Despite problems, Boston has made substantial educational progress

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

"Let's storm the doors and occupy the school! We don't want our school closed!" A mother roared in favor of this line of action at the April 28 meeting of parents at the William Monroe Trotter school, built 11 years ago as a voluntarily integrated unit. She wants schools to remain open.

Contrary to a common perception, Boston's public school system, the nation's oldest and once among the best, is not run by judges, nor by fiscal experts operating from the courthouse or City Hall.

Teachers and pupils are still reporting to classrooms -- to the Hubert H. Humphrey Occupational Resource Center to learn a skill or trade that will prepare them for entry-level employment after high school, to the Trotter School , to the once stormy South Boston High School where graduates, poor whites and poor blacks, have a choice, college or job, and to a variety of innovative schools, to Lucy Stone School, Madison Park High School, and to others.

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Students are achieving, too -- a turnaround in reading scores after dropping lower and lower for several years, the production of a school newspaper (Madison Park High School) that ranked second in the nation a year ago, an elementary school (Trotter) chorus featured on a television program.

Racial incidents in the schools have been rare in 1980-81, the seventh school year since court-ordered desegregation.

Boston's 162 schools operate on a historical tradition of innovation -- the system once offered evening school to bootblacks and other working children, initiated the school board idea, originated the annual budget, although the system has been accused of overspending through the years. Boston established standards for buildings that as early as 1925 produced two school plants designated as "models for the entire country."

Since 1969 the Trotter School has attracted educators from other systems as a model school for voluntary integration when it was opened as the Hub's first school named after a black person, in the heart of Roxbury, the city's black ghetto. White parents from socalled hard-core antibusing communities as South Boston and Charlestown registered their children then and still enroll them at the Trotter.

Neither parents nor pupils want Trotter to close in today's financial crunch.They have returned to the building after hours for three plays, three musical programs, and a spaghetti dinner to support "our school." They have seen the Trotter choir featured on a television program. The Trotter Racial Ethnic Parents Council has donated funds to help reading and other programs survive.

"Education occurs outside the four walls of the classroom as well as within," says principal Barbara Jackson, as she wonders how many enrichment programs will be continued in the school next fall. These include art, music, physical education, career planning -- extras at other schools, but "routine" at Trotter. And Trotter students exchange ideas with students from Easton, a town south of Boston, on government -- how a bill becomes law.

In contrast to Trotter, the Lucy Stone School is an aging neighborhood school , predominantly black with no busing. Twelve students report to Principal Richard G. Brown, after school twice a week -- not as discipline problems, but as members of a "varsity" math team participating in the Continental Mathematics League Inc., headquarters in Hauttpauge, N.Y.

His dozen fourth- and fifth-graders are not doing as well as he would like, says Mr. Brown whose specialty is math, but his teachers offer pupils "an atmosphere of love, respect, and desire to learn." And in austere times the school has received repairs -- new door, new windows, and roofing. And parents work constantly "to spruce up the atmosphere," he says.

A community organization, Freedom House, has adopted the troubled Jeremiah Burke High School -- labeled as a frenzied predominantly black center of raging students where good conduct is a rarity. "We want Burke students to upgrade their goals and seek to become productive citizens," said Leon Nelson, director of the Freedom House Institute for Education.

Students are learning in Boston, says Dr. Berniece Miller, director of curriculum development for the system. She refers to current projects, including one in which, through criteria reference testing and an experimental reading for content program children's reading scores have improved -- a turnaround after years of declining test scores, she says.

She also noted that Eric Miller has coordinated a series of workshops for teachers on reading by content in such areas as physical education, art, social studies, and others.

Also, a textbook committee has reviewed books used in the system and simplified ordering procedures. The system has also received a grant to study sexual, racial, and ethnic stereotypes in textbooks.

And the system has produced a new handbook for teachers, "Activity Resource Handbook for the Academically Talented" by Mr. Co oper.

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