Boston schools debut new assignment plan

Martin Desmarais | 11/20/2013, 10:49 a.m.
For several decades Boston Public Schools has showcased its schools at a central event each year for parents and students in grades that will be picking a new school for the following year. This year, BPS is holding events at individual schools so families can visit the actual schools they are interested in. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Schools

However, there will also be four school preview days for all grades K-12 that will allow families to visit a BPS school and meet school teachers and staff. These will be on Dec. 3 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Dec. 11 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.; Dec. 19 from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and Jan. 7 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

And if families can’t make these events, Snyder says they can always arrange to visit a school on their own.

Kim Janey, senior director at Massachusetts Advocate for Children, supports BPS efforts to improve the school assignment process. She said that the process has historically been very confusing for families and that the new school choice program may not entirely fix that but certainly shows BPS is working hard to improve the process and get more information out to parents so they can make informed decisions for their children’s schooling.

“I think the school preview day is a good change,” Janey said. “It is very important for families to be in the school and get a feel for it.”

Janey also highly recommends visiting the school at another time — as BPS’ Snyder suggested as well — when the school is in action and students and teachers are present.

While the new school choice program promises to reduce the distance students have to travel to school, which Janey believes is a good thing, she also pointed out that focusing on school proximity could be a challenge for students that have special needs for education and might not find a school that can serve them without looking citywide.

She also worries that families who don’t have easy access to the Internet may fall behind in the school choice process or that others may not be able to keep up with all that is involved.

“It is an awful lot of information to digest, especially for families that are hearing this for the first time,” Janey said.

She also said BPS needs to do a better job of letting families know just how important it is to register their students in January and not wait till later in the year.

BPS first opens registration for those grades picking new schools in January and does the school assignment in a lottery process through several rounds all the way through the start of the next school year in August and September.

“When the assignments are made and if you don’t get into that first round it is going to be very difficult to get that school of your choice,” Janey said.

Snyder agrees and says they tell all those interested in BPS schools, even if they are looking at other options, to register early in January for transition grades kindergarten, sixth and ninth and then in February for all other grades.

“Generally we will see half to two-thirds of the people registering for schools during that time,” she said. “The reality is only the seats that are left over are available for families.

“It is very, very hard for families that come in May or August or September,” she added. “We hope that BPS is one of the viable options they are considering for their children’s education but even if they think of us as a backup they should still register for us in January.”