When it comes to middle schools, location is the dominant theme

Moving on to middle school isn’t something that traditionally has required good fortune and luck, but this year – again – assignment to the district’s three middle schools will be determined by a lottery.

Last Friday, the district announced that they would need a several lotteries to even out student assignment to the Susan B. Anthony (SBA), the Rumney March Academy (RMA) and the Garfield Middle School. The lotteries will take place on May 27.

That immediately sent many parents into a frenzy and tensions are still running high as parents try to keep their future sixth-graders in the school of their choice.

The middle schools run loosely on themes – one for the arts, one for science/math and one for the classics. Theoretically, when the schools were on the drawing board, students were to select a school based on their interests. It was supposed that they would even out naturally. But that has never really happened.

“I think the themes were there so students could self-select by their interest area,” said Superintendent Paul Dakin. “Parents haven’t accepted that philosophy. The parents here continuously express they don’t care about themes. They want kids close to home.”

Mayor Tom Ambrosino said that he supports the lottery and – despite rumblings amongst parents – he will not back down from the citywide middle school theme concept.

“I don’t know any other way to do it other than other than making them neighborhood schools and I absolutely, positively, will fight that to the bitter end…These are not neighborhood schools.”

However, parents have seen it completely different year after year.

This time, fifth-graders at the Whelan School overwhelmingly chose the Susan B. Anthony Middle School, which is right next door to the Whelan.

Some 51 students from Whelan will have to choose another school after 93 chose the SBA.

A good chunk of those students have already elected to take a seat at the RMA and take their names out of the lottery.

However, many more will have to be moved to the Garfield Middle.

There is a similar situation at the Lincoln School, where eight students will have to be redirected from the SBA to another school, and nine students will have to be redirected from the RMA.

“By the mere fact of space, we just can’t fit all the west side kids who want to stay around the west side in the buildings on the west side,” said Dakin. “Some of them have to go to Garfield…There are actually parents who won’t let kids attend the Garfield, even though the kids want to go there.”

A similar situation, though, has unfolded at the Garfield, where too many kids at the Garfield Elementary chose the Garfield Middle and the RMA. Only two Garfield Elementary students chose the SBA.

“Garfield stayed at home,” he said. “That left us scratching our heads. We have to have a lottery there and those who lose will go to the SBA. That sounds crazy, but that’s the only way we can balance out seats in the school,” said Dakin.

Dakin said the one school that chose evenly was the McKinley School.

One difference in the lottery this time is that kids will not be allowed in the room during the drawing, though parents are welcome.

“I don’t think it does any kid any good to be present at that forum,” said Dakin.

With all the fuss, one might think that the school’s policy might change, but Dakin and the mayor said there is great benefit in mixing up the middle schoolers.

“That allows us to get the kids together right away for blending and mixing and higher power academics,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons we’re getting kids in the top tier colleges after Revere High School. The themes are here and I don’t see them going away…Lotteries are a fact of life.”

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