Boston Compact held a Nov. 12 community meeting on unified enrollment for Boston Public Schools (BPS) where many attendees expressed outrage over possible BPS school closings and raised concerns over the unified enrollment proposal. Some attendees did support the proposal.
About 100 people attended the meeting at First Church in Jamaica Plain, Unitarian Universalist (UU). Before the meeting, people outside were handing out bumper stickers with “no” over a photo of Mayor Martin Walsh and the words “Boston Compact: The Boston 2024 of Education.”
The meeting focused on unified enrollment, which is a plan that would have one application process for families to apply for public and charter schools in Boston.
Boston Compact was met with scrutiny from Boston Public School parents at the meeting because of a recently published Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by local blogger Mary Lewis-Pierce, who goes by the name “Public School Mama.” She wrote on her blog that Boston Compact “is determining which BPS buildings should be handed over to charters.” She also wrote that in off-the-record meetings with parents, BPS officials “have intimated that the mayor wants to get the Boston Public Schools down to 90 buildings,” and thereby close a quarter of the district.
The Mayor’s Office said that the Mayor Martin Walsh does not have a plan to close 36 schools, but does have plans to “consolidate schools,” according to a boston.com article.
Many attendees at the Nov. 12 meeting expressed anger over the possible school closings, some emphasizing their feelings with swears. Boston Compact said that its initiative does not involve school closings.
Boston Compact is a four-year-old partnership between the City, BPS, charter and Catholic schools. The goals are “to ensure equitable access to high-performing schools and quality instruction for all students with an emphasis on those historically underserved, such as English language learners, students with disabilities, and black and Latino boys, ” according to materials handed out at the meeting. Boston Compact is not a policy-making body, but focuses on partnering schools, using data to improve teaching and learning, and operations of schools, according to the materials. Unified enrollment is one of its missions.
There are currently 126 BPS schools and 24 Commonwealth Charter Schools in City’s system. The BPS and charter schools have separate application processes and deadlines. The charter schools use a lottery system to select their students, while BPS schools have a “home-based” enrollment process, which uses an algorithm to sort out priorities for students to get their top choice school.
Under unified enrollment, families would receive one personalized listing of their local charter and district schools. They then would select and rank their preferred district and charter schools. Families would receive one school placement. If a family does not receive their first choice of school, they would be placed on a waiting list for schools they ranked higher in their list.
According to Rachel Weinstein of Boston Compact, since families sometimes get multiple assignments when applying to charter schools and BPS, schools sometimes don’t know which students they will be receiving. It would also simplify the application process for families, who under the current process have to manage multiple timelines, applications and info sessions.
Weinstein also stated that the proposal has merit regardless of whether the number of charter schools changes because it makes school enrollment easier and fairer for families.
Weinstein clarified that the unified enrollment proposal does not address school financing, sharing best practices across schools, and is not connected to the current cap on charter schools or any school’s code of conduct. A concern that a parent raised was whether or not there would be consistency in curriculums across schools. Boston Compact representatives stated that the proposal does not address that.
Weinstein also summarized feedback from previous meetings about unified enrollment, which included attendees noting that there needs to be more voices in the conversation. That was a point of contention at the Nov. 12 meeting because several parents said that they only heard about the meeting due to the recent controversy about the Public School Mama blog.
“You have so many people here because we found out about this and we told each other and we came out,” one parent said. “I hear about everything from BPS, but I never heard about anything about this meeting, and I am really pissed off,” she continued. “This is our school system, and you work for us.”
“I’m not personally aware of where and how we are advertising it,” said Kim Rice of BPS. “I’ll look into this.”
Another parent also noted that the feedback presented at those previous meetings couldn’t be wholly accurate because the meetings had such low turnout compared to the Nov. 12 meeting. That parent demanded access to all previous meeting minutes. Boston Compact said that they are not a public entity and will not release that information.
“You should not have to make a public FOIA request to get the information that you need,” another parent commented.
One question that was repeatedly asked at the meeting was how do parents know that BPS schools will not be closed?
Boston Compact did not directly answer the question, but said that the mayor estimated that over $1 billion be invested in schools, and that unified enrollment itself does not change the amount of seats in the school system. The facilities master plan, according to Weinstein, “has nothing to do with this.”
There was some concern that the public was not able to access the equity analysis data that is being performed by MIT about the current enrollment process. Boston Compact predicted that it will hopefully be available to the public in a few weeks, but gave no specific date.
The meeting allowed time for small groups to discuss personal experiences with the enrollment process. One parent said that the application process was a “paralyzing difficult process” and stated that there were difficult decisions to make based on the varying times of schools opening and the unpredictability of the waitlist, which made it difficult for their family to plan for the future. With multiple forms and multiple timelines, there was a lot of paperwork to fill out.
Parents in one group also said that families don’t actually make a choice, that the enrollment process makes the choice for them.
Another parent who is about to enter the application process said that she had no idea how to select a school because open houses were at difficult times for her schedule.
All open houses for Boston Public Schools are on Dec. 5.
To comment on the unified enrollment initiative, visit tinyurl.com/EnrollBoston.