The Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, Dr. Carol R. Johnson, came to Roslindale Community Center this morning to listen to local parents. These are the personal but public notes of one parent. I’ll link to any other accounts of the meeting as I become aware of them.
I arrived a little after the published start time of 10:30am. The door proclaimed the room to be a nut-free zone. That’s good news, since parents have been known to get nutty (myself included). There was further good news inside in the form of coffee and mini-donuts (yes, Dunkin). I’d say that the room was set up for about 100 people. There were fewer than that when I arrived, and many more than that when CRJ arrived.
Two signin sheets were passed around. One asked for name and some demographics. Most of the people who signed it before me identified themselves as female, 25-54, and looks around the room reinforced that. The other signin sheet had Philbrick in the lead in terms of school affiliation at the early stage at which I saw it. A later show of hands suggested that “Haley wins.”
The superintendent was running late, on her way from a meeting in Dorchester. Councillor Rob Consalvo said a few words while we were waiting for her. At 11.05, she arrived and he introduced her. The message of his introduction was that “Doctor Johnson gets it.” Her opening was appropriate: thank you all for being here; sorry for being late; let me introduce some other members of the team. All the Roslindale principals were present.
Here are the questions and points from the parents, in the order they came up. I’ve captured the questions, rather than the answers, because I wanted to listen to CRJ and to her answers. My overall impression is that she good at listening, at appreciating multiple sides of an issue, and at gently giving people a side of the issue other than the one they raise. To illustrate this, I’ll leave in my notes on her response to the first question. The question was about the issue central to the meeting: changing schools from K-5 to K-8.
- Change to K-8: economic necessity? It would help economically, in that it would consolidate facilities. But some parents prefer smaller, more intimate schools.
- Advanced work: can it be accomodated in a K-5 school?
- Assignment policies are inhibiting parental involvement, whereas involvement could be increased with K-8 in Roslindale, more walk zone slots,…
- What is the possibility of K-6?
- Boston is divided along lines of race and class: look around the meeting room and see that it’s not representative of Boston families.
- There’s no real/good school choice, especially for grades 6-8.
- Why put resources into “the K-8 thing” when we could fix what we already have, especially by making schools safer? (Next parent reinforced the same point.)
- What’s the process for making decisions about changes to the school system?
- On the aborted merger of Bates and Mozart into one K-8: it failed because the schools would have shrunk in terms of classes within each grade.
- What decisions led to the establishment of the new pilot school in the particular form it is taking?*
- Need more spaces in local schools for autistic kids.
- There has been a lack of transparency and involvement in the decision-making process.
- Improving the Irving school, and guaranteeing that the Roslindale elementary schools will feed into it, would be better than the current “scattered to the wind” regime.
- Let’s be aware that the next few years will be a period of transition. Parents are flexible, but want to know where there kids will end up in the future.
- City Councillor John Tobin, who arrived during the meeting, reported that he hears a lot of support from his constituents for the K-8 idea.
- Would like to hear more from CRJ about what is going to happen.
- Account of how the BTU pilot school* got to be the way it is: the programs, including grade 6, are being designed by teachers who are also parents.
- The Haley school improved because parents were determined that it would do so: what would it take to make the same happen for the Irving school?
- 6th grade transition presents “a dilemma and a nightmare.”
- Fear that the small K-5 schools will become less chosen and hence less viable, leading to question: could 6th grade be added to exam schools, rather than to K-5?
- Need more “social cohesion,” which is threatened by things like advanced work and exam schools.
- As a new superintendent, how do you think that the things you’ve seen elsewhere might apply in Boston?
CRJ had to leave at 12:40, running even later than when she arrived. Despite starting late, the meeting was actually a little longer than scheduled. Other members of her team were able to stay on for further discussion (but I wasn’t).
I heard about the meeting through the Haley school, where my daughter has just started in K1. (So far so good, thank you for asking.) I didn’t see any advance notification at the Boston Public Schools site when I checked.
The meeting did turn out to be nut-free, in that the tone of discussion was reasonable. It wasn’t just the parents who were well-behaved: the kids who were at the meeting were very good and patient.
By the way, there is a wireless network in the Roslindale Community Center. But it is secure, and hence not available to the community.
That’s all from me for now. If you have written up your own account of the meeting, or of related issues, please let me know and I’ll link. If you have comments, please feel free to make them here.
* From the Boston Public Schools site: A new K-8 pilot school governed by the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) would open in the former Parkman School building in Jamaica Plain. The same web page gives further details of the recommendations in CRJ’s “Pathways to Excellence” plan.