School assignment review begins

Neighborhood schools and public outreach were the topics of discussion as a school assignment advisory committee met for the first time March 19 at English High School. The advisory committee was handpicked by Mayor Tom Menino and Boston Public School (BPS) Superintendent Carol Johnson to help improve the district’s school assignment plan.

In his annual State of the City address in January, Menino expressed his desire for more students to attend schools closer to home, saying that will build healthier neighborhoods. That will also help BPS save money on transportation, which is expected to cost about $80 million next year.

The 27-member committee is expected to meet monthly until December, when BPS is slated to issue a school assignment proposal to the School Committee. BPS will also be hosting community meetings throughout the spring, summer and fall looking for public feedback. There will be one tomorrow, March 31 at English High School from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

During the March 19 meeting, committee members spoke at length about the need to effectively outreach the public and what the mission statement for the group should be.

“If we don’t agree what our goals are, all we are going to do is talk,” said committee member William Walczak.

Another committee member, Laura Perille, said they need to recognize the tension that exists between the quality of schools and families’ proximity to them.

“We have to be honest that we don’t have [equal] quality now and we won’t have it tomorrow,” she said.

Johnson, who was in attendance but is not part of the committee, said the issue of the nearness of a quality school, and if a family does not believe that exists, “captures for me some of the challenges we face.”

Committee member Miren Uriarte noted that defining “quality” is an important step, and also commented on the lack of public outreach prior to the first community meeting on March 10.

“How is the process going to get out to the hinterlands? I have yet to hear a strategy. You missed the boat last time,” she said, referring to the March 10 meeting.

Other committee members echoed Uriarte’s sentiments, saying few parents showed up for the March 10 meeting. They urged that all media be used to publicize the community meetings.

“Life is really busy for everyone, including parents,” said Carolyn Kain, another committee member. “We need to give people more lead time.”

There were about 20 people in the audience section who chimed in from time to time. The bulk of the conversation, though, came from committee members.

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