Schools, Choice, and Living Locally

Recently, Nathan and I completed the school lottery process here in Cambridge and found out that H will be attending our top choice of schools, which is also our closest neighborhood school.

We are really excited about this for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is that we will be at a school that is a short walk away, and we are already imagining a future in which H walks with kids from the neighborhood. We’re also excited because the school has a great music program, is truly diverse and on our tour we saw someone we knew from the neighborhood in every classroom we visited.

There are other schools that we could get to by bike, bus, or a longer walk, but selecting a school that is further away means that we’d be less like to go to events and meetings at the school and less likely to find friends within walking distance for our kids to play with. For us, walkability is our primary criteria in a school because being a part of our neighborhood is one of our most cherished values. We feel fortunate to have a good school within walking distance so that we don’t have to worry that we should be compromising our commitment to our neighborhood for the sake of our children’s education.

Because location was our most important criteria, we also had the benefit of not worrying about selecting the “best” school. We felt free to choose a school that we felt was “good enough,” provided that it was within walking distance. This reduced a lot of our angst when we were school shopping (although it didn’t eliminate it entirely). We are mindful that not every parent would agree with our assessment that our school is “good enough” — it is in the upper-middling range for test scores in our city and is not a top choice of a number of our peers. However, we were very excited after our school tour and talking with other parents, feeling that it was well beyond our criteria for “good enough,” and that it is a school we would be proud for our children to attend.

Next we have to back up our choice with deeds. In a few months we’ll be a part of a new school, learning the ropes of a new community, and finding out the details about the strengths and the weaknesses of our choice. With luck, both our kids will be in this school until high school, so we’ll have 12 years to settle in and get comfortable. During that time, I’m sure we’ll find out exactly what there is to love and hate about the school. But I’m a firm believer in commitment, and having made our choice, I think we’ll find out that it’s an amazing school and that any ways it’s not are challenges that we can meet.

About Angela

Angela is an associate professor of mathematics and enjoys writing, reading, and talking to people about her bike. She's the proud mother of two cute kids, H and R.
This entry was posted in Cambridge and Boston area, Child-related issues, Living locally, Walking. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Schools, Choice, and Living Locally

  1. Cathy says:

    Hope it works out well (the school and the commitment)! Not for the same reasons, but we are happy to have neighborhood schools here – no pressure to find “the perfect” school, walkable and bikeable from our home, and more reasons to feel connected to our neighborhood.

  2. Emily says:

    so glad for you! We are in such a different position at the moment, though not needing to decide for a couple of years, but we don’t even know other kids in the neighborhood yet…then there’s the lottery of BPS! Time will tell. :)

  3. Devin says:

    We live in a smallish town that is maybe 7 miles x 7 miles at the biggest and our school is what they call a non-transit school, which means they do not provide any transit to the school, so it is all walking, biking, etc. This is a change from where we moved from where they bussed kids from miles and miles away and actually were against walking, etc. to school. Congrats on the lottery.

  4. Trace Salmon says:


    I live in Portland, Oregon where many city schools have been decimated by the school shopping panic. I am confused about what you wrote–did you have to enter the lottery to attend your nearest school?

  5. Emily says:


    I love your point about how the proximity of a child’s school can impact parent involvement. You’ll be able to help make that “good enough” school even better for all the kids in your community.

    As an elementary school teacher, I know that parent involvement in a child’s schooling can have a tremendous impact on that’s child’s success. I think that our tendency is to view school choice as though families were consumers of a static product (i.e. the “best” school). Instead, families are of members of a dynamic school community, where parent efforts can make a big difference.

    School funding and teacher retention are important factors, too. Even though the school in our neighborhood that we’re hoping our son will attend for kindergarten serves a relatively low-income population (just like our relatively low-income family), we’re grateful that it has adequate funding and strong teachers.

    Again, congrats!

  6. V says:

    Yeah to a close school. While our neighborhood school is farther from us than most, we are at the edge of the catchment, I love that most kids live close by. In the fall I had a school fundraiser to work on and had a list of parents to drop info off with and I spent a sat afternoon on my bike making a large circle of our neighborhood hitting all the people on my list. Middle school is further but still not far and I love that high s hool is literally down the block. Girlpie can get a new nifty bike to get to middle and high school. Plus library and all important starbucks are both short walk/ bikes away. What more could a tween/teen need?

  7. Angela says:

    @Trace — Sorry for forgetting that every place is not the same! In Cambridge, you do enter a lottery no matter whether your choice is a “proximity school” (one of the two schools closest to you) or a school that is further away. It is easier to get into one of the two schools closest to you, but not guaranteed.

    • Trace Salmon says:

      Without knowing the details or reasoning, that system sounds even worse than ours. Of course, it would have avoided the scenario we experienced recently where an overcrowded wealthy school was the subject of being reboundaried to alleviate the crowding and boost attendance at the neighboring, economically diverse school. In the end the reboundary was quickly squashed and community trust was damaged by people being seen to publicly advocate for inequity against their neighbors’ interests.

  8. Alex Dupuy says:

    How great that your school goes all the way through grade 12! It’s pretty rare nowadays to find neighborhood schools that go past grade 5 or 6, let alone all the way through high school . In our city (Troy NY) the neighborhood schools go only to grade 6, after that there is a middle school for grade 7-8, and a high school for 9-12. The middle and high school are bikeable, but a half-hour walk uphill. The school district is not a particularly good one overall, and they just closed the nearest elementary school to us (it wasn’t probably even “good enough” but still). In the discussions and debates about selecting a school for closing, there was general support for closing the troubled middle school and extending the elementary schools to grade 8 but the experts explained that this would be infeasible due to NY State grade 7-8 curriculum mandates (for science, etc.) that would be too expensive to implement in each of the six (now just five) neighborhood schools.

    • Dorea says:

      Angela’s calculation of 12 years was actually based on two kids 3 grades apart in a (sort of) K-8 school. The high school is separate. The school is “sort of” K-8 since Cambridge is in the process of separating middle schoolers to their own “campuses”, but it so happens that one of the four will be housed within our school building. It’s not clear yet how that will all pan out. Middle school is definitely a hot topic in our district.

  9. abracadabra says:

    Oh, I hate, hate, hate school shopping! (And I do not use that word lightly). It is so loaded and the implicit message is you are charting you child’s entire life course with the selection of kindergarten — and it is binary — good school: ivy bound, bad school: lucky to scrape by in a 2 year community college… if he/she gets that far.

    I grew up in a small, rural town. There was one school, everyone went there, it was a decent education in terms of the 3Rs and I think better than my suburban peers because it was socioeconomically (not racially, unfortunately) mixed.

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