IF MAYOR Menino passes over an educator like Meg Campbell for an open seat on the Boston School Committee, he should turn in his credentials as the education mayor. This is the second shot Menino has been given to appoint this seasoned professional, who has direct experience in fixing the most vexing problems faced by the city’s public school system — special education, bilingual education, the achievement gap, and underperforming schools.
But Campbell has a problem that in an open-minded administration should really be an asset: She leads a charter school. Will Menino risk some ire by appointing a charter school director who competes with his own district for students and resources? This is the chance to see just how serious the mayor is about putting the educational needs of Boston’s families first.
Technically, two spots on the seven-member appointed board are set to come open Jan. 2. But it is almost certain that Menino will reappoint school board member Claudio Martinez to another four-year term. That leaves five finalists vying for the seat to be vacated by vice-chair Marchelle Raynor.
It’s a strong field of finalists drawn from about 30 bona fide applicants - a much better crop than in previous years. But Campbell, 59, still stands apart. She has been a Boston school parent, runs the successful Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester, lectured in education at Harvard, and took a lead role in the restructuring of schools in Chelsea. And she probes, which is especially important on a mayorally appointed board that is sometimes criticized as a rubber stamp for Menino and school superintendent Carol Johnson.
Menino, to his credit, has warmed to the charter school movement. In May, he signed a compact with the city’s charter schools to cooperate on teacher training, transportation, purchasing, and more. It was a nod to reality. There are 5,600 Boston students attending charter schools today, and that number is likely to double. But forces in City Hall and the school department continue to view charter schools as a threat because they lack union protections for teachers and draw money away from district schools.
Campbell, to her credit, isn’t a monomaniacal advocate for charter schools. She represents a new wave of educational leaders who seek any opportunity to fit pieces of the urban puzzle together provided it works for children. Her charter school, for example, is sited inside a community health center. She serves on a board that is working to build the city’s first public library inside a housing complex for low-income families. And she recently crossed the charter-district divide by becoming a founding board member of what will be the Boston Public Schools’ first two-way bilingual high school.
It shouldn’t matter any longer where Boston’s children receive an education, as long as it’s a good one. And appointing a charter school leader to the school board would provide a needed reminder to the city’s teachers’ union that the longer school days, flexible hiring and reassigning of teachers, and tougher teacher evaluations characteristic of charter schools should be replicated in the city teachers contract now under negotiation.
None of the other finalists has Campbell’s breadth of educational experience. But they do bring plenty to the table.
Tammy Tai, a program officer for the Hyams Foundation, is an expert in dropout prevention and youth violence. Tai, 35, has two children who attend Boston schools, which gives her an important perspective. Currently, Mary Tamer is the only member of the school board with children attending the city’s schools.
Marie-Jose Bahnam, 31, is a manager at Deloitte Consulting who would bring additional financial expertise to the board. She is a former math teacher with a Harvard MBA.
Michelle Novelle, 48, is a PhD candidate in sociology and social work at Boston University whose research interests include early childhood literacy, foster care, and adoption. As the mother of nine, she has reams of experience as a BPS parent.
Will Poff-Webster is a Harvard sophomore and Boston Latin alumnus who spoke out against budget cuts and substandard teaching. The 20-year-old Jamaica Plain resident is admired within the school department for his measured and mature style of activism.
It is Campbell, however, who offers the complete package. The only question is whether Menino has the gumption to accept delivery.Lawrence Harmon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.