Monday, March 18, 2013

Lottery Results Are In!

Well, after months of waiting and wondering, the lottery results are in!

I'm talking about the Boston Public Schools school assignment lottery, of course. You know, school assignment - that mysterious system where you register your child, rank a series of schools in your zone, get assigned a random number, and wait to find out where your child will attend school? 
Oh. You don't? 

That's probably because you live in a normal area where your child attends the school in your neighborhood instead of climbing on a bus to travel to a school 40 minutes away in morning traffic. I do not. I live in the city of Boston, where we do schools a bit differently. 

Boston has some fantastic schools. And Boston has some pretty bad schools. And where your child attends depends on your lottery assignment. And the zone that you live in. And your walk zone. And sibling preference. Oh, and whether or not you can afford to send your child to a private school to avoid being assigned to a bad school. This was all designed in the interest of fairness. And it is fair. Even our local politicians have no control over what schools their kids get in to. It's fair. Unless you have money to move to the expensive 'burbs or pay private tuition. So maybe it's not really fair. Just anxiety-inducing and annoying. Alright, this is a rant for another day... 

They're changing the system for next year, to reduce some of the insane bussing costs and general parent anxiety. In theory, they can put the bussing money they save into the "underperforming" schools. We're not quite sure how it will work, though. That, too, is a rant for another day...

So, drumroll please.......

HeyMama got a seat at the Trotter School! 
I think it was ranked number 15 out of 16 on our list. It's way across town, in an area we don't frequent often. Because of distance. Ok, and crime. I certainly wouldn't drive there at night. I haven't driven there yet, but I strongly suspect it will take around 40 minutes to drive there in morning rush hour traffic. But I should test it to know for sure.

The school is considered a "turnaround" school. In other words, it's been so bad in the past that the school was allowed to set extended hours and have the ability to more freely fire and hire staff to bring up the quality of the teachers. (We'll ignore the implications for our local teacher's union...) Additional resources and special rules were granted to the school because it was just so bad. And I understand that the changes have helped a lot. I've heard great things about the school. I'm sure HeyMama could learn a lot there. But when she starts school next year, she'll have a 3 week-old sibling. And I'll be a sleep-deprived milk-leaking zombie who will choose between driving across town at 8am or putting a 4 year old on a school bus for a 40 minute ride. Both options make me shudder. 

We're waitlisted for our top three choices, which are all in our walk zone (ie. less than a mile away):

  • Sumner Elementary:  #22
  • Mozart Elementary:  #41
  • Bates Elementary Special Needs Integrated Classroom:  #45

These numbers aren't great. Sure, there is a rare chance we could get into the Sumner, but I'm not holding my breath.

So, like any decent family with a bit of wiggle room in the budget, we'll start touring local private/parochial schools. The tuitions aren't that different from what we've been paying for preschool this past year, anyway. We're not talking about elite prep schools for our 4 year old, just an alternative to being bussed to the 'hood. It's all part of the "fair" education system in our city. Fairness is great until we talk about putting my sweet little 4 year old on a long bus ride with the big kids to a neighborhood with random gun violence. Then screw fairness. She's 4. Her father and I didn't complete a combined 15 years of higher education to send our little lamb out to the wolves. We'll eat more lentils and postpone retirement a few years to afford another option. This, too, is a rant for another day...

So congrats to all Bostonians who got their first choices, and our condolences to the others that didn't. We'll see you at the private school tours. And the open houses in the 'burbs...


  1. Kudos to you for doing all the visits, research and work and going through the process. It's insane, but you gave it your best shot.

    Another point, however: It's really not such a sharp dichotomy. There is not "the city of Boston" and every where else is "tony suburbs." Many communities surrounding Boston are cities in their own right -- with the diversity, the overdevelopment, the prices, the opportunities, the public transit, the challenges of city life. And even true suburbs and small towns have challenges when it comes to children entering school. Bostonians who think outside the city limits equals some 1950s Levitttown are just displaying the usual "Hub" mentality.

    I'm really sorry that your effort at the school process didn't turn out the way you hoped. If you do decide to move, it's Boston's loss.

    1. You're right Polly, things don't magically turn rosy once we cross out of Boston city limits. All towns and school districts have their challenges. But when I look at the stats of the cities that people frequently emigrate to (including Newton, Brookline, Milton, Dedham, Wayland, Concord, etc.) none of them can compare statistically to Boston on terms of violent crime, need for reduced/free lunch, and MCAS performance. Just crossing from Boston to Quincy results in MCAS pass rates increasing by 14 points in English and 13 points in Math (per 10th graders in 2012 - I figured that by 10th grade, the effects of having to learn English in school should be evened out for high-immigrant districts). Violent crime incidence drops approx 250 per 100,000 people (per 2010 crime stats, the only ones I could easily find.) when you cross the city limits. And I seriously doubt any Quincy principals had to negotiate a peace zone around her school with the local gangs to keep her students from getting caught in gang cross fire. (That school is now popular enough that we didn't get in or on a wait list.)

