The Boston City Council's Education Committee recently held three days of intense hearings allowing parents and students to testify about their public school experiences.
The hearings, held May 22-24, were chaired by At-Large City Councilor John Connolly, and no Boston Public Schools department officials testified during the three days, but many were in attendance, working in conjunction with the Council.
"BPS came to listen and that’s what I wanted and I asked from them. Come and listen to the parent experiences," said Connolly.
Superintendent Carol Johnson was present on the first day of hearings, while assistant superintendents and other administration staff attended all three days.
Parents speak out about school choice, transportation woes
Parents testimony ranged the gamut from frustration with the school assignment process, to busing issues, a desire for neighborhood schools, as well as praise for allowing children to stay closer to home.
"I live in Mattapan. [My son] shouldn't have to bused to a school farther out," said Lionelle Demosthene. "I attended a community meeting in Roslindale. [The school administration] is giving parents an option of choosing one, two, three, four, five schools...and in the end you don't get anything."
Some parents, like Rose Miller, from Roxbury, issued outward frustration about the student assignment process.
"I am sorry to say, but the student assignment is a real joke in Boston," she said. "The process of parents selecting schools then (being) put into a lottery and still not assigned to at least one of their choices is a joke. After parents took time, selecting five to 10 schools within the city, this system has not worked. Telling parents to start with schools in your community or zone makes no sense when a computer formula scales the choice for parents and selects the school."
Wanted: Kids closer to home, diversity
Other parents spoke of the improvements they've seen in the system, like Sonia Garufi, of Roslindale, whose son, Anthony, is on the autism spectrum, and spoke about her family's experience.
"Our choices at that time (when Anthony was young) were a school in South Boston, South End or Brighton," she said. "So, there I was putting my 3 1/2-year old on a 45-minute bus ride to school... and he couldnʼt even say his own name, or even say yes or no."
Now Anthony goes to an inclusion class in the Roslindale neighborhood, which has helped the young man mature. Said his mother, "I am very lucky where I live that I am able to walk to our library, playground, bakeries, and shops. All the shop keepers know Anthony, even our local policeman."
Other parents spoke of the desire for diversity, like Hyde Park's Clare O'Donoghue.
"Diversity in the school was critically important to us in our choice of school," she said. "By diversity I don't just mean social diversity or economic diversity, I mean ethnic diversity, sexual orientation diversity, linguistic diversity."
Forging a plan for improvement
Connolly offered his take on the three days of hearings.
"Day 1 spoke to the need to reform the system regardless of how people feel about ways to reform," he said. "I think Day 1 spoke to the current system is a great frustration to most people. Day 2 spoke to the fact that the solution is to have a quality school plan that has student assignment reform as a key part, and not just a student assignment reform plan. And I think Day 3 just spoke to the failure of BPS to give parents reliable transportation service this past year and to the real chaos and havoc that reeks on people when they can’t rely on transportation.
"BPS needs to bring a quality, full-detailed school plan including assignment reform as a central feature," he continued. "And give people choices, but makes sure that children can go to quality schools close to homem if that’s the family’s preference. The hearings spoke to frustrations with the assignment process, and not getting the school you wanted," added Connolly.
Connolly added that positive experiences were also heard at the hearings, "We heard both ends in the hearings."
Changes announced with hearings in progress
And while administration staff may have been sitting and listening at the City Council hearings, the department was making its own waves with changes.
On the first day of the council's hearings, the school system staff announced "sweeping changes to school transportation." To avoid this year's problems with transportation, the department announced it has already begun routing fall transportation routes—months earlier than usual—changing the way routes are planned, and reviewing loading and unloading procedures.
On Day 2 of the hearings, the department announced a new K-2 classroom would be added to the Eliot K-8 School in the North End.
The department has reached out to get students, staff, and all Boston residents to take part in online surveys. The current online survey will be open all summer. On June 12, the department announced upcoming community meetings to solicit more feedback and ideas from members of the community about the students assignment process.
More public hearings are scheduled for the end of June:
Sunday, June 24, 1-3 p.m.
St. Peter’s Parish Teen Center
278 Bowdoin St., Dorchester
Wednesday, June 27, 6-8 p.m.
175 West Boundary Road, West Roxbury
Thursday, June 28, 6-8 p.m.
John D O’Bryant School of Math and Science
55 Malcolm X Blvd, Roxbury