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Walsh unveils plan to improve Boston high schools

Martin Walsh spoke about his plan for Boston schools at an event outside English High School.

Jessica Rinaldi For The Boston Globe

Martin Walsh spoke about his plan for Boston schools at an event outside English High School.

Mayoral candidate Martin J. Walsh today announced a plan to bolster large district high schools in Boston, rolling out a policy on his opponent’s marquee issue: education.

Walsh’s announcement made clear he was not ceding the issue of education to his opponent, John R. Connolly, who has made reforming Boston Public Schools the cornerstone of his campaign.

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Walsh’s proposal includes establishing 9th and 10th grade “academies” in all those high schools, which would split grades into smaller groups with the aim of making sure fewer students fall through the cracks; crafting a more holistic approach to technical education; and working to create stronger parent involvement through an online system.

In a press conference outside the English High School in Jamaica Plain, Walsh emphasized that education reform would be a top issue were he to become the city’s next mayor.

“We can’t wait to address one of the most difficult challenges facing the Boston Public Schools, which is reforming the largest district high schools in the city of Boston,” said Walsh, a longtime state representative, surrounded by about 20 supporters.

Walsh said it was key to ensure students were up to standards in 11th grade, whether they were on a path to college or moving toward a career in the technical trades.

“Rather than push our kids through the system, which currently happens, we will stop them. We will make sure that when they get into 11th grade, they are prepared,” he said.

Walsh said if he were elected to succeed Thomas M. Menino, he would work to more deeply engage parents of high schools students. To that end, he proposed crafting an online system so parents and students could track progress toward meeting the requirements for graduation, which could serve as an “early warning indicators” if students were falling behind.

Walsh has previously rolled out policy proposals on education reform, including calling for universal access to pre-kindergarten. He also has said he would engage the teachers union as a partner in creating quality schools—in part by working with them on flexibility on extending the school day.

A Connolly spokeswoman declined to directly comment on Walsh’s plan, instead pointing to Connolly’s own education proposals.

“Among other things, John has proposed reducing the central school bureaucracy and investing the savings in the classroom [and] extending the school day to give every student regular instruction in the arts, music, physical education, science, and humanities,” spokeswoman Natasha Perez said in a statement.

A poll released today found Walsh trailing Connolly by seven points, but Walsh said the survey’s results did not worry him and would not alter his campaign.

That poll, conducted by Suffolk University for the Boston Herald, also found voters connect the issue of education and Connolly. It asked the 600 likely Boston voters surveyed what the first word or phrase that they thought of when they heard the name of the two candidates. A plurality, 28 percent, said union or union supporter or organized labor for Walsh while a plurality, 24 percent, said education or schools for Connolly. The poll, conducted from Oct. 2-6 had a margin of error of plus or minus four percent.

Walsh said he was “absolutely not” concerned he had already lost voters for whom education was an important issue.

“I have a strong record on education in what I’ve done as a legislator,” Walsh said. “Our plans are deep and concrete.”

He encouraged voters to compare his plans and Connolly’s plans on reform and consider both.

Asked about what kind of demands he would place on the Boston Teachers Union, Walsh said “There are some cases where I’m going to need an extended day.”

He added that he did not think the relationship between City Hall and the Union needed to be antagonistic.

“We don’t need to have an adversarial relationship with the Teachers Union because they’re a big part of the solution,” he said.

Before the press conference, Walsh had already hit the campaign trail. He addressed a breakfast meeting of the Tai Shan Community Association at the Empire Garden Restaurant on Washington Street.

Standing before about 200 people munching on dim sum, Walsh spoke in staccato chunks which a translator repeated in Cantonese.

He touched on issues ranging from increasing street cleanliness in Chinatown, to adding affordable housing to the neighborhood, to his support for bilingual ballots, before asking the senior citizen-heavy crowd for their vote.

“My name is Marty Walsh and I am number two on the ballot,” he said, before attempting to say his place on the ballot in Cantonese, which garnered good-natured laughter.

Tony M. Yee, the president of Chinatown Main Street, spoke to the crowd in Cantonese after Walsh. In English, he told a reporter that he was speaking in his personal capacity rather than on behalf of his organization. He said Walsh’s repeated campaign stops in Chinatown mattered to the people gathered there.

“Chinatown supports whoever comes to Chinatown,” he said. “Walsh is here. Connolly is not.”

Walsh and Connolly are set to attend a community meeting on public safety tonight. It is Connolly’s sole scheduled public campaign event of the day.

James Vasnis of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos

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