Black Perspectives; The Boston School Committee and Educational Polices. Part 2
Good evening welcome to black perspectives on the half hour feature focusing on black issues information and lifestyles in the communities of Boston and the cell sure. I'm your host Charles Desmond. Tonight is the second part of our educational series on the Boston School Committee the policy making body for the Boston school department. Last week we had the opportunity introduced a series with the president of the Boston School Committee John Uchi the vice president Shirley Owens Hicks and community member William Dolan this week again will be exploring in looking at how this policymaking body operates with three other members of the school committee. First the past president of the I should say a past president of the Boston School Committee and an educator here in the city of Boston John Bryant who is the vice president for student affairs at Northeastern University. Abigail Brown who's the chairperson of the Boston school committees into Governmental Affairs Subcommittee and vice chair person of the curriculum instruction subcommittee and a paralegal in a Boston law firm. And rounding out our discussion group today will be Committee member John Grady who is a device just
Person of the rules and regulations subcommittee within the Boston School Committee thank you all very much for joining us on black perspectives tonight. Thank you. What we've been exploring on the show over the last week and again this week is how the school committee actually does policy I mean the general perspective is that it's a political body and that you function only in a political capacity. But what we have found out in the research that we've been doing is that you have a very intricate and involved system of analyzing problems and issues within the school committee and I was hoping that tonight in the context of the various committees that you sit on you might give us a little bit of background into what are some of the issues that these committees look at and what actually is the overall process that you use before you jump to making a policy with regards to the future of education and city Boston I think is of one top to point out that yes we are a political body because we are elected officials. On the other hand major thrust and concern is the education of the children in the city of Boston and we are obviously responsible for the policy so I don't I don't
think political is a negative word because I think it's a part of the process. But I think it's it's and it should be understood that along with the political aspects of it we're very much involved in setting the educational quality for the system so I thought it was important to make that very clear. You know I think that that's that's that's a very important point to make and I think that in the context of the discussions that we've had up to this point when it comes down to difficult decisions regarding the direction in which the school committee which the school department is going to move the general perspective sometimes from the public at large is that these decisions are political and that when the school committee for example in this most recent instance takes a decision that's contrary to that of the superintendent that the perspective is that this is a political decision and the point that I'm trying to get at and hoping that we'll be able illustrate here today is that the school committee itself has a large body of trained people who advise it in scholars and intellectuals in the lab and its committee structure that sometimes give them information that it's not available to the public at large. I think that's very true
I think that the curriculum instruction Committee for example spends a great deal of time take looking at the. Instruments there are going to be used in the classroom and one of the things that we have been looking over recently in talking about at enormous length is a suggestion that my colleague Mr. Bryant charged those subcommittee with which was to look into a policy regarding student athletes and whether we wanted to put in a policy that made participation in sports really stronger than the mass athletic organization has and we've been doing that and arguing about it discussing it and hearing from from professionals in that field so that we don't just it's not just brands have to write we don't just make it politically we look at the issues. But we are a political body. Tell me a little bit about what Intergovernmental
Affairs Subcommittee is involved with I think that again the sometimes the impression is is that the committee is not. Communicating with a variety of different people in the policy arena with with regards to education a city Boston. This year the inner go of government relations committee decided that it really wanted to look at the effects of the Gramm-Rudman Hollings Act and the effects that that would have on services it would have delivered to our children not only within the Boston school system directive cuts that might affect us but also that would affect those agencies that provide services so that how the domino effect of the Gramm-Rudman Hollings would would affect state state funding of agencies and therefore affect services that come to our kids. We have just had sort of the first step which is how is it going to directly affect the budget for the system or the system itself. We then want to talk to
members of the state and city government and talk about how we can prepare and how we can help perhaps stave off some of those cuts. Let me switch for a moment John to you Mr. Grady I should say you're working with regards to the rules and regulations and I'm curious as to how that subcommittee and what that subcommittee basically focus its attention on also is that this is my first year that subcommittee is the. Vice Chair We haven't got a lot of us have a lot of issues before us this year. We have in the first two years that the committee structure was in place and I was on a committee but I can say some of things you talked about example might be that I think it was the public comment someone made a motion or suggestion that that the public be allowed to speak at the school committee in which it was was new and the thing that was referred to there was a regulation subcommittee and it was discussed and was finally brought up for recommendation before the school committee and we have the public comment period has been kicked around for a couple