      Not all would be perfect by moving out of Boston, but HeyMama's bus route would no longer travel through areas with regular shootings. And the free/reduced lunch participation rate of a different district would definitely drop below Boston's 84%. There are just aspects of poverty that we would escape by moving. Of course, there are benefits of city life that we would lose by moving. I hope we can make it work out.

    2. When you put it that way I start to wonder why you went through the lottery process in the first place...

      But what I was also trying to say relates to your last point. The "benefits of city living" point. Whatever those benefits are, many of them are also available in neighboring communities if you look. Cultural events--yep. Diversity? Yep. Lack of parking--we've got that, too. Make a list of these benefits--I'll bet you can find them in a community with sane schools.

      Which is all to say--I know you'll make a great decision for your family. I really enjoy your incisive thinking.

  2. I understand why you're upset about the trotter placement. I really do. Full disclosure: we were planning on "playing" the lottery but had no real serious plans of sending our kids to BPS schools unless we got into one of about 3 close to our house that I had identified as acceptable to me, and then for no longer than 3rd grade. We had already put down a deposit on Owen's prek spot at holy name before we knew we would be moving. All that said, every situation is unique. I know that the Trotter has some downsides - specifically, it's location - but on the upside, it does have turnaround status, and have you heard who's in the K1 class? Lots of familiar names. I happen to know 9 (9!!) people who's kids got a K1 spot. So for ME, that would ease my mind about the trotter. This is why - my concerns about Boston public school are largely peer group, and concern about what exactly the teacher's most pressing issues are in the classroom. My own public school experience (teaching, not as a student) was that behavior management, and social concerns took up so much teacher bandwith in an urban public classroom that the academics took a back seat, and that the types of stuff the kids were exposed to (behaviors, language, social norms) were not what I'd want for my own kids. When I hear who is in the Trotter K1 class - a lot of those concerns vanish. Now, as my kid got older, and peer group more important, and the types of issues and acting out kids from troubled areas got more severe - I wouldn't stay in BPS. I just personally, wouldn't. (hence my 3rd grade comment before). I know that's a "bad", non p-c thing to say - but I'll tell you a little secret - that's the story of BPS. The truth is that people are committed to trying K0 K1 K2 - and making it work - but when you look at who's in the classrooms in 1st -4th grades, there's a big change. Families who previously were committed to "making it work" suddenly hear their third grader say "so and so's brother just got taken to jail by the police last night! they broke in his house and dragged him out and he punched the policeman right in the face and then the police man hit him over the head! isn't that cool?" (I'm not making this example up. This is what my own students really said about one of the other kids' family misfortune). I do NOT want my kids thinking that's cool. I do not want my kids realizing that stuff even happens until they're old enough to watch police procedural dramas on TV (kidding, sorta....but you get my point). I don't want them exposed to that stuff in elementary school, all of which weighed heavily on my OWN mind when I considered BPS. I don't want them in classes where so much time and effort on the teacher's part is spent simply maintaining order.

    BUT BUT BUT - all that said, in your specific situation at K1 at the Trotter - it looks/sounds like a nice group of kids. And it IS free. and who knows? all the things that I think are true about urban education could no longer be true, and the trotter could have an awesome renaissance, and every single one of those 15 JP families that got assigned there could love it and stay - and I mean, 15 is most of a kindergarten class! I guess what I am trying to say is that THIS YEAR, in THIS CLASS, in THIS SCHOOL - I would consider it. Because of who's in the class. your bussing concerns - well, those are legitimate. I probably would NOT put Owen on a bus to dorchester, but I am not pregnant and will never be again, so I don't have to worry about that so much. I think you could put Clara on a bus. after all, she's a "late" 4, right? doesn't she turn 5 in October?

    Whatever you decide to do I'm sure your girls will thrive, and nothing is permanent. You could do trotter for K1 and K2, and then move them somewhere else for 1st grade. And you may find that it's so awesome, that you never leave.

    1. Hey Jenny,
      We ultimately accepted the spot at the Trotter, but put down a deposit at St. Mary's on Monday for K2. I'd be happy to carpool with Jenna, Rachel, Lee, and a host of other moms I know whose kids got K1 spots at the Trotter. But I think our chances of sending HeyMama to St. Mary's are actually pretty good. I'd take that seat in a heartbeat over Trotter. The challenge comes if we do get off the waitlist into a closer school. The guaranteed seat for 2 girls in our neighborhood is valuable. But more valuable than getting HeyMama ahead by a year? Of course, it's certainly cheaper... More decisions to come...

  3. Oh, interesting. I wouldn't dream to say what you should do (easy for me to say, since my kids will get to go to the excellent public school across the street, right?) but if St. Mary's is willing to let HM go straight to K2, well....I'd take it, whether you get off the wait list at one of your neighborhood schools or not. Again - my thoughts are tinted by the fact that I was going to send my kids to Catholic school, but I've heard wonderful things about St. Mary's....good luck in the ongoing lottery drama. I know it's not easy.