The choice is (was) yours

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.


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Filed under Boston Public Schools, Build BPS

Destroy WREC/Build BPS?

The Parent Imperfect is having a hard time focusing on anything else. Maybe writing something here will help me deal with the anger and frustration I feel about the upcoming meeting of the Boston School Committee. At that meeting, Committee Chair, Michael Loconto will run a zipped-up lawyerly kind of meeting at which he and his colleagues (several of them sporting long faces to show that they hate to do it) will vote on the proposed closing of West Roxbury High and Urban Science Academy. Unless you and I get to the Mayor in the meantime, the School Committee will approve the Mayor’s proposal (dutifully delivered by the BPS) and two school communities will get the ax. The editorial myopes at the Boston Globe will probably have an editorial ready, extolling the Magnificent Seven (now six, with the timely resignation of Dr. Miren Uriarte) for their courageous decision. To make an omelette, you have to break some eggs, right?

If you believe that the BPS should be able to find some alternative to closing these schools, call, Marty Walsh, the man who can shift this thing in a hot minute. Tell him you oppose the closings of Westie High and Urban Science Academy, and you vote! You have no one to hold accountable, but him. If you have time, make a couple of other calls, too. Maybe this will help:

Mayor Marty Walsh, 617-635-4500, , @marty_walsh

Interim BPS Supt., Laura Perille, 617-635-9050, , @lperille

School Committee Chair, Michael Loconto, 617-635-9014, , @mtloconto

City Council Ed Chair, 617-635-4376, Annissa Essaibi-George,, @AnnissaforBos

By now, people know the arguments. I’m not convinced, but let’s take it for granted that the building, one of the newest in the system, is bad and should not be housing students. Okay, but who approved building a school complex on a wetland right down the hill from a capped landfill in West Roxbury? Maybe that was a tenth grader at Urban Science Academy. Who fiddled while it was obvious that water damage was seriously undermining the building structure? Must have been that Spanish teacher at Westie High. Who approved and then carried out tens of millions of dollars in repairs that never addressed the problem? I bet it was the parent featured on WBUR, talking about what the autism program at Westie High has meant to his son. I am willing to bet that corruption and political favors were present at every turn, and I hope some investigative journalist will tell the story. For now, the important point is that none of the students, parents or teachers now involved with either of the schools bear responsibility for this tale of woe, but the Boston School Committee is about to impose all of the costs of the affair on exactly those students, parents and teachers.

The Boston Public Schools is made up of 125 school communities, administered out of the Bolling Building and knit together by a shared mission to provide high-quality education to all children in Boston. My children have been part of four of those school communities, so I know well that every one of them has its strengths and its weaknesses, and these weaknesses lead to practices that can do serious damage to some of the kids entrusted to those communities by their parents. But one of my most challenging realizations as a parent in the BPS is that even our most “troubled” schools (and I don’t mean the ones whose children don’t do as well as some others on standardized tests) play critical roles in the lives of many of the families involved in them. Most importantly, closing down a school community and scattering its students to the wind leaves too many struggling students and their families in even worse situations.

University of Chicago researcher, Eve Ewing, recently published a study of the impact of the mass school closings inflicted on the Chicago Public Schools just a few years ago Ghosts in the Schoolyard should be required reading for anyone involved with Build BPS. The message is that school closings aren’t an administrative thing: They destroy connections among people for whom those connections are very important. In unequal systems, school closing tend to worsen inequities. A teacher from the McCormack Middle School, another school threatened with closing in the Build BPS scheme, distributed copies of Ghosts in the Schoolyard to the Interim BPS Superintendent and all members of the School Committee.  I wonder if they’ve read the book.

The closing of a school building need not mean the dismantling of the school community. As I write this, Boston Arts Academy is being housed in a temporary space while a state-of-the-art new arts facility is being created for it across the street from Fenway Park. Students at the Dearborn School in Roxbury were temporarily relocated to space in the Burke High School while the old Dearborn building was razed and a new STEM academy rose in its place. Neither of these situations was ideal, but the temporary relocation to “swing” space was seen as much preferable to the dispersion of the school community. Where there is a will, there is a way.

