Front and Center: Waterfront Potential Gets Big Boost at Menino’s State of the City Speech

In his annual State of the City address last Thursday at Faneuil Hall, Mayor Thomas Menino, as he did in his annual Chamber of Commerce Speech two months back, pointed to East Boston as a neighborhood full of opportunity for development and job growth.

While the Chamber speech focused on Eastie idle waterfront development projects, this time around Menino mentioned Suffolk Downs and the possibility of a resort-style casino there as a way to spark job creation and his desire to have a transparent community process on the issue.

“We also need to stick together when it comes to job creation,” said Menino. “Too many of our neighbors remain unemployed. Together, we will move forward on our investments in the neighborhoods and on the waterfronts and we will support big and small businesses alike.”

Menino said this year another important job-creation project will take shape in the form of a resort casino proposal in Eastie.

“Boston must do this in a way that improves our city and enhances our reputation,” said Menino. “Therefore, even before the State Gaming Commission is put together, I will create a Boston Gaming Advisory Board with leaders from outside city government. It will have a two-part mandate: Maximize job creation for Bostonians and provide transparency for residents into the process of casino review.”

Another pledge in his speech that is sure to be music to many parents’ ears in Eastie is Menino’s plan to overhaul the Boston Public School’s school assignment process.

“The Boston Public Schools have come a long way in the last twenty years,” said Menino. “When I became mayor, many parents considered sending their children to only a handful of schools. Today, more than 100 of our schools have waiting lists because they are so popular with parents.”

In Eastie schools like the Bradley and the few schools that offer parents a pre-kindergarten program typically have long waitlists and are almost impossible to get into. For many parents this means having to send their children across the neighborhood to another school because the school in their area may be filled.

“Something stands in the way of taking our system to the next level–a student assignment process that ships our kids to schools across our city,” said Menino. “Pick any street. A dozen children probably attend a dozen different schools. Parents might not know each other; children might not play together. They can’t carpool, or study for the same tests. We won’t have the schools our kids deserve until we build school communities that serve them well.”

Menino said that one year from now Boston will have adopted a radically different student assignment plan – one that puts a priority on children attending schools closer to their homes.

“I am directing Superintendent Johnson to appoint a citywide group of dedicated individuals,” said Menino. “They will help design the plan to get us there and engage the community on this transition. I know I have talked about changing the student assignment plan before. We have made many improvements over the years. 2012 will be the year to finish the job.”

City Councilor Sal LaMattina applauded Menino’s effort to return the city and neighborhoods to community schools.

“The one way you can stabilize schools in the city is go back to a community school model,” said LaMattina. “First, all schools should be performing the same and the amount of money we spend on transportation can be redirected to making all schools better.  Returning to a community school model would allow more parents to become involved in their neighborhood school and I think you will see more parents taking ownership of the school and forming parent groups to help the school succeed.”

LaMattina said when he was a student in BPS the schools he attended were made up of all his neighbors.

“All the kids knew each other, we were all friends because we went to school together and played together after school,” said LaMattina. “All of our parents knew each other and were involved in the school because when there was a meeting it was a quick walk around the block and not a drive to the other end of the neighborhood or to another neighborhood.”

LaMattina called the student assignment process the number one issue among young families in his district.

“I hear it all the time from parents that if their child does not get into their first choice school they are leaving the city,” said LaMattina. “That does not help stabilize the neighborhoods or schools because we are losing people that want to be involved.”

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