Why does dealing with the Boston Public Schools always have to be so unpleasant?

By | September 23, 2013

To: Acting BPS Superintendent John McDonough
Cc: Boston School Committee
Cc: City Councillor Mark Ciommo
Cc: City Councillor and mayoral candidate John Connolly
Cc: Mayoral candidate Charlotte Golar Richie
Cc: Mayoral candidate Bill Walczak

Dear Superintendent McDonough,

Why does it have to be consistently so painful  to deal with the BPS administration? Some of the many examples I’ve recently experienced…

I emailed superintendent@bostonpublicschools.org August 13 with comments about the lost flash drive incident. I received an AutoReply from “Johnson, Carol R” indicating that her last day had been August 9 and telling me to contact Barbara Connolly. Why wasn’t that email address updated before then to go to you and turn off the AutoReply? I forwarded my message to Barbara Connolly and asked her to make sure it got to you. I received no acknowledgment from her, nor have I received a response from you to my letter, over a month later.

My wife has spent many hours poring over BPS web pages and making countless phone calls to find out how our daughter can take the BLS entrance exam on a Sunday since she can’t take it on a Saturday for religious reasons. The web pages say nothing relevant, refer her to other web pages that say nothing relevant, or refer her to people who can’t help. The phone calls reach people who no longer work for BPS, or who are on leave with no one doing their job while they are gone, or who don’t return my wife’s voicemail messages, or who tell my wife they can’t help and don’t know who can, or who refer my wife to someone else which starts the same useless game all over again.

We need to provide proof of residency for our daughter so she can take the BLS exam, which opens up another whole raft of unpleasantness, including:

  • We already have another child at BPS. Why do we have prove residency again for our second child?
  • Why can’t proof of residency documents be provided to the BPS by email, fax, or mail, rather than making every single BPS family shlep to a welcome center or satellite office to perform this pointless bureaucratic chore? Has it occurred to you that parents of BPS students work for a living or have to care for their children and can’t afford to take hours away from their jobs to do something that does not actually require their physical presence?
  • BPS closed the satellite office at the Jackson-Mann school years ago, and despite many, many complaints from many, many people since then, still hasn’t opened a welcome center or satellite office anywhere near a convenient location for residents of Brighton. The absolute best-case scenario for travel time for me to get to a welcome center (and, of course, the MBTA rarely provides an “absolute best-case scenario” level of service) is an hour and a half round trip. Add in time waiting in line at the welcome center and then sitting next to a desk while a BPS employee takes at least a half hour to “process” me, and we’re talking about losing half a day to this pointless exercise.
  • I just attempted to call the Dorchester welcome center to ask a question about the proof of residency process. I gave up and hung up after ten minutes on hold (literally — my phone has a call timer on it). Do you think I and other BPS parents have all day to sit around twiddling our thumbs waiting for someone to get around to answering the phone? We’re busy too, you know.
  • While we’re on the topic, when is the BPS going to enter the late 20th Century and let parents ask questions by email, web chat, or whatever, instead of making us use this antiquated thing called a telephone?

My daughter is also considering the Snowden International School. We have some questions about the admission process for that school and have attempted repeatedly to get in touch with someone at the school who can answer them. So far, three phone calls (one to a real person, two to voicemail) and an email message from my wife have been ignored by the school’s administration.

[Part of letter with more concerns elided from blog for privacy reasons.]

Why is all this so unpleasant? Why does it have to be this way? And if it doesn’t have to be this way, then what are you doing to change it?


Jonathan Kamens

P.S. To my city councillor, Mark Ciommo, and to the Boston School Committee, to whom I have copied this message… What are you doing to improve the experiences BPS parents in general, and Brighton BPS parents in particular, have when dealing with the BPS administration?

P.P.S. To the mayoral candidates to whom I have copied this message… Out of all the candidates in the race, you are the ones my wife and I are considering voting for, so we are particularly interested in hearing what you will do as mayor to improve the experiences BPS parents in general, and Brighton BPS parents in particular, have when dealing with the BPS administration?

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