Monday, January 7, 2013

3 Advanced Work Class Seats Under New Boston Public School Proposals

When looking at Advanced Work Class (AWC) 6th grade options for my daughter back in 2009, I was told by a Boston Public School enrollment administrator to not even bother applying for the Ohrenberger, King or Curley schools AWC 6th grades as "those seats are already taken by the students at those K-8 schools - there will be no openings for students from other schools" which I knew, but it was great to get confirmation by a BPS official. I chose the Irving and am now happy for it, but at that time it was a roll-of-the-dice move on my part as a parent, and my child's education was what was at stake. 

Thankfully, through community pressure, Superintendent Johnson removed the prior principal, put Arthur Unobskey in as new Principal in June 2009, and that, in conjunction with the Roslindale Pathway Advisory Group (RPAG - formerly Irving Advisory Group (IAG)) working together with BPS and city officials has made the Irving a school I love having my girls attend. But in reality, what choice did I really have? None, because in reality, given the statement above, there was no other place I could send her at that time which would have seats for the AWC. 

Now that we are looking at revamping our current school assignment model, parents are asking about AWC and the following answer has been posted on the FAQ page:
Q: What about AWC (Advanced Work Class) programs? What if my new zone doesn’t have a school with such a program?A: The BPS Advanced Work Class program offers an accelerated academic curriculum to students in grades 4, 5 and 6. Student participation is by invitation only and is based on a student’s scores on an eligibility test. Only certain schools offer an AWC program, so BPS allows students to change schools to access the program if they are eligible. Under the proposed models, BPS would do two things to ensure any qualified student can continue to access an AWC program. First, BPS would work to place more AWC programs in schools and zones that already have students who are eligible for the program; and second, BPS would allow students to transfer schools so they could access an AWC program even if that school is outside a student’s home zone. For example, if a student lives in a zone with no AWC programming but qualifies for the program, then that student could transfer to a school outside his or her zone and BPS would provide transportation.
First I have to ask: Has anyone clued Jerry Burrel, Director of BPS Enrollment Planning in about this potential change to current policy?  I have worked with many AWC parents over the years who come to me with questions. This is especially true when they hear that most AWC seats in a school will be filled by children already assigned to that school (whether in AWC or Reg Ed). The most common question is: Will BPS open more classes in highly-demanded schools or zones? The response has consistently been the same from Jerry Burell (via emails I have his permission to share): 
From: Burrell, Jerry
To: Karen Kast-McBride
Jan 24, 2012 
Hi Karen,  
If I find that demand exceeds supply in any assignment zone and in any AWC grade, we will arrange to open an additional class to meet the demand.  There have been one or two instances in the 14 years that I have been responsible for student assignment where I have added another AWC class.  
Jerry Burrell

From: Karen Kast-McBride
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 10:16 AM
To: Burrell, Jerry
Subject: Fwd: ConnectED Call to parents affected by registration form glitch
Hi Jerry,
One of the other Irving Advisory Group (IAG) members asked me to forward the below question to you. I happen to know discussions between parents are going on about this very question, so if you can let me know what to share with them I will pass it on to the IAG as well as others. 
Thank you!
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: KC
Date: Mon, Jan 23, 2012 at 4:45 PM
Subject: Re: ConnectED Call to parents affected by registration form glitch 
To: Karen Kast-McBride  
Does Jerry's email also mean that should demand for 4th grade AWC seats exceed supply, they are willing to expand that program in the West Zone too?  That would be reassuring to know. Thanks,
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Burrell, Jerry <>
Date: Thu, Jan 19, 2012 at 9:10 AM
Subject: RE: ConnectED Call to parents affected by registration form glitch
To: Karen Kast-McBride 
Cc: Snyder, Denise M, Johnson, Carol R, Adario, Evelyn T, Vieira, Maria L 

Hi Karen,

Your latter interpretation is correct: only 55 students met the Roslindale Pathway priority status.  And, yes, I can assure you that all other current grade 5 West Zone students invited to the AWC program have the Irving listed as a grade 6 AWC choice.

I should also note that the BPS is always prepared to increase capacity in any program should demand exceed the supply of available seats.  

Thanks again for bringing this to my attention.

Jerry Burrell
Director Enrollment Planning and Support

Basically, what it all came down to was that if there are available AWC seats in ANY schools in that grade anywhere in the district (other than the school a parent may prefer and even outside that child's zone) then Enrollment Planning would not increase the seats in any given area, zone, etc unless demand exceeds the supply of available seats program-wide (entire district).  

