06-13-2011 10:17 AM #1
Boston's school assignment system disperses children all over and destroys the neighborhood feel
From Boston Globe by Stephanie Ebbert and Jenna Russell:
Every weekday on Montvale Street this fall, Abel and Aryana Saavedra will leave their second-floor apartment at 6:45 a.m. for Forest Hills Station, where they will board separate buses bound for schools in Wellesley. A half-hour later, their next-door neighbor, Seamus Folan, will emerge from his condo so his mother can drive him to his Hyde Park charter school. Soon, Sophie Rousell will be shooed into her mother’s Jeep for the 5-mile drive to a Chestnut Hill private school — followed by five other kindergartners who will appear on their porches and disperse to at least four other public schools.
In September, the 19 school-age children who live on this one city block in Roslindale will migrate to a dizzying array of 15 public, private, and charter schools, from West Roxbury to Wellesley, traveling a combined 182 miles each day. There was a time — some here remember it well — when all the kids on Montvale went to nearby Wolfgang Mozart Elementary School, making the short walk together in a familiar, noisy pack with neighborhood playmates who were almost like brothers and sisters. Now, the children on this and other streets across the city scatter every morning, due to a lottery system that allows them to travel beyond their neighborhood for a chance to attend a better school — or drives them out of the public schools altogether by assigning them to a disappointing choice.
The daily exodus costs the city dearly, both in sky-high transportation costs — almost $80 million a year — and, some sociologists and education specialists say, in weakened ties among families, which can strain the tenuous fabric of neighborhoods.
Frustration with the system’s shortcomings has fueled repeated calls for a return to neighborhood schools, which would dispatch children to the nearest school. But in a city with schools of uneven caliber, a return to the old ways would mean many students would lose, primarily minorities, who would be yoked to the struggling schools in many of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Because of that racial subtext, and the scars from court-ordered busing 40 years ago, even the talk of change is fraught with difficulty.
That has left many in Boston — parents who want the best for their children; officials who want to staunch the flow of middle-class families to the suburbs — locked in a deep and mostly silent struggle about how to move forward.
It has also left some parents feeling like they have lost something precious.
“It’s not like we’ve got this great neighborhood feel,’’ said Denise Kitty-Rousell, a mother raising her two children in the Montvale Street duplex in which her husband grew up. “And I think part of that is because there’s no school. There’s no community.’’