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Parents begin hunt for new schools

Closings have some looking outside city

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By James Vaznis and Travis Andersen
Globe Staff / December 17, 2010

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Still stinging from the Boston School Committee’s decision Wednesday night to close her child’s elementary school, Nicole DaSilva embarked on the daunting task yesterday of finding another school for her 5-year-old son to attend next fall.

She toured one East Boston elementary school where the principal welcomed her with open arms, and she scheduled a visit today at another school on the other side of East Boston. DaSilva, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood who aggressively fought to stop the closing of the Alighieri Elementary School, is also considering nearby parochial schools.

“Is my son going to stay in Boston public schools?’’ DaSilva said last night. “I don’t know. I’m confused.’’

The scramble is on for hundreds of parents across the city to find new schools for their children after the committee voted to close or merge 18 schools during an emotional and heated meeting.

Like DaSilva, many parents said they will broaden their search beyond the city’s school system, knowing that Boston’s few high-performing schools will not have enough seats to accommodate hundreds of displaced students. As it is, many of the school system’s crown jewels have extensive waiting lists.

School district officials, not wanting families to flee the city’s school system, are responding. They have scheduled a series of informational sessions next week to help them select new schools.

They are also giving affected students the second-highest priority, after sibling preference, in assignments to schools next fall. But that preferential treatment will only be extended to students at schools that are closing. Students at schools that will be merged will be guaranteed seats there.

So far, only a handful of parents have sought assistance from the School Department’s family resource centers in finding a new school, said Denise Snyder, the school district’s senior director of enrollment and welcome services.

“Most people were holding out hope that it wouldn’t be their school that would be closing,’’ Snyder said.

Wednesday night’s meeting at English High School in Jamaica Plain was still reverberating through the city yesterday. Hundreds of parents, staff, students, community activists, and union organizers packed the auditorium at English High School in a last-ditch effort to block the restructuring proposal.

The crowd repeatedly chanted “Save Our Schools’’ and other slogans. Many attendees heckled Superintendent Carol R. Johnson and the committee, causing several delays in the proceedings.

At one point, heckling from one man with several tattoos struck a nerve with committee member Claudio Martinez, who fired back: “When I need a comment from a white, privileged kid like you, I’ll let you know.’’

Yesterday, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said Martinez “misspoke.’’

“It was unfortunate, but he was under a lot of pressure,’’ Menino said. “A lot of those folks have never been under that pressure.’’

The Rev. Gregory Groover, the committee chairman, also defended Martinez, saying, “I think he for a second lost his cool.’’

“I think that for all of us at the meeting last night it was an extremely intense environment,’’ Groover said. “There was frustration, there was anger, and at some points it became hostile. The meeting clearly had an adversarial tone, and the School Committee was trying to work through all that.’’

Groover said he did not believe that Martinez’s comment was at all reflective of his beliefs, saying that as a longtime community organizer in Jamaica Plain, Martinez has long taught and practiced the importance of working with people of different backgrounds.

Martinez could not be reached for comment yesterday.

As the Farragut Elementary School in Mission Hill let out yesterday afternoon, some parents picking up their children said they were still holding onto hope that the decision to close their school could be reversed.

At the same time, they were also preparing themselves for life after the Farragut.

Kevin Whetstone of East Boston, said he hoped to keep his daughter Amalia, 7, at the school next year because the school is one of a few that offers an advanced curriculum for high-achieving students.

If the Farragut is not to be, then Whetstone said he would like Amalia to join her older sister next year at the Quincy School in Chinatown, which also offers the advanced curriculum.

“I think the School Department overlooked the fact that elementary schools hold a place in the community,’’ he said.

Pearl Garcia’s granddaughter, Lisette, is in first grade at the Farragut. Garcia said the family does not know where Lisette will attend school next year or whether she will stay in the system.

“It’s going to be a shame [if] they close the school, because it’s been here for so long,’’ Garcia said. “Where are the kids going to go?’’

For DaSilva, her experience so far in the Boston schools has been a roller coaster. She sent her son to the Alighieri by default in September because he did not get into the school of her first choice.

But she fell in love with the small school, which has fewer than 150 students, and quickly got a spot on the school site council.

As soon as she heard it might close earlier this month, she and other parents launched an aggressive effort to save it, circulating petitions and buttonholing school district officials.

Throughout East Boston, signs hung in the windows of three-deckers in support of the Alighieri.

Wednesday night, DaSilva, who delivered an impassioned plea, nearly saw the effort pay off. Three School Committee members pushed a motion to remove the Alighieri from the list of closings, but the four other members blocked it.

“I have mixed emotions,’’ said DaSilva, who believes that Johnson has the right academic vision for the district but has unfortunately hit a tough economic climate. “I’m a parent who feels really let down, but it is the sign of our times.’’

Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report. James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com; Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com.

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