In presenting the plan to close the schools at the West Roxbury Educational Complex (WREC) to a community meeting in Roslindale, Interim BPS Superintendent, Laura Perille, insisted that the District had looked into all available options for relocating one or both of the schools, but that there was simply no appropriate BPS space into which to relocate the schools. Questioned about whether the District had considered using non-BPS space as swing space, she answered that all reasonable options had been considered. Sorry, Laura, but I just don’t buy it. I am to believe that, in a city like Boston, with tax-exempt universities occupying such a large part of the land mass, there is no place to which 200-300 students could be relocated for a transition period? The Mayor currently has his people scouring the City and calling in favors to find an alternative space for Roxbury Prep that will defuse the conflict over 361 Belgrade. Surely, those same fixers could turn up a swing space for these two schools…if only two public schools mattered as much as a charter. Those people vote: The Mayor listens.

And so, I will sit there as Mr. Loconto, Esq. wrings a vote out of his School Committee colleagues. But first, there will be time for community people to scream into the darkness during the abbreviated public comment period, and scream people will. If only the members sitting before them had any sense of accountability to anyone other than the man from Dorchester. And then, of course, the obligatory round of pre-vote apologies from the other committee members, saying how much they value the voice of the community they are about to gash. Each time I go to one of these meetings, I am more ready to face the obvious risks of an elected school committee. I was not a BPS parent in the 1970s, but I was here to behold John Kerrigan and Pixie P.

As I sit there, I’ll be thinking about the recent talk by Chicago activist, Jitu Brown, to the Winter Assembly of the Massachusetts Educational Justice Alliance (MEJA). “School closings and the disappearance of affordable housing have been at the center of a strategy to remove displace people of color from cities all over this country,” Brown told an audience of fired up teachers, students and parents. Then he talked about the tactic of “taking over” meetings of Chicago’s appointed School Committee, when it became clear that they just weren’t going to listen to community people. Will Build BPS bring us to that same point? Something has got to give…





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Filed under Boston Public Schools, Build BPS

Early Decision

The Parent Imperfect doesn’t particularly like personal decisions, so what’s this about Early Decision? This is, of course, one more moment of decision that comes in the college choice process, and Early Decision happens this week for Ms. Connie. Earlier this fall, I promised to open windows on this college choice process as it transpired. I have failed. In truth, the process has been too fraught and too stress-laden to lend itself to the kind of public airing implied by a blog. Connie has been clear that she doesn’t want her process to be the subject of my reflections, so what follows is a pallid reflection of how one parent has experienced a process that is very far from ideal for anyone.

If you’ve been following this saga at all, you know that the “beautiful game” was very much a part of this college search in the early stages. My role was that of secretary, driver and observer as we visited schools that offered strong academics and the possibility that Connie might be able to continue to play the game that had come to dominate her life. She visited 15 such places and I was there for 10 of them. They were mostly in this part of the country, and the search became focused on the so-called NESCAC schools, elite private schools banded together for purposes of Division 3 sports.

I graduated from a public high school and then, after a strange detour to Northeastern University (the prototype private school), got a university diploma from UMass/Amherst. Along the way, I became a booster of public education, and continue spend a fair amount of time as part of a scrappy little group that advocates for quality and equity in the Boston Public Schools. However, in the last college search, I came to peace with the idea that public universities might not always be the best option for every student, including some in my own family. Now, in Round Two, it has been easier for me to accept that conclusion and all that it implies.

Seeing all of these schools, including the elite private ones, was actually fun, in a masochistic kind of way. Seeing Connie develop an excitement about attending some of these schools and continuing to play soccer was much more fun, without the masochism. And then, it happened. One ACL tear put the project in serious doubt and the second one, a year later, required a complete change of identity, a re-thinking of this whole process, most of all for Connie, but also for her support staff. That this change was required in the already-stressful last year of high school has not made it easier.

The parental role has shifted to trying to support Connie, first through surgery #2 and rehab #2, but also through the complete reshaping of her thinking about what she wanted to do after leaving the nation’s oldest public school. My first tendency was to say, “Let’s just forget about the college process for this year and make it through the injury and the rehab,” but with everyone around Connie immersed in this process, such a pause was a silly idea. College applications and the ups and downs of ACL rehab were going to go hand-in-hand, for us all.

I have not chosen to be unemployed (essentially) during this entire year, but we may one day look back on that being not the worst thing that could have happened. Since May 2018, we have made only one additional college visit, but there have been a few other things to do. Oscar Wilde is rumored to have said that, “the problem with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings.” The college search process and ACL rehab belong in the same category.

