Parents sound off on school plan

Some say it favors those living near quality schools

More than 150 parents and students attended a public meeting on Thursday.
More than 150 parents and students attended a public meeting on Thursday.

Parents and advocates raised concerns on Thursday about a proposal before the Boston School Committee that would dramatically change the way children are assigned to the city’s public schools.

At a public meeting at English High School in Jamaica Plain, some parents said the proposed assignment system would not resolve problems created by the so-called walk-zone policy, where half the seats in every school are reserved for children who live nearby.

Megan Wolf, a member of the parent advocacy group Quest, said the walk-zone preference favors students who live near high-quality schools.


“This creates winners and losers,” she said.

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The new assignment policy was proposed by a special committee appointed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino. It would replace the system in which the city’s schools are divided among three zones, and instead offer parents up to six choices based on factors such as distance, school capacity, and MCAS performance. At least four of those choices would be considered schools of medium or high quality.

The panel, dubbed the External Advisory Committee, also recommended the current walk-zone policy remain in place for two years while officials assess the impact of the new system. The School Committee is scheduled to vote on the new assignment plan Wednesday.

Critics have said the plan will limit many students’ access to quality schools.

School Superintendent Carol R. Johnson reiterated her belief Thursday the proposal will increase access to quality schools and simplify the assignment process for parents.


“It does connect the dots between quality and choice,” Johnson said.

But Reggie Walker, 48, of Dorchester, whose daughter is a seventh-grader at Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury, was critical of the proposal.

“It needs to be improved,’’ he said before the meeting.

Walker referred to suggested changes that were being circulated by a coalition of advocacy groups, including committing more money to low-performing schools.

“All I want is for my child to have a fair shot,” Walker said.

Denysha Jackson, 19, a senior at Fenway High School, said during the public comment period that proximity has never been a concern for her.

“My mother would rather send me to a school that is farther away that has better supplies,” Jackson said.

John Radosta, 43, of Jamaica Plain echoed those remarks. He said in jest that he sent his son to the Ohrenberger School in West Roxbury despite its “staggering distance” from his home.

“Because it had a dynamic principal who encouraged parents to get involved,” he said.


If approved by the School Committee, the new assignment plan would take effect in the fall of 2014.

Several committee members at Thursday night’s meeting asked questions about the the details of the plan. One committee member, John Barros, said he wanted to know whether the plan’s provisions may change if schools increase their capacity.

“This is a really important feature,” he said.

Officials responded that there was no trigger for change based on capacity.

James Vaznis of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.