Council president pitches plan to overhaul BPS
Boston City Council president Andrea Campbell, frustrated by stagnation in the Boston school system, is slated to release her own plan Monday to overhaul the school system, an unusual move by an elected city leader who has no direct control over running the city’s 125 schools.
Campbell said she was compelled to put together the plan after fielding concerns about the school system from a host of parents, teachers, and other residents as well as her own experiences attending the school system as a child.
A Boston Latin School graduate, Campbell said she is appreciative of the many teachers who inspired her and the academic opportunities she had, but is keenly aware that others with similar backgrounds, including her twin brother, didn’t have the fortune of having the same academic trajectory. She said she hopes the recommendations will be useful to incoming Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, who begins on July 1.
“This was about coming up with pragmatic action plan,” she said in an interview Friday. “We hope it will be a catalyst for meaningful change in the system.”
The 16-page plan, entitled “Action for Boston Children,” drills down on four areas: refocusing the superintendent’s offices to better serve schools and the community; increasing the number of and access to quality schools; expanding educational programs and services for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers; and overhauling high schools.
A guiding theme in developing the plan was the lack of equity that exists across the school system and Campbell kicked off her plan by addressing that issue broadly.
“When I say that equity means enabling every child to pursue the life of their choosing, that is a matter of recognizing their basic dignity and inherent assets and abilities,” Campbell wrote. “And as I say that, it forces me to recognize that in a city surrounded by increasing wealth and amazing opportunities, these opportunities don’t feel real today for thousands of our students, especially children of color. That is why those who have the least deserve the most from our public schools and our broader system.”
Yet many times in the school system, it’s the children of the most advantaged families who often get the best education, the plan notes. For instance, citing research by Northeastern University, the plan points out that 80 percent of students in downtown Boston and Charlestown attend high-quality public schools, while only 5 percent of students in Mattapan do.
In response, Campbell is proposing a series of more than a dozen action steps to tackle the inequities. They include increasing the number of high-quality schools, assigning more students with disabilities or language barriers to high-quality schools, overhauling school registration sites so they are more welcoming, and revamping the school assignment process to ensure that disadvantaged students get a quality education.
The plan also includes recommended timelines to complete the actions: some within 90 days, others by the end of this December, and another group by June 2020.
Those who received an advance copy of the plan said they were impressed with its clarity, laser-like focus on equity, and action steps that feel achievable.
“I like that it’s not a million issues, but just a few targeted issues,” said Latoya Gayle, executive director of Boston School Finder, an online information website, who will have a preschooler in the school system next fall and two children in charter schools. “I love that someone is being intentional and strategic.”
“Our city has so much to offer,” she added, “but we are not teeing up enough students to access everything we have to offer.”
Elaine Ng, a former employee in the school system’s central offices, said she appreciates how Campbell focused on both ends of the educational system — early education and high schools — noting that she considers early education to be more than just a need but a necessary right for school success.
“She is trying to lift up some covers and give us some incentives to take action,” said Ng, chief executive officer of TSNE MissonWorks, a management consulting group, who grew up in Boston and raised her family there.
“We have so few policymakers and politicians who actually have grown up in the city, gone through the system, understand it inside and out, and are invested in it,” she said. “Andrea understands deeply what is at stake because she has experienced it. Education is the bedrock of dealing with income inequality in any city. If we can’t educate our children, there is no hope of lifting up and resolving inequality.”