Navigating the Boston Public Schools System


Matthew and Caroline Foscato thought the suburbs were inevitable once they had their surprise twins, Evan and Nicholas, in 2002. The couple’s South End apartment, where they live today, has just 900 square feet. But they decided to give the city a try as parents. “Understanding how you make the city your playground, how to create a community…. We just had to learn how to operate differently,” Caroline says.

Private school tuition was never an option. But the Foscatos entered the public system at a pivotal moment. Their local school, the Joseph J. Hurley, was being turned around by a group of ambitious parents and a new principal, Marjorie Soto. “Neighborhood people got involved because the school was both underperforming and underenrolled,” Caroline says. “Parents knew that when the time came, they could get a spot.” It’s a story that has been repeated in many other schools around the city: Warren-Prescott in Charlestown; Quincy; and Ellis Mendell on the Roxbury–Jamaica Plain border, to name a few.

Caroline began devoting 5, 10, sometimes 30 hours a week to Neighborhood Parents for the Hurley School (NPHS), a parent-run nonprofit that raises funds and awareness for the school. “That was a deliberate decision for us,” says Caroline, who works part time as a project management consultant. “We felt that by giving back to the school, the entire community could benefit. There are a lot of parents who work full time or work more than one job, and they would love to be able to help with some projects, but it’s not something they’re able to do.” So far, NPHS has reopened a library at the Hurley, turned a former parking lot into a small soccer field, and helped fund music and afterschool programming, among other projects.

It’s a clear success story. While MCAS scores have bounced around in the past few years, the Hurley now has an accelerated learning program for students with more-developed reading skills, which is attracting high-achieving kids to the school. But there is a downside. “A lot of my work hours are pro bono,” Caroline says. “I’m pulling back. How much parent involvement should be needed in order for a school to succeed?” Nevertheless, for parents with the means and the time, working to improve underperforming schools, or those in the early stages of a turnaround, can be worthwhile. Right now, 10 Boston public schools, including the Dever, the Blackstone, and the Greenwood, are in the midst of a $22 million grant program that will allow them to extend school days and improve teacher training. They’re ripe for parental involvement.

Because the Hurley is K–8, Matt and Caroline don’t need to worry about high school just yet. “The Latin School is great, but it’s huge, and they only have so many slots,” Caroline says. “So I’ve decided to live in denial for a while. When the time comes, who knows? But one thing we know for sure is we’ll be in the city.”

  • Julie

    Thanks for this article. I just wanted to clarify a couple of points. Massachusetts parents have the right to educate their children outside of the school system. Cities and towns do not “allow” us to do so. Although this family consults the state curriculum guidelines, parents are not required to follow any curriculum. Another good resource for current or potential home educators is Advocates for Home Education in
    Massachusatts (AHEM).

  • justin

    When all of your children are 5 and under, you are not homeschooling, you are being a parent.

  • Kerry

    I think the point of the article was to demonstrate the options city parents have as their kids reach kindergarten age. That is, stay in the city or leave, and if they want to stay how they can make it work.

  • Dima Bilan

    I’m so frustrated at this stupid system I’m (we)
    are ready to move out of the state, maybe out of the USA. There is nothing fun about the way we live, racing from one activity to another, put on wait lists and then filling out a
    folder of forms and dishing out loads of money when my job is always in jeopardy.
    You can have it.