School officials to consider dividing city into six or nine assignment zones

Boston Public Schools officials formally released five possible plans for re-aligning assignment zones for elementary and middle-school students today, but promptly said three of the proposals - for 11 or 23 zones or pure neighborhood schools - were too extreme for the goals of ensuring quality education with a diverse student population.

An advisory committee will spend the next month analyzing the proposals and holding public meetings and then come up with a recommendation for action by the School Committee, which has been studying and rejecting zone changes for more than eight years now, mainly because past proposals have always left the city with one zone where all the schools were underperforming.

School Superintendent Carol Johnson and Deputy Superintendent Michael Goar said they're optimistic expanding the current three zones to six or nine would work this time in part because Boston schools are getting better. They pointed to a collection of 21 "high support" schools that are getting extra help from downtown to increase test scores, and said two Boston schools - the Orchard Gardens K-8 school and Burke High School - saw the greatest increase in MCAS scores of any schools in the state over the past two years.

Committee members and members of the public who spoke at the plans' unveiling at the Frederick Pilot School in Dorchester said they were disappointed the "framework" of criteria used by BPS to develop the maps did not include quality and that they need more data on the criteria that was used for specific schools so that they could judge whether the new zones would reduce stress on parents by giving them a higher chance of getting into a school they wanted, that all zones would have good schools for them to choose from and that schools would continue to reflect the diversity of the student body.

Goar and Johnson said quality is fundamental to everything they do. Mayor Thomas Menino, who attended the beginning of the session, added that by shrinking zones, students and parents would more easily form communities among themselves and with their local neighborhoods, further strengthening the schools. Johnson pointed to the roughly 1,900 students living in the Bowdoin/Geneva section of Dorchester, who now attend more than 100 public schools across the city.

One issue that will not really play into any decisions is any savings from reduced busing costs because, in fact, they may not be any. Goar acknowledged that if current students are grandfathered into their existing schools - something he said still has to be decided - transportation costs might actually go up for awhile because the city would essentially end up with two busing systems until those kids aged out of the system. Goar and Johnson added that some new classroom space might have to be added in zones with not enough capacity to meet their current needs.

Goar said that transportation savings from new zones - aside from the grandfathering issue - would range from 7% for the six-zone plant to 27% for the no-zone option. He said BPS currently spends $81 million a year on transportation. Close to $6 million of that is for state-mandated busing for charter and parochial-school students, which would not change, while a significant portion of the remainder is for special-needs students, who would continue to need busing.

He added that the 1.49 miles the average student has to traverse to and from school today would shrink to 1.29 miles under a six-zone system and 1.13 miles in a nine-zone system.

Goar said either eliminating zones altogether and returning to neighborhood schools would certainly make things more predictable for parents, but would cause problems with diversity. A similar issue would affect a plan for 23 zones, each with three or four schools in them. Goar also presented a plan for 11 zones, that would create a nearly all-white zone out of West Roxbury and a similarly pale zone in Charlestown and the North End, which he said was a non-starter.

In addition to whatever they do with these zones, Goar said officials would also develop "overlay" zones for special-education and English-learner students.

Any changes adopted by the School Committee would go into effect in the 2014-2015 school year.

Maps and more details for the five proposals.

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Comments

Assignment zones?

Here's a novel idea: You get assigned to the school closest to your house. If you don't like said school, move. Nobody told you to breed or to live near a bad school.

And if the closest school entails a bus ride, stick 'em on the T. Take the school buses and their operating costs off the road, and re-assign the drivers to monitor the schoolchildren on the MBTA buses.

The Only Way To Change This Flawed System

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... Is to up the walk zone preference to 75-80%

Redrawing zone maps is a sneaky way for BPS to disguise and preserve the status quo.

As a Roslindale resident, I

As a Roslindale resident, I find it interesting that all the zone proposals would cut Roslindale off from the schools in West Roxbury.

Which just goes to show what West Roxbury thinks about Roslindale.

bus costs

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My daughter currently bridges that gap: we live in Roslindale but she goes to Kilmer. Our house is actually inside the walk zone for Kilmer.