I have been in awe of my daughter since she came flying out of her mother, almost without warning (Liz knew, but no one was listening), in a pre-birth waiting room at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. There was peril in that flight, and the nurse who had been taking Dear Liz’s blood only just caught the emerging leaper in a hastily-deployed piece of plastic. The father could only gape helplessly, holding onto the “works” of the blood draw. It’s been like that with Connie, ever since, and this has been no exception.

This is still happening, as I scribble, and no one knows how it will come out. Many days, I feel as though I’m still in that waiting room, clutching the blood tubes, breathless with mouth ajar. What I do know is that at no point in my life could I have done what this young lady had done over the last six months. Amidst it all (which includes an unforgiving set of senior year courses at BLS), she came to the decision that she wanted to play the Early Decision game with a school that had not really been in the mix when the beautiful game was part of the equation. Incredibly, she connected with a Boston-born student at the school ( a former gymnastics coach of Connie’s) who had, herself, also endured two ACL tears and an end to dreams of athletic ecstasy. What are the odds of that? In the midst of her own travails, this extraordinary young woman encouraged Connie, commented on her application and welcomed our daughter into her life at the school. Forget heaven. I hope there is a special place in this life for people like this woman. I feel certain that there will be.

In many ways, seeking this Early Decision was not a good bet. It feels, at times, as if the odds would be better buying some of the Powerball tickets that are getting so much publicity these days. But in many other ways, it was exactly the thing to do. This is one more of many reaches for the stars by Connie, and while it is not the way I have lived my life, it is so great to see her do it this way. She will never wonder what might have been, if only she had dared to try. Connie didn’t just apply to the Early Decision school. She also applied Early Action to three other schools, two of them distinguished public institutions. But the focus of her mental energy has clearly been on the Early Decision.

Somehow, in the middle of all of this, she has found the time and energy to participate in a youth program sponsored by Southern Jamaica Plain Community Health Center. Among many other things, this program has forced Connie to look at (and see) the privilege behind her place in this process, despite all of its challenges. Again, in my role as motorista , I have wondered why she needs to be doing this wonderful program at exactly this moment. To her credit, Connie has had no time for my concern and has missed no session of the program, despite then endless academic deadlines and other demands she faces. Whatever her next steps may be, they will be more thoughtful steps because of this experience.

And now, this week, by all accounts, the Early Decision will “come out” (an interesting way to describe this). Some piece of mail will arrive at this house, emotions will be deeply felt and expressed, as they have been for what seems like forever. And then life will go on. Either we, the parents, will be sharing Connie’s joy and figuring out how the hell we are going to pay the amount dictated by the Early Decision, or we’ll be moving onto the next stage in this process. This, too, shall pass.


Filed under Boston Public Schools, Just Parenting

Roslindale has its say on “Build BPS”

The Parent Imperfect finally made it to one of the Build BPS community engagement meetings last night, at the Roslindale Community Center. The fact that about 80 people, at least a quarter of them students, took the time to engage reminded me about both what I like about my city and some of the things that still make my blood boil. The BPS really wants these events to be conversations about the future vision for school facilities at the neighborhood level. The little picture is easier to talk about than the big one.

They said last night what the District is planning for Roslindale. That is, new construction of one school, probably a K-6, closure of the Irving Middle School as part of the closure of all stand alone middle schools in the system, and the renovation of the Irving building into another almost new school, probably another K-6 facility, given the shortage of elementary seats in the zone. With plans to construct a new 7-12 school at the West Roxbury Education Complex, and other high schools in Hyde Park and Jamaica Plain, there is no plan for creating a high school in Roslindale.

That’s all important stuff and a good number of the people in the Community Center were there to discuss those issues. It was hard to get to that discussion, however, as the BPS has created an entirely different conversation by declaring that it has a “building emergency” at West Roxbury Academy/Urban Science Academy and needs to close those two schools at the end of this school year. It’s that proposal that generated a lot of the heat in the room. Recognizing that heat (and the crowd), the guy from the Community Center came downstairs at one point and opened up the divider, suddenly creating a bigger room.

