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Boston schools to consider assignment plan

The Boston School Committee will give serious consideration to a proposal to make the biggest change in nearly 25 years to the way the city assigns students to schools, its chairman said Wednesday night moments before hearing a presentation.

"We won't make this decision lightly," said Michael O'Neill, the School Committee chairman. "We know the significance of the change they [the mayor's panel] are presenting and it will have an impact on families and students in the years to come."

The School Committee is expected to vote on the plan in two weeks.

The proposal was outlined to the School Committee by members of the External Advisory Committee two nights after the plan received an overwhelming endorsement from the mayor-appointed panel that has examined changes to the student-assignment system for the past year.


If approved by the School Committee, the proposal would mark a major shift in the way Boston assigns students to schools. No longer would the School Department divide the city into three massive student assignment zones.

Instead, a complex algorithm would generate a list of schools from which parents could choose based on a variety of factors, such as distance from school, school capacity, and MCAS performance.

Parents would receive at least six school choices, including a minimum of four of medium- or high-quality.

Superintendent Carol R. Johnson, reading from a speech, called the presentation of the proposal to the school board a "profound and impactful moment in our city's journey toward educational opportunity and excellence for all."

John Barros, a School Committee member, said the moment was a "milestone."

School Committee members — appointed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has been pushing for the overhaul of student assignments — were silent on their own views of the proposal.

Instead they asked a range of questions, including those about cost savings on transportation, efforts to increase the number of quality schools, and the impact on students of different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds.


The School Committee will hold a public hearing on the proposal on March 7 at 6 p.m. at English High School in Jamaica Plain. Another public hearing will be held on March 13, the same night the School Committee is scheduled to vote on the plan.

Several students, parents, and education advocates pressed for changes to the proposal during public comment at Wednesday night's meeting.

Many want to stop giving assignment priorities to students who live within a mile of a school out of a belief that all students should have an equal shot at a seat.

Mary Jo Hetzel, of the Coalition for Equal Quality Education, a Boston grassroots advocacy organization, expressed concern that students in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan would not have enough opportunities to attend a high-performing school under the proposed system.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com.