In an effort to better improve family involvement in local schools, the Boston Public Schools Office of Community Engagement and Circle of Promise spent the past several months speaking with parents, families, students and community members. The organization received valuable input about how to improve school choice and student assignment, how to make schools better, and how to build communities within the school and surrounding neighborhoods.
Now, continuing their efforts in July, Boston Public Schools officials met with Charlestown parents at the Warren Prescott Elementary School to further gain thoughts and suggestions, and share their collected data.
“It’s my office that has been taking the lead and organizing these meetings,” said Director of Community Engagement and Circle of Promise Mary Ann Crayton. “It’s your voice that we want to hear today,” she directed at parents, “…and tonight we’re going to walk you through the emerging themes we’ve heard.”
Those themes included quality, equity and choice. A slideshow presentation illuminated that a quality education builds character and helps children becomes productive citizens, prepares students to reach their fullest potential, and serves the needs of all learners.
Equity means opportunity and access for all students, and ensures that the needs of all learners are met. One example is educational excellence, which is about more than academics and standardized tests. It relates to highly qualified teachers and focuses on the success of a child as a whole, as opposed to a solely academic aspect.
“The next thing we asked participants was do you value choice,” Crayton said. It was concluded that all participants value choice, meaning that parents want the best overall experience for their children. Some feel that a strong sense of community in a neighborhood is placed at a higher value than the school, while others held the opposite viewpoint. But the ideal conclusion from both sides that having the choice to place their children in a top-notch school within a safe community and wonderful neighborhood would be the ideal situation.
Unfortunately, with an exorbitant number of matriculating students each year and not enough seats, school assignments have some parents frustrated and upset. “The fact that living in Charlestown, my four or five-year-old could be bussed to East Boston because of assignment is pretty daunting to me,” one concerned mother voiced.
Data gathered from Charlestown parents showed that proximity to home and safety were among the top three biggest factors impacting their decision on choosing a school, the third being a rigorous academic curriculum. When faced with concerns of younger children having to take the bus to school outside their neighborhood, Crayton and the other officials did their best in explaining the process, and also said that priority is given to those facing more difficult challenges. For instance, a first grader would be given an edge over a fifth grader, simply because it is more disconcerting to think of such a young student being bussed to a distant school in unfamiliar territory than an older child who would be more equipped to handle the change.
Transportation burdens and enrollment issues were the most discussed topics when parents were given a chance to voice their concerns. All comments were concisely condensed on a large writing board to be tucked away for further analysis. And while Charlestown men and women in attendance felt better that what they said was being heard, Boston Public Schools can only improve the system, not create more seats. The sparse audience was encouraged to bring their neighbors to future meetings, which will continue to be held monthly.