A key moment in the meeting came when a finance person from the BPS had a major slip during his presentation. Talking about actions to be taken by the District, he said, “We’re going to close West Roxbury High.” As the air left the room, he immediately corrected himself to. “We’ve proposed closing West Roxbury High.” Nice try, but the damage was done. His slip–and you couldn’t help but feel bad for the guy–confirmed what everyone in the room knew: Interim Superintendent Perille and the powers that be behind her have made that decision and are already moving on from it. The idea that we were doing “community engagement” around that decision was a well-orchestrated charade.

The students and parents at the meeting were not, however, playing charades, or any other game. They were demanding answers to their questions and several other people in the room joined them in that demand. The BPS insists that the building needs to be torn down and that it is simply impossible to work out a solution that will keep together either of the affected school communities. People in the room questioned both of those conclusions.

The BPS insists that they have the technical reports that describe, in apparently alarming detail, the urgent need to tear down the Westie building before it falls down. Interestingly, it’s one of the newer buildings in the system. Although these reports allegedly put them on this emergency track, they have not yet made any of those documents public. One irrepressible sleuth from QUEST went to the City’s Inspectional Services Department and spoke to the Director of the office. According to our source, that very accommodating gentleman let it be known that they were still in the process of putting together the report in question. How is it that we are so certain about the conclusions of a report that hasn’t yet been completed that we can plan to close two schools based on those conclusions?

One angry Westie student rose, her voice full of emotion, to say, “Where’s this report you are talking about? What’s taking so long to share that information? I’ve gotten to the point that I don’t believe you, and I’m going to come to every one of these meetings until I get some answers! You are the ones that messed up on the building. You’re making us suffer for your mistake.” Somehow, the BPS people remained standing in the front of the room.

A mother standing right behind that student also spoke. “You’ve known about this problem for at least a couple of years. Why didn’t you let us know so that we could advocate for our children? Now you tell us that it’s an emergency and there’s nothing to do but close the school.” The idea that the terrible condition of this building has been common knowledge around BPS for a long time came up repeatedly.

Near the end of the raucous Q & A session, a guy said, “We have lots of questions about the plans for schools in Roslindale, but there’s time to talk about those questions. This thing about West Roxbury High is happening right now, and you’re not doing a very good job of answering these people’s questions about their school. I invite you to come back to Roslindale to present us with a solution to keep these schools together.” The reaction from the crowd said that he was expressing something that reflected what a lot of people were feeling.

By in large, people welcome Build BPS, an initiative to finally do something about decrepit buildings in which Boston kids go to school. But the message last night was that the BPS is not just a lot of buildings: It is also a loose-knit collection of school communities. Each of these communities has its strengths and its weaknesses, but they all play an important role in the lives of the families who entrust their children to them. If, in the process of improving the buildings and straightening out the grade configurations, we destroy those communities, we won’t be building BPS or anything else.

In truth, the financial guy was wrong. They aren’t going to close West Roxbury High. Meetings like the one on Cummings Highway last night are going to convince them that they have got to find a solution that works for both Westie High and the Urban Science Academy. If that’s expensive, then so be it. There’s plenty of money to do some things in this city. One woman said it well last night: “You people are all very smart and creative people. If you believe it is important, you can find a place to relocate these schools and keep them together…You can’t just look at your own buildings for that solution.”

The BPS folks did their best to focus the discussion on student demographics, grade configurations and feeder schools, but, thankfully, the community being engaged had other ideas. The long-term view of how to get the school facilities in line with the demographics and specific needs of the student population in Boston is really important. But it looks like success of that effort–as well as the legacy of the Interim Superintendent–will stand or fall based on the ability of the District to do right by the students, teachers and parents that could very well get chewed up in the process. The community debate about Westie High and Urban Science Academy is only the first of many such conversations that will surely happen as we figure out what it means to “Build BPS.”

These meetings will be happening all during November in different areas of the city. For a complete calendar of them, check out the QUEST website.



