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School Choice: Boston Public Schools Proposes Five Options

Officials from the Boston Public School Department presented five different plans to address the issue of school choice in the city. All the proposals would mark a significant change for South End residents.

The choices are on the table for future generations of Boston Public School students.

The Boston Public Schools Department presented a series of five options that would address school choice among students in Boston, with proposals ranging from doing away with the zone system completely to a system involving 23 different zones that span the city. 

The schools currently run in a three zone system, meaning some students attend schools across large swaths of the city. In thinking about the different plans, BPS said the frameworks considered equitable access, proximity to home for students, element of choice, diversity, safety, predictability, simpler for families, transportation savings, ease of execution.

Each of the proposed options would significantly change the choices for students who live in the South End, either by basically limiting school choice to Blackstone and Hurley schools or by giving most South End students the choice to attend schools in South Boston or Roxbury and some South End students could attend schools in the Fenway/Kenmore neighborhood or Allston-Brighton neighborhoods. 

Option 1 - No zones
This model would assign students directly to the school closest to them, with adjustments for capacity and programmatic options. In this model, families would not make school choices and students would receive their assignment based on their address and specific programmatic needs (special education, English Language Learning programs, etc.)

"This system will maximize our transportation savings on which we spend more than $81 million a year," said Deputy Superintendent Michael Goar. "But this plan eliminates choice, and then there are issues of diversity," he said. 

Option 2 - 23 zones
The second option breaks up the neighborhoods of Boston into 23 smaller zones in an effort to enhance the choice issues and equity of access to quality schools, while still keeping students close to home. This would shrink the average distance a student travels to school each day from 1.49 miles to .88 miles.

"It doesn't get to quite all the options in terms of choice, but it gets at larger issues of keeping students closer to home, a greater level of preditability, and saves resources regarding transportation," Goar said. "Again, one could argue this option may still be short on issues of choice and diversity."

Option 3, 4, 5 - 11, 9 or 6 zones
The third, fourth and fifth options attempt to balance multiple factors, including maintaining predictability and staying close to home, but also takes into account issues of available seats in schools versus student population, and access to high-performing schools. 

"This doesn't follow any political boundary, but it's what we feel best serves the students and is in the best interest of the students," said Goar. "It's near their community as well as opportunity for kids to have a high quality education."

In the 11-zone plan, Goar said a couple of zones did not meet acceptible standards in terms of diversity. Those zones include Charlestown and parts of Roxbury. 

At least one school within each zone would have specialized programs for students with the most common disabilities.This includes Autism, Learning Disabled, Emotionally Impaired, and Intellectually Impaired. 

Sibling preference and walk-zone preference would still apply. If a school is across a boundary line from a students’ home but within the walk zone, that family could still apply to the school.

System wide issues
Feedback from the advisory committee and members of the public centered on the fact that the prepared maps and charts did not seem to address the issue of access quality schools in a given zone. Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson said those issues were taken into consideration and played a role in determing zones, but parents said they needed to see evidence of it on the maps.

Superintendent Johnson also noted that the goal is to improve quality at all schools, especially ones now that are lower quality schools, but parents and the advisory board wanted to see more of which plan equally provided access to schools determined high quality or improving quality schools as of this year. Other concerns were raised about scenarios and modeling in terms of changes to populations in certain areas and changes to school quality in certain areas. 

You can view the corresponding maps released on Monday night by clicking on the .pdfs at the top of the article, and you can delve more into the plans at the Boston Public Schools School Choice website. Which plan do you think best serves the students of Boston?

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