Now let's not be too hard on the West Roxbury. I expect transportation costs also factored into the zoning proposals.

Ta da, busing costs no longer an issue

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Yeah, they've been telling us forever that all these machinations were to cut busing costs, but tonight we find out, no, not really, that, in fact, more zones will probably mean more busing costs, at least until all the current students age out of the system.

Now it's all about boosting quality - except school officials didn't use that word in their "framework" - and making the lottery system less stressful.

Right

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The zones mean bussing. My kids' zone goes from Readville to Southie. West Rox and Ros are right there, but they could bussed downtown.

Yes

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But Readville is in the East zone which extends to the harborfront...not tech downtown, but close enough

Where are the busing savings promised?

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You are dead on. This is not about shifting transportation budgets into improvements in teaching and learning. From my perspective, redrawing zone maps changes NOTHING.

Because

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The good people from West Roxbury concocted all of the zoning proposals.

We Have Seen This Movie Before And Know How It Ends

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Lucy from Peanuts comic strips (Carol Johnson) pulls the football (school assignment policy changes) out from under Charlie Brown (Boston parents) who get fooled into falling for Lucy's promises yet again ("This time, it will be different Charlie Brown!").

Roslindale/West Roxbury

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As a Roslindale resident, I find it interesting that all the zone proposals would cut Roslindale off from the schools in West Roxbury.

Just nitpicking here, but the 6-zone plan lumps a fair amount of Roslindale (and Mattapan and Hyde Park) with West Roxbury.

The six zone plan has to take

The six zone plan has to take a lot more than just W.R., so it's pretty well unavoidable that part of Rosi would be included.

Funny thing is, the zone curves around, and takes the part of Roslindale that is furthest away from central West Roxbury. And in doing so, it cuts out the part of Roslindale along Centre street that recently got their ZIP code changed to West Roxbury. Serves 'em right.

I should have added that in

I should have added that in all the other plans, it looks like Westie is making their final stand along the parkway. Next time I drive through there, I'll expect to see trenches and cannon to keep out the riff-raff. ;-)

No, not nitpicking, you're right

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I was either careless or I need to finally break down and get those bifocals the eye doctor keeps telling me about. It's the nine- and eleven-zone maps that split West Roxbury and all of Roslindale.

Why did they even bother

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Why did they even bother proposing the no zone, 23 zone and 11 zone, if they are non-starters because of racial mix. If more people of color want to move to West Roxbury they can. I don't understand why race would prevent creating a more economic, efficient and neighborhood based systems. Why does this type of shit only matter in Boston. You don't see it happening in surrounding towns and cities. Under the other proposals (9 and 6 zone) you are actually making it worse for West Roxbury. Instead of allowing West Roxbury to attend schools in Rosindale, JP, and Mission Hill which are going towards the city (so at least parents can drop-off on way to work)- you are grouping it with Hyde Park and Mattapan. So dropping kids off (if not placed in West Roxbury School) becomes very difficult because these places are not located along route into the city. Also, a lot of effort has been made by parents in the current West Zone to improve schools in West Roxbury, Rosindale and JP and now you are cutting these parents off from these options and grouping West Roxbury with essentially some of the worst schools in the city. The 6 and 9 zones proposals are non-starters for me. I prefer the current system over those proposals. It is crazy that a child on one side of West Roxbury Parkway cannot attend a school on the other side. All of this nuts. Eliminate choice and let people go to the school closest to them. If they don't like that school move to another part of the city.

All the proposals suck

They figure if all they present are proposals that suck worse than the current state, people will militate to keep the system as it is, and then the district can say "we are so good at listening to what people really want" and do nothing.

I am going

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to lose my mind before my 3-year-old ever even gets to the BPS, aren't I?

I live in Hyde Park

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It makes little sense to me that my girls might be bussed north to Dorchester or South Boston, when West Roxbury and Roslindale are far closer and far more familiar to them. I agree that there should be a walk zone priority, but after that, the bussing zones make little sense.

