Boston School Finder: Parents using database to navigate tricky registration process

BOSTON — It's that time of year again -- back to school!

And with it comes the frenzy of registration and the fear of not getting a spot.

Take Shirley Porcena for example, a parent of three daughters who signed one her children for K-1 but didn't get in.

"I signed her up for K-1 [and] she didn't get a spot because it was too late in the season," she said.

Porcena was told she would have to choose from just five schools in her zip code and hope for a slot.

"It was very overwhelming. When she didn't get in, I thought there was no other choice," Porcena said. "I just had to home school her or keep her home for another year."

But then, a friend told her about "Boston School Finder." The website founded by another mother of three, Latoya Gayle, makes it easier for parents to navigate the process in one of the state's largest districts.

"I spent hours researching and it was like, how do you make this for parents who don't have hours to sit around and do this [and] who don't even know what they're looking for," Gayle said.

The website has every school in Boston in its database, including information on how to apply and when. It can be accessed in seven different languages and so far, more than 15,000 people have used it since it started in 2017.

About 160 charter, public and private schools are listed.

"What if my child has special needs? What if English is not my first language?" Gayle wondered when creating the database. "What if I'm undocumented? What if I'm experiencing homelessness... [and] we also put all the information on our site as well."

Gayle said this is all about access. The city has some of the best schools in the state, but parents don't always know about them.

'We really want to change the demographics of who is able to access all the opportunities we have here in Boston," she said.

Registration in Boston starts in January and exam school applications open the second week of September.

To access the database or to learn more about Boston School Finder, you can visit the website.