Filed under Boston Public Schools, Build BPS

“America to me,” and you

The Parent Imperfect had many excuses not to do it, but, last Thursday night I went to the Boston Public Library for a showing of Episode 4 of the America to me series now showing on Starz. The series is a kind of cinema verité documentary about racial dynamics in a high school in Oak Park, IL. Calling it “Reality TV” would cheapen it way too much, but the series takes a deep dive into the reality of this particular school. Why would over 250 people (including a good number of people whom I recognized as busy parents) show up at the library on a Thursday night to see a TV show? Because this is not just another TV show, and somebody did a great job of putting the event together and promoting it, that’s why. The event was part of a nationwide tour to promote the use of the film in communities. The key partner here in Boston was The Boston School Finder (BSF), a new web tool that describes itself as a tool to help Boston parents find a good school for their children. If you’re wondering why the producers of this tour chose an app as a Boston partner, welcome to 2018. When the tour director explained to the audience how it all happened, she recounted that her primary contact in Boston told her that she needed to speak to BSF’s Executive Director, Latoya Gayle. The rest is history. It also seemed like City Year was somehow in the mix, as they had a table at the entrance and dozens of fresh City Year recruits were in attendance. The organizers of the national tour clearly provided some resources and professional help to make this event happen, but Ms. Gayle and her BSF team also deserve a lot of credit for pulling off an impressive event. There was a reception beforehand at the Lenox Hotel, with free food and soft drinks (for the alcohol, you paid), which I’m sure didn’t hurt the turnout. Somehow I don’t think that the Lenox threw that party for free. The Rabb Lecture Hall at BPL is a great place to see a film. After taking some time to get the capacity crowd into their seats, Ms. Gayle introduced the show by emphasizing the importance of all children getting a quality education, and suggesting that we need to evaluate our political leaders based on whether or not they are serious about delivering on that equity promise. That was a great message and a good intro to the film. America to me follows several students and their families through a year in the life of Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRF). All the publicity says that the school is in Chicago, but it is actually in Oak Park, IL, a relatively prosperous, close-in suburb of Chicago. Oak Park is known as a diverse, politically progressive community. It seemed more like Cambridge than any part of Boston, and the women sitting in front of me (who were from Cambridge) agreed. The school resembled what I know of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, the public high school in that city. If Episode 4 is any indication, Steve James, director of Hoop Dreams and many other films, and his crew did a great job on this series. After struggling with the school administration to get access to OPRF, they managed to find some very compelling young people to give life to this story. The parents of those students also play important roles. In essence, the message is, “Even in this very progressive, well-resourced public school, young people of color and their families face some very daunting challenges. Those challenges are rooted in both the culture of the school, and in the implicit and explicit biases of members of the school community, even those who consider themselves to be very aware of racial issues.” Most of the hundreds of hours of filming was done in the school or at the home of students, but the cameras do follow one young man trick-or-treating with his little brother on Halloween and another as he accompanies the school marching band on a long-awaited trip to a Disney facility (much to the dismay of his wrestling coach). The young people emerge as complicated characters, rather than the cardboard figures that we get in some documentaries. The viewer sees their pain and frustration, as well as many moments of joy and happiness. One student can’t perform in an important improv competition because he received a three-day out-of-school suspension for, in his words, “walking while black.” Another young woman who seems particularly affected by the academic pressures at the school is not chosen for a poetry slam team that seems like the most important thing in the world to her. A male student who does make the slam team recites a poem on camera that bares his intensely felt emotions about his missing father. That poem left both the student audience at the school and the BPL audience in stunned silence. This is the same youth who was bantering with a barber ten minutes earlier about how he wanted his hair cut. In a particularly excruciating scene, a white teacher who fashions himself as highly aware when it comes to racial issues, sits down with two students of color (one of them the aforementioned poet) to ask how he, the teacher, is doing in class. The resulting conversation summarizes the message of the film in a way that no narration ever could. I’d love to know how the man experiences seeing himself in this film. After the lights went on, there was a panel discussion moderated by Meghan Irons of the Boston Globe. She’s done some great writing on education and many other issues in Boston, and was a perfect moderator. The panel featured the director of Episode 4 and Boston education leaders, but the highlight was the presence of one of the young men from Oak Park who appears in this episode (the wrestler who opted to go on the Disney trip with the band). It was great to hear his perspective on the issues addressed in the film. America to me is not the definitive film on racism in the U.S. today, nor does it capture the challenges facing public education in urban areas without the resources of an Oak Park, IL. Episode 4 was, however, a very engaging telling of the an important story happening at one quite unusual high school in one equally unusual community. It offers a special invitation to people who think they have overcome their/our racism to take a moment to question that assumption. The show must have had an effect on me, as I signed up to have showings of future episodes at my house. The producers are organizing these “watch groups” to generate discussion around the series. I won’t be able to screen them all, but I will do a couple of showings. If you’re in Boston and interested in joining a group to check out an episode, comment here or contact me some other way, and I’ll let you know when I’ll be doing showings. If you get Starz, or are up for the On Demand fee, you can also watch America to me, in the comfort of your own home. I recommend it.


