Umm ... Obvious alert: Cambridge parents are angry because there aren't nearly enough after-school spots in this town.
You'd think I'd know this, since I just wrote a post to expiate my own anger over how confusing figuring out how to get a spot is. But I didn't. As a new mom in the system, there's so much to get angry about, that it takes you a little while to catch up.
(All said with love to the hard-working administrators and teachers in the system. I know it's all been tough these last years.)
That being said, multiple people have asked me to help with advocacy. So, this post is my attempt to sort through why parents do need to advocate and what they can do.
As usual, please email me with corrections/additions/suggestions at email@example.com, as I don't really know what I'm doing.
Step 1: A few parents (4-5) meet with Marc McGovern.
I lay out what I know about the problem below. But there are many unanswered questions. City Councilor Marc McGovern chairs the committee that oversees DHSP, so he's a natural first place to go + move on from there. Therefore, please email me if you'd like to join a small meeting to talk with Marc (firstname.lastname@example.org) before the end of April.
Step 2: I don't have a step 2 yet, so ITM, here's what I know about the after-school problem
History: Last spring or summer (of 2021), almost 200 parents and sets of parents signed a letter to a hodge-podge of City leaders, including:
The parents were concerned that DHSP-run after-school programs wouldn't offer space to all CPS elementary and middle school students in Fall 2021. (This turned out to be true.)
The letter's tl;dr was to request:
Seemingly in response to this letter, DHSP released an 11-page report in October 2021, "DHSP Community Schools 2021-2022: Program Changes, Data and Outcomes, and Key Learnings." They seem not to have posted it online. (A parent forwarded me a copy.)
In the "Introduction," the report said it would explain "why we made changes to our Community Schools registration, enrollment, and tuition" for 2021-2022.
As I read it, the report shows that DHSP is failing at 4 major issues all at once:
In terms of the data, the report says 1147 kids applied to the 2021-2022 Community Schools Lottery for 688 spots. That means 459 kids didn't get a spot.
DHSP now reserves 30% of its slots for low-income kids, which explains why they have better representation. However, since this means that just 42 low-income kids were waitlisted (see graph below from pg. 6), this system seems weirdly skimpy. Why be so half-assed about it? DHSP should definitely admit all low-income kids who apply, since options for their families are so much more limited than for the rest of us.
In their letter, the parents asked that DHSP restore its after-school program to pre-pandemic levels. However, that apparently did happen in Fall 2021 -- in 2019, they had 691 spots, ie: about the same.
The issue, according to this report, is that pre-pandemic, the DHSP Community School system pretty much excluded all low-income kids. Quoting: "Most Community Schools did not have waitlists for their programs, as the families who did not apply in person or were unable to afford the program fees were not in the applicant pool." Holy crap!
And that's why it seemed to many affluent parents that DHSP provided a seat for any CPS child who wanted one. It was definitely not true. This is totally a real scandal that I don't get why it didn't provoke more outrage when it got made public, but moving on.
Pre-pandemic, the report says that 12% of its kids were low-income, compared to 36% of its kids in 2021-2022.
The tl;dr here is that ~450 kids aren't going to get into a DHSP after-school program next academic year either, unless staff and capacity goes up drastically. (In the chart above, it would be helpful to know how many applicants were "declined" and how many were "ineligible," but it's unclear.)
The good news is that the report identifies 3 programs that used to have higher capacity than they do currently: Amigos, MLK, and Morse (chart from pg. 7).
The bad news is that by my very calculations based on this graph, there's only a generous 70 or so new spaces that might be added through this mechanism, bringing the gap down to 370 kids who will still need spaces. Also, it's not clear that they will add space.
One parent has anecdotally noted that some schools are limiting after school options because they don't want to share space with them. A City Councilor points to the same issue in his blog post, discussed directly below.
What has happened since the October 2021 report, then?
I'm really not sure, as there seems to be very little available online. My only guidance comes from an October 2021 blog post by City Councilor Quinton Zondervan, "Expanding Out-of-School Time Options," which he seems to have written in response to the DHSP report and especially the parent outrage that preceded it.
Zondervan has made two requests to the City Manager Louis DePasquale on this.
Zondervan's tl;drs are:
* On DHSP's poor communications. My favorite part is at the bottom of page 10: "Although we talked at the June 30 City Council Human Services and Veterans Committee meeting about there not being enough capacity in the system for all the families who want programs and about the need to engage a broader community process to look at program expansion, many families did not assume that this would impact them."
This is hilarious! DHSP is such a city bureaucracy baby that they're surprised that holding one committee meeting with an obscure name isn't enough to make families understand that they may be losing their jobs come the fall due to child care issues. Ha ha ha! (Impressed they were honest about it, though.)
Ok. Just one more (top of pg. 9): "Many families wrote us to clarify the notifications they received or, in some cases, share that they had applied but had not received any update about enrollment. We devoted our resources to confirming enrollment status for families. As we focused on these details, families who inquired about their status in the waiting pool or wrote with concerns and questions about the lottery process sometimes went unanswered, and we know that this lack of communication compounded families’ distress and frustration."
I am so, so glad I didn't have to live through this. Sounds like a total nightmare. I love how honest DHSP is in describing it, though.
Eugenia Schraa & Amanda Beatty
Cambridge moms of young kids, going slowly nuts trying to wrangle basic info from the City about schools, after schools, preschools, and probably much more.