There could be a lesson in the experience of the St. Louis schools
I read with great interest about the dysfunction at the Boston Public Schools and the possibility of the district’s being placed in receivership by the state (“State details BPS failures in scathing report,” Page A1, May 24). Although I grew up in South Boston, I spent the majority of my professional life in St. Louis. In 2007 the St. Louis Public Schools were failing in their primary mission of educating students. A group of civic and business leaders, led by Dr. William Danforth, former chancellor of Washington University, approached the state to ascertain what could be done for the children of the city.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed to take over the system but with a very important proviso: A special three-member administrative board would be appointed to oversee the district. The mayor would appoint a member, the president of the City Council would appoint a member, and the governor would appoint the chair. The mayoral and council appointees would have to be city residents. The governor’s appointee could come from anywhere in the state.
There were several tacit agreements. The business community would provide funding and professional help to the board. A date certain was determined when this administrative board would be disbanded and oversight of the school system would revert to the St. Louis Board of Education.
Was it perfect? Not by a long shot. Is the district significantly better today? Absolutely. This work is hard, but officials shouldn’t let a group of people with placards and a megaphone halt progress. The kids are too important.
Thomas J. Irwin
The writer was involved in the state takeover of the St. Louis Public Schools as the former executive director of Civic Progress in St. Louis, a consortium of the 30 largest companies in the area.
Omitting local organizations in discussions of receivership would be a critical mistake
I agree with Dan French’s assertion that the most sensible plan toward BPS improvement is one that relies on the expertise of those who are closest to the process (“Those closest to learners should be ones driving district improvement,” Letters, May 20). We should value the collective experience of community organizations, family groups, and businesses that are embedded within our school communities and have been for decades.
Community organizations in particular are poised to offer advice. Many are already dedicated to work that improves outcomes for the Boston Public Schools on a small scale. How we leverage this experience and choose to include community organizations in this decision-making will be key to any solution for BPS. For decades, teachers have trusted local organizations with a seat in classrooms alongside their students. I think we’ve earned a seat at the table for this conversation, too.
Erin M. McGrath
The writer is the executive director of Boston Partners in Education, which provides mentorship to students.
Metaphor for a new BPS
The state report detailing the failures of the Boston Public Schools and the Globe’s editorial on the audit (“A damning audit calls for action at BPS,” May 24) both properly call for an end to the system’s “entrenched dysfunction.”
But what will a new system of public education in Boston look like? To visualize this, we need to begin with a different metaphor for describing the complicated set of relationships that is public education. The BPS is most often viewed in militaristic terms, where a revolving group of distant generals control the resources and issue orders for the sergeants and troops to follow.
I offer that a new system of public education should be viewed like a community garden, where each school plot, if you will, is cultivated by a committed group of gardeners who are allowed to use their skill, imagination, and judgment to see that their particular plot thrives. This arrangement would be managed by a helpful city authority to ensure that resources are shared, a common sets of rules is followed, and no harm is done.
The writer is a retired science educator with the Boston Public Schools.
The focus is on woes — what about the measures of excellence?
A cursory review of the report of the state audit of BPS reveals some glaring deficiencies. There were zero references to Advanced Work Classes or to SAT scores. There was one reference to AP classes, noting that completion is “uneven,” but no mention of the scores of those who complete the course work. I counted few references to the exam schools, and the ones I saw focused on admission to the selective schools without any reference to student performance.
The Boston Public Schools serves students of all abilities, and any report that basically ignores students who performed well is incomplete at best and prejudicial at worst. We owe all students the opportunity to perform at their highest levels.
The writer is a retired BPS teacher and the parent of a BPS graduate.
This is more of an urgent appeal than a wish list
In the recitation of BPS problems, I would like to add the following: There should be more in-school counselors and nurses, art and music programs, and stocked and staffed libraries.
Teachers’ voices go unheard. There should be sufficient time for bathroom breaks, planning periods, and lunch. Conferences on teaching skills are important, but so is regular time for teachers of a department to meet so that they can share things that work and don’t work. Committed teachers with many years of experience should be able to mentor newer teachers.
There should be more opportunities for parents and other volunteers to help with one-on-one time with a student, teaching a particular skill, or even helping administrators with the reams of paperwork.
Finally, a system that cares so little it can’t get students to school with reliable busing, and one that leaves athletes stranded because of bus woes tells parents and students that the system’s aim has nothing to do with its students and more to do with chains of command, useless standards, and throwing blame.
Schools could use more resources, not more top-down ‘help’
The top-down micromanagement of teaching in the Boston Public Schools has been a resounding failure. What we don’t need is for the state to double down on a failed policy.
The only time the system has enjoyed success with intervention is when there were additional resources brought to the classroom. Usually, once things have turned around, the resources are withdrawn and schools return to their original state. The help needs to go directly into the classroom in the form of additional teachers, paraprofessionals, and health and welfare personnel. What is not needed is any more central office “resources” that — or who — “support” teachers in three or four different schools by coming in and giving “helpful” advice on how to do the job they themselves have never done better.
I would have more to say, but it appears that one needs to be from Jamaica Plain to get an opinion about the Boston Public Schools published in your paper. I am also amazed by how many people who do not live in Boston get their opinion on how things should be done in the city published.
The writer was a BPS teacher for 27 years and has been a longtime volunteer track coach in the school system.