If there’s one thing the Obamacare-rollout debacle has made clear, it’s that a massive change in a public program requires clear information that’s presented in a user-friendly way. Fortunately, in rolling out Boston’s new school assignment plan, the Boston Public Schools seem better prepared than the federal government.
Starting next fall, Boston parents who register their children for kindergarten or middle school will confront a new assignment system with a lofty goal — increasing the chance that a child can attend a school near home — and a complex system for attaining it. The new system involves customized lists, schools divided by tier, and exceptions based on geography and sibling preference. It has the potential to become the kind of labyrinth any family would find difficult to navigate, particularly a family with limited use of English.
Fortunately, the School Department is putting in place a sizable outreach plan. A new website, DiscoverBPS.org, has a simple design and a cheery approach. The department plans to hold two dozen informational meetings, with interpreters available in a range of languages. More schools will be open to tours as parents make their decisions. Billboards and public service announcements will stress that the system is changing. This public-relations effort will be key not just to helping families make critical school choices for their kids, but to instilling confidence that this new plan is, indeed, an improvement.