If you thought that the high-drama meeting of the day was in the Vatican, then you didn’t get down to the Boston Public Schools headquarters on Court Street tonight. The Parent Imperfect got there late, but he got there.
With at least 100 demonstrators outside of the building chanting, ” We say no! We say no! We say no to racism!” The Boston School Committee heard the final testimony on the proposed changes to the district’s assignment policy.
After the testimony, the room fell silent (even the demonstrators took a break) as Interim Superintendent, John McDonough, read a statement from Superintendent Johnson, who was in Memphis, where her husband passed away yesterday. The statement recommended that the School Committee adopt the recommendations made by the Mayor’s External Advisory Committee on every point except. I could hardly believe my ears as I heard McDonough read Dr. Johnson’s recommendation that the Committee remove the walk zone priority as a consideration in Boston School assignment. The only more dramatic thing that the Super could have said would have been to admit that it was unfair to change the assignment process until the District made more progress on quality.
Despite the great power of the Superintendent’s statement, the Committee had great difficulty moving a motion to adopt her recommendations. Member John Barros insisted on an amendment that would ensure that all students in the city would have access to a roughly equal number of quality seats. This amendment nearly derailed the motion, but the lawyer advising the Committee raised a legal question related to Barros’s amendment and he withdrew it. His vote against the motion to adopt the “Home-Based A” model with no walk zone preference was because that proposal didn’t go far enough to ensure equity of access to quality for all students. With this position, he echoed Quest’s view that the choice baskets for all families should include equal numbers of quality schools.
So there is still much to do to achieve Quality Education for Every Student, but I think we can say that the School Committee vote represented at least a partial victory for those seeking a fair assignment policy. If it is a victory, it is one that seemed very unlikely even a couple of weeks ago when the EAC made their recommendations to the School Committee. Many parents and activists did not want to see the Home-Based A model go forward at all, and for them, the decision represents one more example of the BPS failing to take into account the needs of African-American and Latino students.
I’m aware of the disappointment of those who see this as one more sellout of their community, but during this process, I came to see that the results of the current system are so unfair that some kind of change is needed. For me, the change voted on by the School Committee, while very far from perfect, was probably close to as good an outcome as once could have expected from a School Committee appointed by the Mayor.
After the walk zone vote, the Committee fairly quickly approved the rest of Dr. Johnson’s recommendations. The Superintendent provided cover for the Committee through her recommendation on the walk zone preference, but I’m sure she was clear that the Committee was moving in that direction, anyway. Who says that the new School Committee needs vertebrae? Backbone or not, the new chair found a way to extract at least one poison pill from the package.