Really?

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Adam - The problem with this website is that one's comments take forever (2012 definition) to post. This kills the conversation. Wassup with that?

Spammers, alas

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Get an account and your comments will post the instant you hit the Submit button. Otherwise, yes, they sit in a queue until I get to them, which in this case too awhile since I was on the road driving home from the meeting (and stopping at a McDonald's for dinner). No anti-spam technology in the world will stop the Mumbai housewives spammers hire to enter comments by hand (seriously), hence the reason I still go through anonymous posts.

And then it's hard once your

And then it's hard once your in even if you like your school because you never know what BPS is going to do from year to year.

Suburbs

I liked your point so much that i put it into my email to BPS officials. This constant disruption and shifting of the sands is not ok.

Wow!

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To think that I was half expecting to be pilloried for "trolling" or some bombastic b.s. like that. Thanks.

Just when you think

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you might have a clue, the rules change.

Build projects in West Roxbury

They could help fix the problems with the 11 zone map by building a bunch of new projects in West Roxbury. Make sure the poors are evenly distributed.

Roslindale really gets hacked up by these maps

I have kids at two different elementary schools, both of which are less than a mile from our house, yet only the 9 zone plan leaves these schools in our zone. I think they will have a problem implementing these ideas without grandfathering.

Did they talk about grandfathering current students and changing

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Adam,
Was there any discussion about grandfathering in existing BPS children into their existing school if it is now outside of the new zone proposals? And how did they change the walk zone? It used to be 1 mile, but when I put in my address, my son's current school does not show up. We attend his current school there because of the current walk-zone, however under all the proposals he would not be allowed to attend that school. Just curious if these were addressed before I put my house on the market. I can't find any information on these two topics.
Thanks!

Grandfathering

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Somebody on the advisory committee specifically asked about grandfathering. The sense I got from Deputy Supt. Michael Goar is that officials plan to grandfather existing kids in, because he talked about how expensive it would be to essentially have dual assignment systems for awhile.

Naturally, however, being a BPS official, Goar is unable to answer a yes/no question with a yes/no answer so at first he hemmed and hawed and said things are still up for discussion.

As for the size of walk zones, that's a good question; I wish somebody had thought to ask it - it didn't come up. Take a look at the school-choices Web site linked from the original post - there are several public meetings where you could ask that question.

Well, Adam, I guess we know why Goar didn't answer, eh?

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He hasn't thought that far ahead because the "ahead" in question will not involve him.

I hereby reiterate my earlier comment on this thread. I'll also add that things like this reinforce a perception of instability and disinterestedness (or self-interestedness) in the very top echelons of the School Department administration, which in turn contributes to increased uncertainty for parents and moves to the suburbs.

walk zone size

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I had some back and forth emails with BPS folks who were very responsive by the way. They both assured me that walk zones will remain the same and extend across boundary when applicable. If a school was walk zone to you before, it will remain under all the new proposals other than the no zone one.

The map of schools by performance etc. is really interesting

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Look at THAT map, then come back here and complain. While the whole thread is taken up by people in Roslindale and West Roxbury complaining about how unfair it is that they'll lose one great school and only have a handful of good schools to choose from, over here in Roxbury, many of these plans will make it so my kid will only have worst-performing schools to choose from.

Under the current plan, we still may well end up choosing one of the (not-great-performing, but improving and has a lot of good things going on there) schools in our neighborhood because we like the idea of walkability, a school with more neighborhood kids and families who we know and run into at the park, etc., but at least right now we have the choice of taking a bus to the higher-performing schools in West Rox and Roslindale. We're the ones whose options will drastically change if the zones are made smaller.

What I'd like to see is maps of different areas by race, income, etc. of BPS students versus race, income, etc. of the school-age residents of the neighborhood. You can kind of tell by looking at these maps versus census data which neighborhoods have a lot of kids attending school somewhere other than BPS, but it would be nice to see a map that flat-out shows which people in which neighborhoods are attending private schools.

You should get to one of the meetings and ask for that data

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Because BPS officials said the data they will be presenting is basically based on current enrollment only within BPS.

