Tag Archives: boston school committee

A Good Night for #NoOn2

school-committee-votesThe Parent Imperfect hadn’t been to a meeting of the Boston School Committee for a while before last night. Long gone are the days in the dank chamber on Court Street, but last night something had changed that was much more important than the room. The energy in the room around the Committee’s deliberations was completely different.

On the agenda last night was a resolution to oppose Question 2, the charter school piñata. To the shock of many, the Committee voted UNANIMOUSLY to oppose Question 2. By the time members commented on the resolution, the meeting had turned into a competition to see who could speak most strongly against it.  You just had to pinch yourself to be sure you were really in Dudley Square.

I’ve been to a lot of meetings where charter schools were discussed, including hearings where the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was considering the application of one or more new charter schools. Last night’s meeting at the Bolling Building made it very clear that something really important has changed in the energy around the charter school discussion in Boston and (I hope) in Massachusetts.

young-peopleDifferent people will describe the change differently, but, for me, the change comes from the energy and voice of young people in the discussion. At too many of those BESE meetings, the only young people in the room were well-organized attendees of charter schools. While they never actually said a lot in the meetings, their presence spoke volumes.

Now the story is another one. Young people, many of whom became active around the BPS budget cuts that have come down every year, have taken a hold of the movement to protect and improve public education, and that movement won’t soon be the same. I don’t know if they will succeed in countering all of the money that is flowing into pro-charter coffers, but they certainly have flipped the conversation in Boston.

While Committee members were surely more attuned to the youth voices in the meeting, a few non-youth also offered testimony. One bit of that testimony is included below, just to give you a sense of the flavor of the discussion. The names are changed to protect those who are anything but innocent.

Thanks to the Committee for the opportunity to comment tonight, and to everyone else who cares enough about education to be here.

I’m a resident of Roslindale, a BPS parent for 16 years and a member of Quest (Quality Education for Every Student).

It can come as no surprise to anyone that Quest is firmly in support of the clearest and strongest possible School Committee resolution against Question 2, the charter school piñata. Yours will not be a resolution against charter schools, the students who attend them, or the parents who choose them for their children. It will be a resolution questioning the policy of using scarce public funds to build a separate, but unequal, system of privately-managed, privately-governed schools.

The information provided at your last meeting offered a conservative assessment of the financial damage that will be wrought by this initiative, if successful. In addition, the charter expansion favored by our governor will reduce the resources available for educating vulnerable populations in the BPS. It will also exclude the voices of students, parents and even you, The Boston School Committee from some of the most important decisions to be made about education in our city in the coming years. And, finally, in the end a Yes vote on Question 2 will mean more school closings in the city, an eventuality that will surely have a disproportionate impact on communities of color.

We are hopeful and confident that tonight you will become the 158th school committee in the Commonwealth to go on record against this tragically wrong-headed policy initiative. In such situations, my friends in El Salvador were always fond of saying, “Nunca es tarde.”  It’s never too late.

We thank you in advance for taking a stand against Question 2, but we must conclude asking if you have each done all you can to see that our public schools are defended? Have you each spoken out publically on the issue? Have you contacted people in your own social and professional networks and engaged them in conversation about the dangers of this initiative? Has any one of you taken the time to walk door-to-door in one of our neighborhoods to share your views on this issue with the people behind those doors who really want to do the right thing? If not, I very seriously invite you to join me on just such a walk, in Roslindale, this weekend.

Regardless of how you got into those seats, you are the leadership of our public schools. As such, you deserve our respect and our gratitude for your service. In the same way, the parents, students, teachers and staff of the Boston Public Schools need, deserve and EXPECT your full, unqualified support on this issue. Thank you.

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What Now?

Speaking ChoiceA lot has happened since that dramatic night when the Boston School Committee voted in favor of a proposal by the Superintendent to change the City’s school assignment process. The new home-based process will steer students to the schools closest to their homes, but will provide some access to out-of-neighborhood quality schools. As was said many times during the discussions of this plan, the devil will be in the details of how the BPS implements the plan.

One thing for sure is that the new assignment plan, alone, is not going to improve the quality of education in struggling Boston schools. It will take resources, inspired teachers and school staff and thoughtful interventions at the school level to fulfill the right of Boston’s children to quality education. That leaves the Parent Imperfect thinking a lot about two related questions:

Elimination1. What must we keep our eyes on as the BPS implements this system, if we want to be sure that the new system doesn’t provide even less access to quality schools for students in neighborhoods where good schools are scarce?

2. How do we move the conversation from how kids get assigned to poor schools to how we make the poor schools MUCH better?

