The Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Chinatown draws its diverse student population from nearby neighborhoods, including the Back Bay and South End, but also farther away, from Roxbury and East Boston. Parents prize the school’s outstanding academic programs and test scores, Mandarin instruction for all students, and wealth of extracurricular activities.
Now, some fear the educational opportunities and diversity could be at risk under the school-assignment proposals unveiled recently by the School Department.
In the proposals that would draw new zones, the school would be shoehorned into one end of a swath that extends westward through Back Bay to the Fenway and Allston-Brighton. The new zones would exclude, among other neighborhoods, Beacon Hill, the North End, the waterfront area, the Leather District, and much of the South End.
“I think that it’s very desirable to have . . . different neighborhoods represented, different cultures, different socioeconomic backgrounds,” said waterfront resident Jen Hamilton, 39, who has two children at the Quincy and hopes to also send her 3-year-old son there in two years.
“I think it’s important not just to have these homogenous pockets in schools.”
The five proposals released Sept. 24 aim to give most families options for schools closer to home, build a stronger sense of community, and reduce busing costs. Four plans would replace the current three-zone system with six, nine, 11, or 23 smaller zones, while another would eliminate zones altogether and assign students to the nearest school with an available seat.
An alternative plan released Oct. 3 by a group of elected officials would guarantee students seats in kindergarten classes close to home but also establish 16 citywide magnet schools.
School Department spokesman Matt Wilder said that in each of four of the district’s five proposals, the zone containing the Quincy School is one of the largest, and it comprises sections of the city that include many ethnic groups.
Wilder said the shape of the proposed zones was determined based on input from residents in a series of redistricting meetings. Many Allston residents, especially those of Chinese descent, said they valued their access to the Quincy, Wilder said.
“I think that those maps reflect what we heard in those community meetings,” Wilder said.
Quincy parents interviewed after the proposals were released said they took comfort in Superintendent Carol R. Johnson’s assurance that students already attending schools would be grandfathered in when the changes go into effect, possibly for fall 2014.
But they also expressed concern about what the new zones could mean for younger children in their families and thousands of others across the city. Some said that while a move toward neighborhood schools was appealing for their families, it could deny children in other parts of Boston access to quality education.
“I can accept that busing is not good for me personally, but it’s good for other families,” said Hamilton. “I just want something that’s fair to everyone.”
Jennifer Sanderson, 33, has tried for two years to get her son into either the Quincy or the Eliot School, near their North End home. Instead, he attends Baldwin Early Learning Pilot Academy in Brighton, where he is getting a good education. But the school only has kindergarten and first-grade, and she would like to send her son to the Quincy when he advances to second grade.
“I would be disappointed if we didn’t even have the option to go to the Quincy,” Sanderson said.
Toyya Handy’s two children are enrolled in kindergarten at the Quincy. She is concerned that a neighborhood school would not provide them the same opportunities.
“I just moved from the South End to Dorchester, and I would not pick a school in Dorchester over this one at all,” said Handy.
Palesa Allen, who also has two children at the Quincy, said that in theory she likes the idea of children attending a school close to home, but other issues outweigh proximity.
“Most parents base the school they want on the curriculum, and class size, and the programs they offer, and what if the school closest to you doesn’t offer the programs that you want?” said Allen, 25.
Ana Bautista, who lives in the South End, has two children at the Quincy and a 2-year-old in preschool elsewhere. Bautista, 25, said she had planned to apply for her youngest child to enter the school for kindergarten in 2014. But she said she would be willing to apply for placement in the Quincy’s preschool next year to ensure a spot — even though its shorter day would require her to cut back on her college course load.
Simon Ho, principal of the Quincy School, said he is withholding judgment until he learns more about the plans. But he is concerned about limiting access to the school to students in just a small part of the city.
“I want to make this school as diverse as possible,” Ho said.
Wilder, the School Department spokesman, emphasized that the process of gathering public input on the proposals is ongoing and encouraged concerned parents to attend upcoming public meetings or visit bostonschoolchoice.org to express their opinions.