Education

Boston Public Schools parents concerned as school year arrives, poll finds

The public district narrowly avoided Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley declaring the district "underperforming" last year, and with the new school year approaching, parents polled by MassINC in July and August seemed to remain skeptical

NBC 5 News

A new poll shows almost half of Boston Public School parents are skeptical about the high school options available for their children, two months after the state education commissioner knocked the district for falling behind state-mandated improvement targets.

The survey by MassINC Polling Group showed only 55% of BPS parents said they were satisfied with the high schools available to their kids. When asked what matters most while choosing a high school, most parents' priorities were education quality and safety.

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The public district narrowly avoided Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley declaring the district "underperforming" last year, and with the new school year approaching, parents polled by MassINC in July and August seemed to remain skeptical.

Of the seven surveys MassINC has done in a series that began in summer 2021, the percentage of BPS parents who say the district is "partnering with the community, families, and students," and "transforming the lives of all children" hit record lows this summer -- at 29% and 23% respectively.

The Margarita Muniz Spanish language high school is working to add 7th and 8th grades by next year.

Among the parents of current high school students, 36% of those surveyed said they considered finding a new school for their child during the past school year.

MassINC also found that only 52% of parents say their child's school offers enough extracurriculars like art and music, 45% think there are enough afterschool sports, and 58% of high school parents say their child's school offered enough advanced placement classes.

The poll was sponsored by the Shah Family Foundation -- a Boston-based nonprofit focused on food access, health and wellness, and education -- and surveyed 841 parents.

In order to avoid the "underperforming" designation last year, the state and city hammered out an agreement to keep the district under local control while following a three-year, state-mandated improvement plan.

In the agreement, signed by Riley, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and others, the district pledged to make improvements in student safety, special education, transportation, facilities conditions, English learner supports, the lowest-performing schools, data collection and reporting, and accountability. The plan also steered $10 million from the state to BPS to support the work.

At a June Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting, Riley criticized the district for blowing past deadlines outlined in the plan.

"The administration signed a document saying that they would hit their goals. At best we can say their grade would be incomplete," he said. "But I expect us to have a different discussion with this board starting if the buses aren't running to great capacity in the fall, if the special education plan isn't in place, if the agreed upon bathrooms aren't fully redone, if the right people aren't hired for special education, you will be hearing more from us."

After that June meeting, the district hired Kay Seale as the chief of specialized services to expand inclusion and special education support services in BPS -- a position that Riley said the schools were overdue on filling.

Seale formerly managed special education and intervention services at the Worcester Public Schools, and was a student and educator in Boston schools.

Riley said in June that the district submitted a revised timeline for bathroom facility renovations that did not align with their original commitment in last year's agreement.

Since the spring, BPS has launched renovation projects in 16 schools, according to the district.

Many of these projects are major gut renovations, with new layouts and the addition of gender-neutral and accessible bathrooms, new ductwork and exhaust fan upgrades, new low-flow toilet fixtures with automated flushers, electric hand dryers, and improvements to floors, ceiling, lighting, tile and paint. Construction is expected to be complete by the end of 2023.

Pointing to some "bright spots" of progress made since last year, Riley said the district has made progress in hiring drivers and monitors for buses, though it has not yet met its target of 95% of buses arriving on time. The commissioner added that since new superintendent Mary Skipper started last year that bus arrival times have improved.

The district has hired over 200 bus drivers since May 2022, and they anticipate starting the 2023-2024 school year with over 700 monitors.

"The Boston Public Schools is committed to providing our young people with the best quality education," said BPS spokesman Max Baker. "We are proud to see that a large majority of survey respondents are satisfied with their individual schools, but we also recognize that there are deep inequities across our District that we must work with urgency to address. BPS is making positive impacts on the lives of our students by working to hire and retain a talented workforce that reflects our student body, offering a range of advanced coursework including new Advanced Placement courses at 10 schools, and expanding athletics and extracurricular activities."

Copyright State House News Service
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