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Residents, politicians concerned about Boston City Council for new school assignment plan

Kassmin Williams

More than a dozen city residents gave testimonies at the Boston City Council’s committee on education public hearing last month opposing the new school assignment plan that would allow students in kindergarten through eighth grade to attend schools closer to their home.

The hearing at St. Katherine Drexel Church in Roxbury attended by city councilor’s Felix Arroyo, Tito Jackson, Charles Yancey and several mayoral candidates was held to discuss the new plan’s impact on students living in areas with lower performing schools.

Approved by the school committee in March, the new plan provides families with at least six school options based on quality, location and capacity starting in fall 2014.

The proposal for a new school assignment plan came after Mayor Thomas Menino requested Superintendent Carol Johnson to form an external advisory committee to conduct research and provide feedback on school choice plans, and give a recommendation to the school committee.

Arroyo, Jackson and Yancey expressed concern over the new plan giving black and Latino students living in areas like Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan — with a large number of low performing schools — a slimmer chance at a high quality education.

For the councilors, the plan falls short of improving the quality of low performing schools.

Arroyo referred to an analogy he was given during a discussion about the new plan where 40 apples were put on a table and 100 kids were asked to look at them and then told “40 of you get them and 60 of you don’t.”

“In the end, to me, I think we all can struggle to figure out what is the fairest way to distribute those 40 apples, but I think we all know there should be 100 of them,” Arroyo said. “I think we all know there should be a good seat, a quality school for each child that goes to our Boston Public Schools.”

Jackson said he felt the new plan placed transportation over quality education.

“When we look at all of the plans, the baseline of the plan was around transportation, not the central issue of quality, so we want to make sure that we deal with that central issue and the issue of transportation would take care of itself if there was a quality school in every single neighborhood,” Jackson said.

Throughout the hearing, Boston residents echoed the concerns laid out by the city councilors.

To Roxbury resident Nora Toney, the discussion on providing quality education to all students hasn’t changed since 1965 when the state enacted the Racial Imbalance Act requiring schools to desegregate.

“Our community is tired of waiting for this school department and this school committee to provide our children with quality education,” said Toney, who is president of the Black Education Alliance of Massachusetts.

Residents also had the chance to hear from members of the school department and mayoral candidates Charolotte Golar Richie and Bill Walczak who tried to assure residents that the new school assignment plan is a step forward.

Golar Richie acknowledged the gap in quality schools but told attendees that she’d like to respect the community process used to create the new plan and asked that they give it a chance.

“We will know sooner than later, whether or not, if the assignment plan is achieving what we want to achieve, but a lot of effort has gone into it,” Golar Richie said.

Golar Richie also told attendees there is a chance to “bring in a dynamic results-oriented school superintendent” and she planned to address safety and the rate of high-school drop outs if elected as mayor.

“We have a golden opportunity to bring in a leader who will help to transform our system, building on the successes of this past administration, but definitely taking us to the next level,” Golar Richie said.

Walczak served on the external advisory committee and voted in favor of the plan. “We know the kind of things that create good schools in Boston and we know the kind of thing that creates bad schools,” Walczak said. “What we need to do is make sure there’s more good quality schools in Boston. Let’s hear a plan about how we’re going to create good schools.”

Walczak, co-founder of Codman Academy Charter School and Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers, said part of improving education involves connecting health-care providers and schools to decrease the stress related to living in low-income communities.

“We can work together between our health centers and schools, and doctors, teachers and principals to try to deal with those issues,” Walczak said.