Parents Frustrated by Large Wait Lists for Kindergarten at Downtown Boston and Charlestown Public Schools

It is that time of year, when parents find out Round 1 lottery results for their children in the controversial Boston Public School assignment process for Kindergarten classes. For North End / Waterfront, Downtown Boston and Charlestown parents, the news this year is extremely disappointing with increasingly large numbers of students being placed on wait lists and some completely unassigned.

In High Demand - The Eliot K-8 School as seen from the Paul Revere Mall

At the request of several parents, we asked Boston Public Schools for the number of students on the wait lists at the schools most likely to be considered by North End / Waterfront and Downtown Boston parents. Below are the kindergarten (K-2) wait list numbers for Downtown Boston and Charlestown public schools:

  • North End’s Eliot K-8 (General Ed): 68 students
    Special Ed Inclusion: 32 students
  • Chinatown’s Quincy Elementary (General Ed): 46 students
  • Charlestown’s Harvard/Kent (General Ed): 29 students
  • Charlestown’s Warren/Prescott K-8 (General Ed): 44 students
  • South End’s Hurley K-8: (General Ed): 49

(Note: One student can be on more than one waiting list and the numbers above reflect students from the entire North Zone, not just one neighborhood. Siblings also receive priority at each location.)

One parent called the numbers “crazy high.” All of the wait lists grew from last year and some are more than twice as large.

Often referred to as the best public K-8 school in Boston, the John Eliot K-8 in the North End has seen its waiting list balloon in recent years. This desirability is a reversal from the school’s history and largely credited to a turnaround by Principal Traci Walker Griffith resulting in much improved test scores. Although BPS was not able to confirm at the time of this posting, several parents have heard that the Eliot’s K-1 wait list is a record 170 students. The total enrollment is currently 320 students in all grades at the Eliot School.

When it comes to getting into the Eliot and other Downtown Boston area schools, parents believe the odds are worse than ever this year due simply to a lack of seats in the already crowded schools. This has resulted in large wait lists throughout Downtown Boston and Charlestown, including schools that have not any wait lists in past years, such as the Harvard/Kent.

Some residents attribute the space problem to poor planning by BPS in not reacting to the trend of families wanting to stay in the city rather than move to the suburbs. For any parent, the decision to stay in the city largely rests on finding attractive school options for their children.

BPS also shared the number of students completely “unassigned” (i.e., no school) in the system. Parents can choose multiple schools in an enrollment zone. The numbers of K-2 unassigned students by neighborhood are as follows:

  • Back Bay/Beacon Hill: 3
  • Central Boston (includes North End / Waterfront): 10
  • Charlestown: 28

The big news in the “unassigned” list is the number of Charlestown students with no current options after the Round 1 placement results. One parent commented that being unassigned was “unheard of” in the past.

From BPS Frequently Asked Questions: Is my five-year-old child guaranteed a seat in a Boston Public Schools kindergarten program?

Yes. BPS guarantees a full-day kindergarten (K2) seat for every child who will be five years old by September 1. However, if you are not assigned to any of the schools you selected on your application, BPS will not “administratively assign” your 5-year-old student to a school. If your child is not assigned to a K2 program, you may visit any Family Resource Center to make additional choices. In order to improve your chances of receiving a K2 assignment, we urge you to choose at least 5, and preferably more, schools. All students ages 6 and older will be assigned to a school.

Last year, City Councilor Mike Ross released an analysis concluding that “the percentage of downtown families getting their choice of school is 58 percent (the weighted average of downtown neighborhoods).  The average citywide is 76.7 percent.”  With area school wait lists showing increased demand this year, these figures could get worse.

We have asked BPS to provide more perspective on the situation and will post the information as we receive it.

In the meantime, a school committee meeting is scheduled with the city this week. The Eliot School Family Council is eagerly anticipating word from the Mayor’s Office about an expansion plan for the Eliot School, promised before May 1, 2012. (See this post for the Mayor’s Letter to the ESFC.) Many parents are hopeful new Eliot classroom space will soon be made available at the nearby North Bennet Street School.  NBSS is negotiating a swap proposal with the city to move to the former police station and printing plant on North and Richmond Streets.