Review of Community Meeting at Orchard Gardens
Last night, BPS held a community meeting to present and get feedback on the latest proposals for student assignment. There was a good turnout, according to the Globe story on the meeting, around 250 people attended.
Carleton Jones and Tim Nicolette of BPS presented the plans and some analysis. The presentation was similar to this one from the January 23rd EAC meeting, but with less detail. They did not explain in detail how the two home-based plans would work.
After the presentation, BPS took questions which they specified should be clarifying questions on the plans since there would be time for comment after they took questions. Most of the questions were along the lines of "why don't you fix quality first, then address student assignment?" BPS gave the usual answer of the improvements that have already happened. There were also some questions about how students with disabilities would be assigned. I really didn't understand the answers to this, it's clearly fairly complicated now and will remain complicated with the new overlay. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as it's important that kids with different needs get the right services.
I asked if students who are assigned under the ELL and SWD overlays would have access to walk zone schools across zones. The BPS tool to see school choices by address doesn't show this. Carleton said that they haven't decided this yet. They would like to provide it but they're not sure if they'll be able to and still properly manage capacity. I think this is pretty important and should be included. For example, if you look at the Hurley school, it's up in a little rectangle at the north end of cluster C. Because of the shape of the cluster, students in the vast majority of what is now the Hurley's walk zone would not be able to attend if they are assigned through the ELL overlay. This includes families in the Villa Victoria and Cathedral housing projects which have large Spanish-speaking populations. This seems like a particularly large problem because the Hurley is a Spanish/English dual language school and half of its students must be native Spanish speakers. I'm sure there are countless other examples where not allowing walk zone access to cross lines will cut off ELL and SWD students from nearby programs that will meet their needs (which is the goal of the overlays).
People also asked for explanations of how the plans work. Carleton said that they were too complicated to explain in the time available but that they had computers set up outside the room where people could look up an address and see the choices available.
BPS then opened the meeting to comments. Most of the comments fell into the following categories:
- BPS should address quality before changing student assignment.
- People need a better explanation of how these plans work and what impact they will have before they can respond to them.
- The EAC should delay their final vote which is currently scheduled for this Saturday.
Both city councilor Tito Jackson and State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz spoke strongly about the need for people to understand the plans. Chang-Diaz particularly emphasized that it's not enough for people to be able to look up their address and see their schools. They need to be able to understand how their list of schools will be created and be able to explain the plans to their communities. I agree with this. The home-based plans are specifically designed to make sure that all students have a chance to be assigned to quality schools, but I don't think that was mentioned in the presentation. Also, the data on equity presented was very thin given how much information is available in the BPS report. Jackson also read a letter signed by 12 local elected officials asking the EAC to give the community more time to understand and respond to the plans.
After almost every speaker called for the EAC to give the community more time, EAC member Kelly Bates suggested that the committee vote immediately on whether to go forward on Saturday. EAC member Bob Gittens, who was leading the meeting, saw this as problematic since not all EAC members were present and they hadn't expected any official business to be conducted at the meeting. At the end of the meeting, Helen Dájer agreed with this and noted that they did not have a quorum present. They said they will vote on this at their meeting tonight.
One thing I found striking is that, as far as I can remember, nobody spoke in favor of any of the plans. Most of the comments were not specifically against any of the plans, though. I think the biggest hurdle right now is that people don't understand the home-based plans and don't have enough information on how to evaluate the plans, particularly with regard to equity.
Given the fact that almost all speakers called for more time and the fact that there's really no support in the community for the plans without more information, I can't imagine that the EAC won't vote tonight to allow more time before their vote. Remember, you can attend the meeting at 73 Tremont St. at 6:00 tonight. The first hour will be dedicated to public comment.
Kim Janey of Mass. Advocates for Children tweeted a good summary of the meeting: powerful mtg where ppl across race/class lines & nghbds overwhelming called 4 quality, equity, analysis and delay.