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Mayoral candidates vow to increase student involvement in education decisions

Boston Debate League members Kelin Funes and Xyra Mercer moderated the Boston Debate League Youth-Led Mayoral Forum. Left-to-right from top: candidates John Barros, Annissa Essaibi George, Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell, Jon Santiago, and Kim Janey spoke during the forum. The forum was cohosted by The Boston Globe.
Boston Debate League members Kelin Funes and Xyra Mercer moderated the Boston Debate League Youth-Led Mayoral Forum. Left-to-right from top: candidates John Barros, Annissa Essaibi George, Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell, Jon Santiago, and Kim Janey spoke during the forum. The forum was cohosted by The Boston Globe.

Boston’s mayoral candidates have all proposed policies they think will reform the city’s public schools. But they also want to hear from the group most affected by those policies: students.

Each member of the six-way race expressed a desire for more student involvement in the city’s education system, including giving voting power to the School Committee’s student representative, while speaking at a virtual youth-led forum on Monday afternoon.

“As mayor, I will make sure that the youth have a voice and a vote on the School Committee. It’s critical,” said John Barros of Dorchester, a former city economic development chief.

Since the addition of a voting member would allow for the possibility of a tie, Barros advocated for two students to join the committee, with the stipulation that they also participate in task forces launched by the board.

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At-large City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George of Dorchester doubled down on the student representative proposal, saying that she would extend to the student representative the stipend that other committee members receive. The former East Boston High School teacher, who said she once served as a student adviser to the School Committee, also promised to establish a City Council Youth Council, which would tackle a range of issues affecting the city and accompany the existing Mayor’s Youth Council.

State Representative Jon Santiago, a South End resident, mentioned that parents should be included in the discussion of education stakeholders.

“They have to be engaged, they have to be engaged in a way that is culturally competent, that is language accessible,” he said, “because that’s going to improve the outcomes of the students.”

The forum, which was cohosted by The Boston Globe and the Boston Debate League, featured two student moderators, who asked questions that were submitted by other Boston Public Schools students. Candidates covered a number of topics related to education and youth, including universal preschool and the future of exam schools.

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City Councilor Andrea Campbell voiced her support for universal preschool in response to a question about how to increase graduation rates.

“I know there’s a way to make sure that every family in the city of Boston has access to affordable, high quality, universal pre-K and child care,” she said.

City Councilor Michelle Wu also voiced her support for universal preschool, which she has made a primary issue of her campaign.

Candidates were asked whether they supported the continuation of exam schools, and whether the pandemic-related changes to exam school admissions should be made permanent to improve educational equity. In response, the panel — which included multiple exam-school graduates — offered support for the admissions process, despite its flaws.

Santiago told participants that skipping the test for exam schools, while a good move during COVID-19, is not the right step for improving access to the district’s top three schools.

“We want to get those schools as diverse as possible,” Santiago said. “Those are some of the beacons of education across the city and across the entire state.”

Campbell noted that exam schools played a significant role in her life, saying that they put her on a successful track for her further education at Princeton University and University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. Her twin brother, on the other hand, did not attend an exam school, she said, and died at 29 after spending years in and out of prison.

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While the event was held via videoconference, the sweltering weather outside provided a backdrop for Wu to criticize the state of facilities in the school district.

“It is unacceptable the state of our buildings that some of our students have to walk into, and that has a clear impact on learning,” she said. “I was getting my kids ready for school this morning really worried, really anxious about the time they were going to have today.”

Acting Mayor Kim Janey came to the forum late and left early, citing other commitments. During her speaking time, though, she pointed to her work with Boston youth since ascending to the top job in March, replacing now-Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh.

“You guys are not leaders of tomorrow,” she said, “you guys are leaders of today.”


Jack Lyons can be reached at jack.lyons@globe.com.