True to form, the Parent Imperfect was late to last night’s School Committee meeting in Roxbury. Of course I have excuses. So many people are using my one way street as a pass through that avoids Forest Hills that it took me 20 minutes to travel the 400 yards to Washington Street. No matter. By the time I got to the Bolling Building and found a place to park, the meeting was well underway. The hearing room was filled to capacity and the Interim Superintendent was laying out her feeble rationale for the disaster waiting to happen.
On the way in, I stopped at the table where one usually signs in to speak, but I was too late. They already had a huge number of speakers and were not adding people to the list. That’s okay, I thought. It’s more important that the people directly affected by this decision get a chance to speak to it. I was right. Over twenty-five people spoke to the school closings proposal, including two members of the Boston City Council. Not a single person came to the meeting to speak in favor of the proposal.
Since I actually wrote something up (rather than my usual meandering stream of consciousness) I will send my testimony into the Committee (a fool’s project), and share it here. It would have made zero difference in the meeting, and they probably would have cut me off in the middle because it’s too long (They know me). I share it here because I fear that this is only the beginning of a particularly difficult time for people who care about public education in Boston. Unfortunately, this will not be the last time that the Boston School Committee must vote to close a school.
I’m Kevin Murray. I live in Roslindale and am a parent of a BPS student who is not at one of the schools you’re considering closing tonight. As we know, and injury to one is an injury to all. Thanks for giving me the time to speak to you.
Tonight you face a heavy decision. BPS leadership has proposed closing two schools and dispersing two school communities that have been accomplishing great things for our city.
In all the meetings I’ve attended, BPS also uses the phrase “school community,” but I think you mean something different than I do. You talk about school communities as if they were a clump of “strands,” threads that can be pulled apart and easily wound into another clump somewhere else. WRA and USA are not clumps of strands. Through this process, I have learned that they are communities of people…students, parents, educators and staff, united by blood, sweat and tears behind a mission to first, keep young people alive, and also to prepare them to be informed, active participants in a world that is getting colder and harder, every day.
BPS says it wants to engage school communities in making the difficult changes implied by Build BPS, but it feels like the ask to these two communities has been, “help us dismember your community in a way that minimizes legal liability, financial cost and public embarrassment for the District and…our students are, of course, our highest priority.” Do we wonder why people haven’t jumped up to respond to that ask?
In the face of embarrassing public questioning about what was happening with the McCormack Middle School, the other school originally designated for destruction by Build BPS, the District saw fit to flip the narrative, back off, and begin a different kind of discussion with that school community. I congratulate the District for that choice and the members of that school community for helping the District see the light. I wish you all luck in figuring this out.
But BPS leadership has not had the courage to flip the narrative on WRA and USA, suggesting that the building emergency ties your hands. You have the opportunity to make that change here, tonight. For once, you can be the heroes and heroines of the story.
I can’t speak for these school communities, but I bet that, even now, if you rejected this proposal and asked them to join you in helping to find a viable way to keep these schools together, a good number of the people in this room and many others would leap at the chance. You would be able to mobilize a lot of creative people to help make this happen. We would get the idea that you really want to Build BPS Right!
You say that there just aren’t viable options to keep these communities together. Give me a break! Do you really want me to believe that, if the Mayor of this city made it a priority to get Build BPS off on the right foot and deal with this emergency as if the students in our schools TODAY mattered, that it couldn’t happen? Where there is no will, there is never a way.
And so, it is time to make a decision. I ask you to please do the right thing and reject this proposal. If you do, I, for one, will stand and applaud your courage, and I don’t think I’ll be alone. But it seems that, as always, the fix is in. I can tell by the looks on your faces that you are ready to hold your noses and vote for this thing. Hold your nose too much and it will stay that way. If you go that route, you will have missed an incredible opportunity, the disappointment of many in this room will turn into rejection and anger, but, in truth, we have little chance to hold you accountable. There is, however, one person who is accountable for your actions, and accountable he will be.
This is not just another vote. Think carefully about it: The choice is yours.
POSTSCRIPT: The choice was theirs, and they made it. Five members of the committee voted to close WRA and USA. One member abstained. Most of the people present got up and turned their backs on the committee to walk out of the hall.
In concluding her powerful testimony, the woman who coordinates the various programs in place at WREC to serve children with autism said, “We will not go quietly into the night.” I sincerely hope you do not. If you are ready to get noisy, in the night or anytime, there will be many people in the city ready to join you.