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Move to Westwood pitched as cure for Boston school angst

The real estate mailing “was an example of someone who was, on some level, taking advantage,” said Steve Poftak, a Roslindale resident with children in public schools.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

The real estate mailing “was an example of someone who was, on some level, taking advantage,” said Steve Poftak, a Roslindale resident with children in public schools.

WESTWOOD — The distance from the heart of West Roxbury to the center of this quiet town is only 6 miles. But according to a real-estate pitch sent to homeowners in that Boston neighborhood, the separation is much greater than a short drive.

“Did your child not get into the school of their choice?” asked a recent mailing from a Coldwell Banker agent. “Every school is a GREAT choice in WESTWOOD!”

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The agent who made the pitch, a mother of four school-age children who moved here from West Roxbury, said she timed the mailing to coincide with the angst-ridden lottery that assigns pupils to Boston schools.

“I know that’s a big concern,” said Stephanie Giroux. “A lot of the people who live in the West Roxbury and Roslindale area are getting notices about what kind of school their children got into.”

But what Coldwell Banker sees as a plucky pitch, others see as a ploy that plays on the anxieties of Boston families who agonize over where their children will attend school.

“It was an example of someone who was, on some level, taking advantage,” said Steve Poftak, a Roslindale resident with children in the Boston schools who received the postcard. “I’ve gone through [the lottery], and I’m one of the lucky ones. I certainly know other people who have perhaps not been as fortunate as I am and have moved out.”

About 200 postcards, mailed recently to carefully selected homes in West Roxbury and Roslindale, urge families there to pull up stakes and move to Westwood, a town of 14,618 people that is the 20th wealthiest in the state.

“Location, Location, Location,” reads the mailing. “Education, Education, Education.”

A photo of a two-story, lushly landscaped Colonial adorns the hand-addressed postcards. “Call me so I can help you make the best decision for your family,” Giroux wrote.

Boston school officials said they could not recall another real-estate pitch that specifically used the city’s school-assignment anxiety as a reason to decamp for the suburbs.

“I have never seen one like this before,” said Lee McGuire, spokesman for the Boston schools.

Although Boston has approved a new assignment process designed to place more children close to home, that system will not take effect until the 2014-15 school year. As a result, the K-8 assignment notices that went out last month were opened with a familiar sense of trepidation.

The Boston public schools do not release names and addresses of its applicants, so Giroux did some digging. Some of her targets were people she knew, some surfaced by word of mouth, and others were added by visual clues such as swing sets in the yard, said Aglaia Pikounis, a Coldwell Banker spokeswoman.

Giroux said she can relate to school-lottery anxiety.

“I lived in West Roxbury, and I had four very young children, and so my main objective in getting into a good town was a good school system,” Giroux said. “Even though I enjoyed living in the city, I couldn’t afford to send my children to private school and set money aside for college.”

Erica Rice, the Coldwell Banker branch manager in Westwood, said the agency typically sees a surge in interest at this time of year from young families in West Roxbury and Roslindale.

“We know we have an excellent school system,” Rice said. “This was just an agent who has customers looking in Westwood for that very reason, and she knew that this was good target marketing. I thought it was creative.”

Westwood’s reputation for good schools is a source of deep local pride. Last year, the US Department of Education granted Westwood High School a “national blue ribbon,” bestowed on the top 38 high schools in the nation.

“Our MCAS scores are always among the top in the Commonwealth,” said John Antonucci, the superintendent of a school system with 3,200 students. “We place a very high premium on recruiting and retaining the best teachers and administrators.”

Agent Stephanie Giroux said her pitch is simply about moving to a good town with “great public schools.’’

Agent Stephanie Giroux said her pitch is simply about moving to a good town with “great public schools.’’

That emphasis pays off, said Victor Servello, 36, who owns a small restaurant in Westwood’s sleepy downtown.

“There’s a lot of young families moving here,” said Servello, who was raised in the town. “It’s all the schools. They’re certainly not moving here for the downtown area or the amenities.”

But to Poftak, who is executive director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, the sales strategy underscores the obstacles that Boston’s schools face as they strive to improve quality and attract families. “People hope the new assignment system will add some more predictability to the process and allay some fears,” he said.

McGuire, the Boston schools spokesman, said parents have more reason now than they did 10 years ago to keep their children in the city. The graduation rate of 65.9 percent is a record, he said. The city’s projected enrollment of 58,271 next year will be an eight-year high, and internal surveys show that 94 percent of parents are happy with their schools, he added.

“We’re not experts in real estate, but we do think that having better schools will attract more families,” McGuire said.

Giroux, the real-estate agent, dismissed the notion that she was trying to sell homes by exploiting the anxieties of young city dwellers. The pitch, she said, is a simple one: “It’s moving to a good town that has great public schools.”

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@globe.com.
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