If you wonder about these issues, too, or would just like to find out more about the new assignment plan, consider attending a panel discussion that will be held from 6-8PM on Monday, April 22 at Northeastern University School of Law. The panel will include three people who were very involved in the recent discussion, and an activist leader on the “right to education.” The event is free, but let the organizers know you’re coming.

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The Exam School Choice #10, The Golden Fleece

The Golden FleeceThe Parent Imperfect has become something of a one-trick pony lately. It’s much easier to talk about (and do something about) “the assignment policy” than to help our own children find their way in the Boston Public Schools.

But while I’ve been sitting in interminable Boston School Committee meetings, the clock has been ticking inexorably toward another of those decision points. Being a sixth grader, dear Connie is in the midst of an assignment moment that was almost never mentioned in the year-long assignment policy discussion. If the walk-zone preference is the “Sacred Cow” of Boston school politics, then the exam schools are certainly its “Golden Fleece,” the mythical prize that knowing parents are supposed to have in mind from Day One of their BPS Odyssey.

Vince’s experience has shown that the fleece isn’t so golden for everyone. But, for the moment we’re talking about Connie’s choice, not her brother’s. It’s “once bitten, twice shy,” right?

Mail slotThe last time, the news came in through the mail slot on a Friday afternoon. For some reason, I first came home to look at the letter before I picked up Vince and Connie, who were then spending many of their after school hours at the Jamaica Plain Branch of the Boston Public Library. He was overjoyed at the news.

But times have changed…This past Friday, when I came home early from work, Connie was sitting in our living room with the white MacBook on her lap, staring at the screen.

Y  ¿qué noticias hay?, I asked as I came in the door.

“I don’t know. The website’s not working. not the app they gave us or the BPS site.”

It was true. Heavy traffic apparently had crashed the site through which the BPS was telling families where the sorting hat had placed them. Since at 2PM, almost all BPS children were still in school, it was curious parents who had overwhelmed the available bandwidth.

I can honestly say that I had forgotten that Friday was the day until Connie anxiously texted me the moment she got out of the Irving at 11:20AM (half-day on Friday because of the nine-hour Monday-Thursday marathon). She hadn’t really been talking much about the tension she was feeling about this day, but it was clear that everyone in her class had been talking about it that Friday.

“Vamos a volver a ver el sitio después de tu clase. Todo el mundo está tratando de ver su resultado de una vez.”

She picked up her sheet music and we headed off to her piano class. I wondered how she would be able to concentrate on “Fur Elise” with the sorting hat so much on her mind, but luckily, she’s much more focused than her father.

At just after 5PM, she was looking over my shoulder as the uncrashed website loaded on the screen. Just to build the suspense, I acted as though the site wouldn’t scroll the inch we need to see the key info, but she wasn’t buying it. Connie took the “Down” arrow into her own hands and, there it was…It was now officially her choice whether or not she wanted to be in the same school with big brother for the first time in four years.

A sort-of-audible, “Yes!” emerged from somewhere inside her. She was not as excited as her brother had been, four years before, but she was clearly happy that it would now be her choice (with a little help from her friends) whether or not she would attend the school that had caused so much sturm und drang in her house over the past 1400 days.

The logo for Boston Latin School's athletic teams

As far as the BPS is concerned, the decision is now made. The sorting hat has spoken. Those offered the Golden Fleece will, of course, either accept it, or abandon the odyssey for some other journey. But Connie will want to talk about this. She’ll want to talk about how she felt when she visited the nation’s oldest public school. She, more than I (I’m used to it by now), felt that BLS was doing us a favor by showing us their school, while a very different visit to Boston Latin Academy seemed intent on getting us to think of BLA as “our” school. She’ll want to talk to her good friend from the Hernández about how happy she is at BLA, but she’ll also be talking a lot to her friends from the Irving, many of whom will have gotten the same result she did. In those discussions, there will be much excitement about embracing the Golden Fleece, together, and less about the privilege the fleece represents. And she’ll want to talk about what she felt as we walked through the music department at BLS, where students just a couple of years older than Connie practiced the violin, the cello, the French horn and the clarinet. And she’ll especially want to remember the way her mouth literally fell open when we entered the library at BLS from above. The libraries at the Hernández (nonexistent), the Hennigan and the Irving, taken together, wouldn’t fill even a corner of the BLS space.

We’ll talk as if all options remain before us. Connie’s Mom, to her unending credit, will challenge Connie to remember that both schools have the same curriculum and to think about who she’ll be going to school with and to imagine how she will feel in the two schools. She’ll do all that challenging, and then she’ll listen to what Connie wants and we’ll make a decision…hopefully the right one.  Help!

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