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Beacon Hill Parents Discuss Ways to Improve Access to Good Public Schools

The lack of access to a nearby public school combined with high mortgages is pushing young families off the Hill.

A small group of concerned parents from Beacon Hill met this week to discuss how to keep young families in the neighborhood by improving access to good public schools.

Of the Hill's 399 students in the 2008-09 school year, only 74 attended public schools. The reason, many in the neighborhood say, is that there aren't enough seats in the public schools closest to Beacon Hill. There are no public schools on Beacon Hill.

The lack of public school options means that many families with young children are leaving Beacon Hill. According to a study by the Beacon Hill Civic Association, 70 percent of children born to parents living on Beacon Hill in 2000 are gone by third grade. Most commonly, the parents move to a community where they can attend good public schools.

"Kids born on Beacon Hill are leaving Beacon Hill," Ania Camargo, the chairwoman of the civic association, said at the meeting with parents Monday night. The two biggest factors that determine whether a young family will stay are the presence of good public schools and the cost of housing, she said.

And the cost of housing a family on Beacon Hill is formidable. The average price for a single-bedroom home is $700,000; that jumps to $1.5 million for a two-bedroom, Camargo said.

With mortgages that high, the prospect of paying for a private school because parents can't get their kids into a good school near home often tips the balance in favor of leaving the Hill.

Although many of the children who attend public school go to the Eliot K-8 School in the North End – the closest to the Hill – the others are scattered at 13 public schools across the city, according to the BHCA.

The formula determining which school a child may attend is complicated. Children in grades K-8 may apply to attend a school in their "zone" (Boston has three) or schools in other zones if it is within a "walk zone," or a mile from their home. Preference for assignment to a particular school is influence by whether a student already has a sibling in the school and whether the student is in the walk zone (a priority for 50 percent of available seats).

The system began as a way to desegregate schools and reduce costs. But with the costs of busing rising, many are questioning the viability of the current formula.

Three public elementary schools currently lie with Beacon Hill's walk zone: Eliot K-8, The Josiah Quincy Elementary School and The Hurley School. Several years ago there was a movement to found a new elementary school on the Hill but it failed to gain city support.

Camargo said that what Beacon Hill needs is not necessarily to build a new school, but to team up with other downtown neighborhoods to find solutions within the current system.

According to Rob Whitney, who is co-chairing the new BHCA public school committee with Colin Zick, these solutions could include raising the percentage of kids who get preference for being in the walk zone, increasing class sizes or increasing the number of zones, thereby making them smaller and keeping kids closer to home.

Camargo, Whitney and Zick encouraged dozen or so parents at the meeting to brainstorm ways to tackle the issue. The next meeting has not yet been scheduled.

John Keith March 01, 2012 at 08:12 PM
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