Saturday, October 6, 2012

0 Boston School Choice Meetings Leave Families Frustrated

Families and community members are feeling unheard by Boston Public Schools and City officials because the Boston School Choice meetings are not having open question and answer sessions. Unfortunately, per my review of every "invitation", BPS never promised question and answer sessions at any time when asking for feedback. 

Careful reading of the different invitations made by BPS asking for the community to provide feedback regarding the School Choice Proposals shows that BPS asked for "feedback" and "your thoughts", but never stated that question and answer sessions would take place.

From the Home page of
Beginning Thursday, September 27 BPS will ask residents for feedback on each of the proposals during a month-long series of community meetings (the full list can be found online at The feedback gathered will help shape the final proposal that is put forward. In November the EAC will vote on a final recommendation to send to Superintendent Johnson. Dr. Johnson will then review the recommendation and submit a final proposal to the school committee, which will vote on a final plan in December. The new student assignment system would go into effect during the 2014-2015 school year. School selection for the 2013-2014 school year will occur using the current assignment system. Student assignment to high schools would not change under any of the new proposals.
Building Better Options Together community meetings BPS has share* several options for a new school choice system. You can explore them and take an on-line survey on this website throughout October. We also hope you will also* attend a community meeting to learn more and share your thoughts.
Based on your feedback and input from the External Advisory Committee, BPS will update the proposals in October and November and share them with the public. Then, the EAC will make a recommendation to the Superintendent, who will bring a proposal to the Boston School Committee in December. The School Committee will then hold additional public hearings before voting on a new plan this winter.
KK Note: **DO NOT even get my started on the fact that the above was written and is posted on a school district website with the noted spelling and grammatical errors! Spell check anyone?

From the "Get Involved" page on website:
We want to hear from you! More than 2,300 parents, students and community members have already shared their thoughts in meetings across the city and online. That’s nearly three times more people than in 2004, the last time we had a city-wide discussion about this issue.
Over the summer, BPS developed several options for school choice and we’d like to share them with you. Here are some ways for you to join the conversation:
  • Visit a community meeting
  • Visit an External Advisory Committee meeting
  • Take our on-line survey
  • Share your proposals and analysis with us
  • Sign up for our newsletter
  • Send us an email
Upcoming Meetings
The External Advisory Committee hosted community meetings to talk about their work so far, including presentations on data, community engagement, and school quality.
KK Note: The underlined above clearly shows the intent of the meetings to be for BPS to do most of the talking at any meeting.

From the "Explore the Proposals" page on
Take the online survey Click here for an online survey you can use to let us know what you think. This survey covers the same topics we’ll be discussing in our community meetings. This survey will be available throughout the month of October. (also available in Español, Kreyól with other languages coming Wednesday and Thursday)
You can also send us feedback at
KK Note: I do give BPS credit for the above directed email address as often people are not sure to whom they should submit feedback.

On March 10th, the format of how the meetings would be conducted was explained, with the reasoning for it, by Mary Ann Crayton, BPS Director of Community Engagement, and Fernando Menéndez of the Cordoba Group (contracted by Boston Public Schools to help facilitate the process) prior to the end of the large group presentation. If you want to know exactly how it was explained, please be sure to watch the March 10th video starting at 51.03 (Mary Ann Crayton overview) or 54.18 (Fernando Menéndez explanation of reasoning and exact format). 

It is understandable that people are frustrated by this process, but the format of the meetings, starting with the first one on March 10th which I dragged myself to (getting up early on a Saturday, my one day to sleep in!) has consistently been pretty similar to what we are seeing now:
  1. Presentation by BPS and/or EAC;
  2. Break-out into medium sized groups;
  3. Once in the medium sized groups, break-out into even smaller groups to discuss the presentations, share thoughts on questions asked by BPS and ask questions that the group had;
  4. Choose main ideas, comments, questions to be shared with other groups; 
  5. Come back together into the medium group setting; and,
  6. Share your particular groups' feedback with the entire medium break-out group you are part of.
  7. MAYBE a brief "thanks for coming and sharing" get together in the original room at the very end.
Video of March 10, 2012 Student Assignment meeting presentations and explanation of format of sessions available for your review

At the March 10th meeting, the medium-groups did come back together into the large group setting for a brief "last thoughts" and thank-yous only from BPS and that was the end of the day.

As you can clearly see in the video from March 10th, the School Assignment meetings were not nearly as well-attended as the current round of meetings now taking place to discuss the proposals that were unveiled. The low attendance rate for the initial meetings is unfortunate and may explain some of the frustration people are feeling now as they are not familiar with the format and it is not being clearly explained. Because the initial round of meetings did not have the packed cafeterias, auditoriums, etc that we are now seeing, the format was pretty much accepted by those who attended. 

The reasoning behind the break-out format: that this ensures the best chance for each individual person to be heard by the EAC and BPS, still, to me, seems reasonable. Of course, I have also been pushing BPS for 20 years to ensure EVERY voice is heard, so take my opinion for what it is worth to you. However, though I believe the arguments are valid for the format choice, I also understand the feeling that this is a way to keep people out of the loop. I do believe there should be much more transparency for these meetings. 

I offer the following suggestions to BPS and Mayor Menino for making this process more transparent:
  • Post a detailed explanation on the website clearly outlining the format of the meetings and explaining that when BPS states "questions will be taken" and "we want to hear from you", for these meetings, that will be accomplished through the smaller group format.
  • Every meeting, inclusive of the small-group breakout sessions, EAC and school committee meetings, should be videotaped and immediately posted to the website within 24 hours.  
  • A transcript of all of the meetings should be provided on the website. 
  • All data from the meetings: surveys, work-sheets and anything else utilized for feedback should also be made available on the website.
  • If possible, all meetings should also be streamed live online.
In addition to potentially quelling some of the frustration families are feeling with this process, all of the above would also make this information accessible to the many families who cannot attend a meeting due to time-constraints, other commitments or even a disability related issue. 

Again, I realize the above suggestions mean a huge commitment on the part of BPS and the city to make happen. I can only imagine the logistical horror my suggestions (both here and regarding marketing) have inspired within Court Street and city hall (if they have read them). I believe that despite the logistical nightmare this inspires for personnel, this could help the process move forward more smoothly - though I still strongly urge that it be slowed down.

At the beginning of this article I stated that there seems to be a lot of anger regarding the format of the meetings. I responded to one such post on an email thread with the following and am providing it here also:
The format of these meetings is typical for BPS, especially with large crowds. BPS should specify that when they say "questions will be taken" they mean they can be asked and, potentially if the answer is available, answered in the small group break-outs. I understand the frustration of not being able to hear what everyone is asking/suggesting, I sometimes feel the same way, but with over 160+ people or more at each meeting it makes more sense to break into smaller groups and answer questions/ask for input. 
The frustration we are now seeing is because, unlike the initial community meetings which did NOT have the same number of attendees and therefor was more manageable, the smaller groups are not coming back into the main area and making public the questions, issues, suggestions the way they did at the earlier meetings. BPS needs to go back to this format.
I urge BPS, Mayor Menino and all of our elected officials to utilize my suggestions to make this school choice process more transparent and accessible to all concerned parties. 


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