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Committee grapples with exam schools

Task force considers options for reforming admissions process

Alain Jehlen

The two co-chairs of the Exam School Admissions Task Force gave the suddenly shrunken School Committee a progress report last week, with a wide range of options still under consideration.

Committee Vice Chair Michael O’Neill warned the co-chairs, NAACP President Tanisha Sullivan and former Superintendent and Latin School Headmaster Michael Contompasis, not to come up with a process that’s too complicated for people to understand.

“If it’s too complicated,” he said, “there’s concern that the game is being rigged.”

Committee Chair Jeri Robinson, just a few hours into her new position, had a more far-reaching comment:

“To be honest, even though we’re talking about three schools, it’s really only one school that people are really anxious about, and that’s getting into Boston Latin School. And everybody who wants to go, can’t go, because there’s not enough space,” Robinson said.

“We have many schools in this district that are underachieving, that people don’t want to go to. We have one set of programs that more than enough people are eager to go to,” she continued. “What stops us from coming up with ways of increasing the ability to enroll more, which takes away that pressure of the exclusivity that some people are banking on, and it takes the pressure off of 10 and 11-year-olds to feel that they are making a life choice, or somebody is making a life choice for them because of prestige?

“Why can’t we have a classical academy, another school that is as rigorous, providing the same curriculum for more students, or giving each of the three schools a second building … instead of making it feel like there’s a dearth of it, and therefore we get into winners and losers.

“You hear the passion of parents. Sometimes you talk to students who are in school, that really don’t want to be there, but the pressure of their parents has them there.

“So how do we get to a point where a good education can be had by all those who want it and for whom it’s appropriate? We’ve got 30 high schools that all should be quality magnet schools so that they are pulling their own weight, against what to people appear as the only three gems that we have.”

“I agree,” said Sullivan.

Pretty soon, everyone else agreed, too.

“So the question is one for the city and for the School Committee,” said Sullivan. “How do we create more of these schools? And how do we build upon, quite frankly, the gem that we have in Madison Park?”

“That’s why I want magnet schools,” said Robinson. “I don’t want general schools, I want an aeronautics school, a maritime school. We’ve got a seaport, an airport. Why aren’t we creating schools that pull kids into things that are real? Besides a shot in the dark — ‘I could get this one thing.’”

Contompasis said, “That’s the direction that I believe the superintendent wants to take the district. Let’s get rid of the impediments that prevent her from doing that.”

“Where’s the will?” asked Robinson.

However, nobody said what the “impediments” are, and no one proposed a path to reach the vision. There might not have been such universal agreement in that discussion.

This article was originally published in Boston Parent Schoolyard News.

Boston exam schools, Boston School Committee, exam school admissions