools. What we want to do is build strong school communities close to home."

In the East Zone, which includes Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park, and South Boston, 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, the lowest in the city.

“You are stuck, you can’t get out,” said Williams.

Although there was clear concern Wednesday night, many focused on getting the community involved in the process and understanding from their perspective how a new model could leave their children with a lack of choices.

“What has to happen is we have to fix the schools,” said Williams. “We all want our children to do well, the problem is in the level of the schools.”

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