Filed under In the Community

Year 18 in the BPS: The Last Time Around

On this oppressively hot and humid day, the Parent Imperfect begins his eighteenth and final year as a parent of a student in the Boston Public Schools. I shouldn’t say that without some kind of “If all goes according to plan” qualifier. So many unusual things have happened over the past couple of years.

On August 24, I drove Vince to Ithaca for what should be his last year as an undergrad at Ithaca College. Just to stay symmetrical, this morning I drove Connie to Forest Hills to get the bus to her first day of school. We are the proud parents of two seniors, three-hundred twenty miles apart.

Do you believe in omens? It felt like this morning had its share.

On the way to Forest Hills, the traffic was backed up even more than one would expect for the first day of school. That, in and of itself, should have told me something.

“There’s an accident or something up there. See the police cars?,” said Connie, nervous that she would miss her first-day rendez-vous with friends.

I had seen the flashing lights as soon as we turned onto Washington. I had a plan. “That’s OK. I’m going to cut down Archdale and come into Forest Hills from South Street.”

Because there was no traffic coming up Washington from Forest Hills, I pulled out of the line of traffic earlier than I should have to make the left turn on Archdale.  No need to look behind me. The police car that was flying down Washington on the wrong side of the street (with no siren that I heard) only just missed me. I’m sure the officer would have pulled me over, except for their haste to get to whatever was ahead of us.

I turned down Archdale Street and made it to Forest Hills quite quickly. Connie was out of the car in a flash, on her way to year 6 at the nation’s oldest public school. We had only just missed at least three misfortunes during the eight-minute ride to Forest Hills. If that’s not an omen, what is?

Connie should have been wearing a knee brace on her left knee, just like the one she wore on her right knee on Day One last year, but she refuses to do that again. Ever the intrusive father, I protested, but no longer can insist. She knows the risks, and is willing to take them. In her place, I would surely do the same thing.

Thankfully, the summer ended somewhat differently than it began. During finals week in June, she was still taking the heavy pain meds after surgical ACL repair #2 on June 11. I honestly don’t know how she survived such a week, two years in a row. While I have not always experienced her school as a supportive place, I have to admit that her guidance counselor and others really rose to the occasion in June. She was unable to take the trip to El Salvador that was on her summer agenda, but, miraculously, she got a job at the extraordinary summer camp run by Mass Audubon at the Boston Nature Center. The job gave her something to focus on other than her injury, and working with kids and being outside in a beautiful setting were really therapeutic. By the end of summer, she was doing all the things everyone else was doing to prepare for school…except pre-season soccer. Letting go of soccer implies a definitive change in her adolescent identity–last year’s was only temporary– that we’re all still trying to get used to.

The change comes at crunch time: It’s fall of her senior year in high school and there are so many decisions to be made. She wants to enter the college choice rat race, but all of the calculations about that race have been turned upside-down by the soccer thing. That process is emotionally fraught when you are clear about your priorities, so what happens when life re-shuffles your priorities without asking? Given the pressures that await us all, we hoped that she might take a slightly lighter course load this year to give herself a bit of space to live and to think in a really challenging time. Always receptive to parental guidance, Connie has opted for an even more demanding schedule of three AP classes, plus Facing History and Ourselves, Physics and Foreign Policy. Where’s the helicopter when you need it?

Through no particular intention of my own, I have become a stay-at-home father for this important and challenging moment in Connie’s life. She’s working hard to get me something to occupy myself, but for the moment, I am here while her Mom is juggling life and a very demanding job. Since this college search process is something that many parents must face at some point, I’ll try to share what I learn (assuming I can face it) as the next few months transpire.



