Towns’ Reputations Run Deep

My husband and I have been going through the quite complicated process of trying to figure out where to live. Where I hail from, you could count the suburbs or parts of towns on your fingers. Outside Boston (where we now live), it’s a virtual jigsaw of towns, and it’s completely overwhelming.

On greatschools.org, you can see towns rated on a scale of 1 to 10 based on their MCAS scores; it would be great if there were a system ranking towns on established criteria other than education. Instead, the reputations of towns are based on what people say about them, like the reputation of any business.

WBUR is running a series called “Towns in Trouble” which looks at how the state’s budget crisis is affecting Hull and Gardner. This week’s segment talked about Hull’s desire to merge school districts with upscale neighbor Cohasset, which incidentally gets a great rating on greatschools. Since moving to the area, I’ve heard comments about how snooty Cohasset is. But, I also have friends who live there – people I really like – and they seem to love it. So, I chalked it up to people talking and differences of opinion. Until I heard this segment.

“Where one passes from one town into the other, an American flag flutters right at the town line, as if marking a border crossing.” (Text: WBUR; Photo: Fred Thys/WBUR)

Hull approached Cohasset about a merger of the school systems – it would reduce costs, and the state is encouraging smaller school systems to merge with others. Instead, Cohasset wanted to talk about buying paper towels together. WBUR’s segment included comments from students and residents about the merger.

“We wouldn’t want them in our school,” said Will Lynner, who just graduated from Cohasset High School, “ ’cause it’s such a difference between incomes it would create problems. We’re a lot more richer town than they are, I guess.”

Lynner was waiting for a sandwich at the deli in downtown Cohasset with his friend, Jeff Charles, who doesn’t hold a high opinion of Hull students, either.

“Because they’re not as prestigious as Cohasset High,” Jeff Charles, a friend of Lynner, said, “their MCAS scores would…”

“Bring us down,” interjected Lynner.

Hull students actually outperform Cohasset students on the science MCAS. But, Tim Brady makes it clear that Hull residents know how Cohasset residents see them.

“Kinda seems like Cohasset’s got that attitude towards us that they’re better than us, you know?” said Brady, who graduated from Hull High School a couple of years ago.

This segment made me sad – for the kids who know their neighbors think they’re better, and for the kids who think they are better than their neighbors. Maybe Cohasset’s happy with its elitist reputation. If not, the town definitely has some work to do. Is WBUR’s reporting fair and balanced? That’s another issue, but the damage has already been done.

Hopefully, we’ll end up in a town more down-to-earth than elitist, and we’ll be able to raise our girls to feel fortunate rather than entitled.

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