And you're right about the issue of access to quality schools (one of the criteria used by BPS was "equitable access" - but to the shock of most people in the room last night, BPS officials said that did NOT involve questions of quality schools but simply how transparent the process was or something). This is why all the previous re-zoning proposals failed - they always included one zone, basically centered on the area where Mattapan, Roxbury and Dorchester meet, that had no schools with good test scores.

Part of it you can't really predict though

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If the BPS students in a particular neighborhood are all living in poverty and on the whole aren't doing terribly well in school, but there are a lot of families with privilege/resources in the neighborhood, you can find both pieces of data and plot them, but you can't predict whether changing to neighborhood schools or neighborhoodish schools will result in more of these privileged families going to BPS and subsequently getting involved in the schools and providing the school with kids from privileged families -- which obviously is going to help the school as a whole to do better if there are more kids whose families do more homework, are likely to live in the neighborhood long-term, etc.

I suspect, and this is entirely anecdotal of course, that certain neighborhoods have more of the families who would do BPS if there were an up-and-coming neighborhood school that other neighbors were going to and that they could foresee steadily improving. You know, just as certain neighborhoods tend to have a lot more of the "we'll try the lottery and see what happens" privileged folks versus the "we will not be considering BPS" folks. The "we'll see what happens" folks are likely more apt to consider sending their kids to a neighborhood school than to a random school where it's harder to find other parents on the neighborhood listservs and whatnot.

Either way though, I think it's important to look at maps of all families, not just BPS families, and that way they could at least draw the maps so that all the zones have an equalish number of privileged families. Otherwise, if you draw them equally based just on current BPS families, some schools could do everything in their power to improve themselves, but they'll still be at a disadvantage if the only kids who are eligible to go there are super-at-risk kiddos. That area along Blue Hill Ave roughly between Quincy Street and Franklin Field where there's a lot of poverty and a lot of transient families could be cut up and parts of it placed with the various wealthier Dorchester neighborhoods like Savin Hill, Clam Point, Pope's Hill, Lower Mills, etc.

(FWIW, we're of the "it depends" crowd, but we'd also need to get some serious financial aid to afford private school, so we're not exactly in the "will leave BPS if we don't get the school we want" camp, but we do have the educational privilege and whatnot to be looking at private schools and somewhat knowing what we're doing.)

First identify the problem

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Eeka, your children deserve high-quality school choices in your neighborhood and every one of us as Bostonians should demand nothing less. This idea that there are always going to be poorly performing schools - and so we should force people to enter a lottery to see who gets them - is nonsense. Adequately funded, well run schools in the city are possible - look at the Brooks Charter School which is one of the best schools in the state (by MCAS standards) and serves what people consider to be the most challenged kids from a demographic perspective.

I am one of those Rolsindalians of which you speak in your post but rest assured I do not agree that there are acceptably performing schools in my neighborhood and would fight tooth and nail to force the City to raise the level of performance of those school if I could ever be guaranteed that my child would attend one of those schools, which I can't under the lottery. Many others have commented on the absurdity of spending money transporting kids around the city when that money could be used to improve schools or, in fact, build at least 2 more brand new schools every year, and I won't go on any more about that. However what the lottery and bussing system also promote is the idea that we can bus our kids away from poorly performing schools when, in fact, we should abolish them and be given a guaranteed choice of schools over which we can take ownership and demand accountability from the city. Just my 2 cents.

Another map you should see

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If you want to see an interesting map regarding the city and school zones go to the city of boston website. Look for dept of neighborhood development "Neighborhood Stabilization Program". This program gives grants to people buying homes in "blighted" sections of the city that have high poverty and high foreclosure rates. Look at the map of the areas you have to buy in to qualify for the grant. It is 90 % of the East Zone. All busing over the last 40 years has done is change the areas of the city with the haves and have-nots to different places on the map. It has never been about race, it has always been about income. Is the East Zone poor because it has bad schools or are the schools in the East Zone bad because the East Zone is poor?