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The Exam School Choice, #17–Guidance Required

Connie took her last final exam of the year on this past Thursday. The Parent Imperfect now officially will spend ONE MORE YEAR as a parent of a student in the Boston Public Schools (unless something really strange and unexpected happens). When Vince began K-1 at the Rafael Hernandez School in September 2001 (just a few days before the bombing of the World Trade Center, and Connie’s birth), we knew very little about Boston’s exam schools, and couldn’t imagine anyone from our family participating in what seemed like one of the most elitist and unfair aspects of the public school system. Never say “never.” Connie’s completion of her Pre-Calculus final closed our ninth year as a parents at the nation’s oldest public school, Boston Latin School (BLS).

I can’t say that we now know a lot about how the exam schools work, but, like many parents at the school, both Liz and I have felt a responsibility to understand at least some of the mysteries of BLS. It has been a humbling, and sometimes maddening learning experience that has involved both attempting to understand the systemic issues implied by the school’s place in the system, and to also understand how to keep our own children healthy and somewhat happy at the school. Like all schools I know, BLS is not a happy and healthy place for all of its students, at all times. When Vince first entered the school in 2009, we had no idea what we were getting into.

One way to understand a school is based on how it responds when the students faces a health or other personal crisis that affects their ability to meet the school’s expectations. This happens a lot, as we have found out over the last period.  Vince missed days due to illness during his six years at BLS, and also took his share of mental health days, but never had a crisis that required a significant accommodation on the part of the school. Connie hasn’t been so lucky. On Mother’s Day, she suffered an injury that required surgery (more about that another time). After having ACL repair surgery on June 12, 2017, she had another one on June 11, 2018 (we’ll be watching out next year at this time). The surgery happened, at Children’s Hospital in Waltham ( a much easier place to navigate than the one in the Medical Area), on Monday of the week during which most BLS students are stressing about the dreaded final exams, and most BLS teachers are focused on preparing their students to take those exams. I can’t imagine a worse time for a student to have surgery, and then spend a week trying to get to the point where pain is controlled and they are able to get around on crutches. The alternative was to wait almost a month and have surgery after the end of school. This option would have totally disrupted an already-altered set of summer plans. Not surprisingly, Connie wanted the surgery ASAP. Liz and I sighed repeatedly, and agreed.

This time around, we had better ideas about how to help Connie through the break in school attendance. Just a few days after the injury occurred, we made an appointment with her guidance counselor at the school. Guidance counselors at BLS play a critical role, but each one of them plays that role for hundreds of the school’s 2400 students. I have to say that we have had decidedly mixed experiences with the this support service, but this time Connie’s counselor really came through for her. At that first meeting, the counselor committed herself to work with Connie’s teachers to be sure that it would be possible to get access to study materials and re-schedule exams, when necessary. This was important due to Connie’s absence during the review week. In one case, the counselor was able to get a teacher to waive the final exam, entirely. One of the school nurses also attended that first meeting, and explained how her office could help with Connie’s medications (of which she would still be taking a lot during the final exam week) and get her easy access to the school elevators. If Connie felt overwhelmed or uncomfortable at any time, she would be welcome in the Nurse’s Office. They set all of this up prior to the surgery, so everything was ready when Connie could finally return to school on crutches, eight days after her surgery.

We are extremely appreciative of the support we got from the Guidance Dept. and the Nurse’s Office over the past few weeks. Some of her teachers have also showed considerable compassion in this very hard moment for Connie. This injury will surely impact her final grades, but this will be much less of a disaster (from Connie’s perspective) than it could have been, mostly because of her determination to make this work. The whole thing has helped us put all of the insanity around grades in some kind of perspective (we’ve been well-trained by the school, in that regard). That said, the fact that Connie is someone who responds quite positively to the very specific educational philosophy of the school also made a huge difference. On several occasions over each of the last two springs, I wondered what would have happened had our son, Vince–someone who quickly showed that he learned in ways not always consistent with the BLS philosophy–faced the same kind of crisis while a student at the school. Thankfully, that’s something we’ll never know for sure.

This is one experience of one student at Boston Latin School. It doesn’t describe or define the culture of the school, and certainly doesn’t describe the experience of all of its students, but it does suggest what is possible. Such support, should be possible for any student, regardless of who they are, or whether or not their parents or guardians have the time and institutional connection to set up these kinds of meetings. We share this information in the hope that it will help other students and parents who face such challenges, and we await the day when any student at BLS, or any BPS school, can expect the sort of support that our daughter received when she really needed it.

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