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Learning Local Schools, Part I: Why Where You Buy Matters

It's Rookie Roosts Week 2012 here at Curbed Boston, and today we spare a long thought for that most pressing of decisions for many first-time homebuyers: Will I be living near a good public school for the wee ones? In Part I below we take you to school on schools. In Part II later today we explore new development and young families.

How are students assigned in Boston?
The city's divided into three geographic zones (see the graphic at the right, courtesy of the Boston Public Schools website, which you should also check out). Elementary and middle-school students can apply for schools in the zone in which they live; schools in other zones if the schools are within their “walk zone” (more on that further down); or those city schools open to all students. Speaking of that, high schools are open to students citywide and are not subject to the geographic zones.

O.K., but how are students actually assigned?
By computer. Yup. A mathematical formula tries to assign students to their highest listed choice for which they have the highest priority.

And what are the priorities?
The schools try to assign siblings together. They also try to assign within walk zones.

What are these [bleeping] walk zones already?
Half of each school’s seats are set aside for applicants with walk zone priority. Students have walk zone priority if they live approximately: 1 mile or less from an elementary school; 1.5 miles or less from a middle school; or 2 miles or less from a high school. There is no walk zone priority for citywide elementary and middle schools.

And if there are no schools in a walk zone, as is the case in some downtown neighborhoods?
Every home address in Boston has at least one walk-zone school. The exceptions might involve early kindergarten programs, and the city is willing to work with parents on covering those distances.

Those are the basics as to how Boston assigns its public school students. Cambridge has something similar, minus the geographic zones; students are assigned citywide based upon a formula that takes into account the first three choices of parents. Somerville, too, does town-wide assignments based on parents' choices, and touts that last year 95 percent of families landed their first school choice.

Let's swing our focus back to Boston, then, where your home address matters more for assignment up to high school. (For the schools in the rest of the Hub, see this 2011 ranking from Boston Magazine, including a breakdown of test scores.) In Boston, the downtown neighborhoods are the most difficult for getting students into their first choices, particularly early ed. recently broke down current kindergarten waiting lists at downtown schools, all general education:

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

And parents in Back Bay and Beacon Hill have long pointed out that there are no elementary schools in their neighborhood for the approximately 700 children of that school age. A 2002 plan by parents to buy a Beacon Hill building to build their own elementary and middle school collapsed in the face of city opposition. For now, the closest elementary schools appear to be in Chinatown and the South End and are at least 1 mile away from Back Bay and Beacon Hill.

These are things to consider in should you be looking to buy a place to bring up baby. That, or private schools. Proximity to a college shouldn't be a problem either, here.

· Parents Frustrated by Large Wait Lists for Kindergarten [Patch]
· The Best Public Schools in Boston [Boston Mag]
· Rookie Roosts Week 2012 [Curbed Boston]
· Is Elementary School Out Forever in Back Bay, Beacon Hill? [Curbed Boston]

Josiah Quincy Elementary School

885 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111

Harvard-Kent School

50 Bunker Hill Street, Charlestown, MA 02129 617-635-8358