Example: The Irving middle school had 12 children on a 6th grade AWC "wait-list" at the beginning of this year as we had already filled the 50 seats allocated at the Irving. I believe the majority of the students on the list were coming from our Roslindale Pathway elementary schools, so they had priority placement at the Irving for a regular ed non-AWC seat, but because there is no such priority specific to AWC for our Roslindale Pathway due to the limited number of AWC seats in the zone, some of our "K-8 Pathway" AWC students did NOT get an AWC seat at the Irving. So we asked about opening another class for AWC at the Irving, which would have allowed all 12 students to have a seat, plus room for about 13 additional AWC students (or we could have reconfigured the AWC classes into smaller classes or possibly in other ways). The answer was NO because there were empty 6th grade seats at other middle schools so therefor no reason to open a new class. 

Another example: of the Roslindale Pathway elementary schools, only one - the Bates - has AWC for 4th & 5th grades (one class per grade, 25 seats per class). Of course, this means that children assigned to the Bates in 3rd grade who are eligible for an AWC seat get first chance to fill those AWC seats for 4th grade, which leaves very few open to our other Roslindale Pathway & West Zone students who may be eligible and want to go to the Bates. This year I believe there were 7 seats available in the 4th grade AWC class. I am not sure if there were any 5th grade seats available at all since, of course, first priority went to those children either already in the 4th grade AWC class, then to the other 4th graders who qualified at the Bates. I am sure the same was true at the Curley, King and Ohrenberger. This means children within our Roslindale school pathway have to go outside the pathway to access AWC, which defeats the purpose of the pathway for those children.

Second question, given the limited space in our schools, where would "BPS work to place more AWC programs in schools and zones that already have students who are eligible for the program"? 

  • At the Irving, we have the space to expand, but the Bates elementary school does not so they could not add any 4th and 5th grade seats for AWC there. There really are no available classrooms waiting for a class to be assigned to them in many of our BPS schools. As with my points regarding Kindergarten seats promised by different plans, most schools can not remodel and do not have space for modular classrooms - not in Roslindale or other sections of the city which are densely populated. 
  • So, how will this need for additional seats be addressed with the promised additional classrooms opened at current schools and not just the usual SOP of sending children to schools with AWC seats which parents do not want their children to attend?
  • How is this different from the current policy already in place?

The way I see it, the answer on the school choice site is the same policy as always, not anything new, and parents need to be clear that the current policy is as stated above in Mr. Burrell's email to me: "If I find that demand exceeds supply in any assignment zone and in any AWC grade, we will arrange to open an additional class to meet the demand.  There have been one or two instances in the 14 years that I have been responsible for student assignment where I have added another AWC class."   

In reality, with whatever proposal the EAC (External Advisory Committee) on School Assignment makes to Dr. Johnson, these questions remain:

  • Will the current standard operating procedure regarding AWC seats change and allow new seats to be placed in the schools parents WANT their children to attend?
  • If yes, please elaborate on HOW these seats/classes will be added especially in our smaller schools. 
  • Also if yes, can we please have that with details of how it will be accomplished and in writing?


  1. Even under the current assignment process, I have always found advanced work to be problematic. Kids who qualify for both advanced work and an exam school may end up changing schools at 4th, 6th, and 7th grades, meaning they could be at four different schools in the five years spanning 3rd through 7th grades. Meanwhile, there are kids at K-8 schools that have AWC who won't have any reason to change schools until 7th grade at the earliest. This is one of the less-discussed inequalities in the system, and it especially impacts Roslindale, which has no K-8 schools and only one K-5 school with advanced work seats.

    As I see it, the new assignment process has the potential to make this problem even greater. Assuming we end up with smaller assignment zones, students will be more likely to be moved out of their zone to attend AWC. If the new sibling preference rules make it difficult for younger siblings to attend out of zone schools, we will only be making it more difficult for families to stay together. While the mayor's stated goals include more predictability and a stronger sense of community, the combination of a new assignment system and the old AWC rules has the potential to make things worse for AWC students rather than better.

    All this puts aside other concerns I have about the way that the AWC program is run. Suffice it to say that I think that the entire program deserves a closer look (and I've expressed this opinion to Superintendent Johnson directly). But at the very least, I hope that AWC assignment is at least a consideration in the EAC's recommendations.

  2. I agree Chris. And like you have expressed my issues with multiple BPS folks over the years (Supt. Payzant & now Dr. Johnson)including Mr. Burrell (I didn't post all the emails, only ones directly relevant to the point). I am not sure what the answer is for BPS, but something has to be done about how AWC is run without a doubt. And yes, even with our K-8 pathway here in Rozzie, we are at a serious disadvantage for those kids who qualify for AWC & want to stay in the pathway even if a change of schools is necessary! Thank you for the great comment!

  3. The Advanced Work Class in Boston will probably brings a good options for students to be more knowledgeable when it comes to learning. This will surely give more significant aspects of learning that can be applicable for learner's in that state.

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