years where it's good or bad or you know in different processes though that somebody would would there was a set of rules and regulations governing how the school committee functions and somebody may object to one of those I want to have one of those given some special consideration and that the president would entertain a motion to that effect and were referred to by just some committee that would be discussed at a subcommittee meeting a vote might be taken might not be taken in the recommendation would come back to the. The full committee last year just a subcommittee structure I was the chairperson of the facilities and Operations Subcommittee and we had a great deal of work with some school closings last year and that was quite a process we never was as one of our rules if we going to call schools we have to have public hearings. Much the same as we just had and we decided as a committee as a whole this time because it was so controversial but last year we did it the subcommittee went to the different neighborhoods of the city and had hearings
and people were generally influenced by the outpouring of some of the people that at those subcommittee meetings and then the recommendations are the results of a buy back to the full committee and they were in fact some some schools a couple schools there on that initial list for closing last year or actually voted to buy the school with the state open so it's a very vital process. Yes Best us we should that's come up we've had several meetings last year that we discussed the best issue and the recommendations were from our people our professional people that we bring in to the subcommittee meetings too. To you know have some civil lawsuit because of the extremely high cost of us taking that as a basis of the school's reasons for the sub committee structure was to save the school committee time by having the subcommittees take a good look at the various issues and discuss them and come back with a recommendation based upon the research based upon
having experts and based when having staff and so that rather than one issue at the school committee and spend three hours talking about it the subcommittee makes a report about this particular issue then members of the school committee at the school committee meeting ask questions of the subcommittee. They may make a motion or something to accept or reject or they may recommend that they add something and take it back to Subcommittee and so I think it has saved us a lot of time in the sense that many major issues have really been looked into by the subcommittees before coming to the school committee and we've been able to make some sensible decisions based upon the work of the subcommittees yet yet it hasn't always saved us time and that in fact is probably good because a subcommittee doesn't doesn't. Doesn't make the decision. It goes back to the committee which is which is the really important issue that the school committee goes back and and discussion can be but it is an opportunity to really delve into an issue and all Committee all committee meetings are open
to the public and other committee members and it isn't. It really is a chance where you can get into a subject very deeply then make a recommendation back and if that recommendation isn't acceptable then the discussion goes on and may go back to committee. But things don't necessarily have to go to the subcommittee that's Crimea time when issues come up in the folks who can really deal with it as an issue. And sometimes we may talk two or three hours. But that doesn't have to go into something I just want to make a comment about the committee structure as a whole that that you mentioned earlier how some people perceive it as being too large and unwieldy and cumbersome in the background of the people most of the people that are on the committee today 13 members have an extensive background in education and community service or community work. And I think the the whole. Attitude a perception that we have. We are a political body but we're also a people a group of people who are really community concerned community people and distant representation has allowed
participation by that number of people in the process. 13 members some people say there's too many in all and I think it's worked out fine given the fact that in 1983 nine people elected for the first time. And you know it took us a while to kind of get our feet on the ground. But I think it's worked out well and it's the one thing I know is that the people in the city the constituents the parents and the taxpayers and the students realize that they've got some access and I think that that's really going a long way towards restoring some the confidence that people have in the in the committee. Well I was just saying last week after I saw the compelling testimony that a lot of young people gave with regards to this recent issue at the public hearings that you've called for that it was encouraging to see such articulate young people who clearly did so much work in defense of education I think that excuse me. When people talk about schools being at risk in young people not being prepared to defend education and being concerned about education I think that the most
recent hearings were the greatest testament to public education in Boston that I've seen in quite a long time. We all have a learning experience I mean students learn their medics very certainly did. This is them has to be doing something right. I mean I have to agree with you like that yeah. Let me ask you John you have said in a number of seats in the school committee and as its president during some of its more controversial here as well. Do you see the the at large system with with more people on the committee in this committee structure that you have being the type of structure that will lead us into the 21st century that will that will bring the Boston Public Schools back to the prominence that it once had in the eyes of people in the city as well as people around the country. I have two observations Number one it does in fact provide better access. I think there are a lot of people in the city of ASA women fighting for District representation for a long time. The original concept I think was to have representation from a number of districts without an at large part to it I mean it's really an
imbalance they have combination that lives in district and it gets somewhat confusing. So I feel that it does provide access to more people who normally would not have an opportunity with the other at large process in addition to that it's very clear to me based upon my experiences with the five member committee in the 13 member committee it's much healthier for the committee and the city and the system to have a larger committee primarily because it's more difficult for small groups of people to form consortiums to do whatever they want to do. Just various consortiums coalitions. You know when I was on a committee I had to do was three people get together they could do whatever they wanted to do. But now it's interesting if you noticed the school committee and on any given vote you may see a combination of seven people that make the strangest combination and it's healthy because you know one day you might be with this particular group or the next day you might be with that person then. And I find it very interesting very satisfying.
Let me ask you Do you have any feelings about that that the the larger more deliberative body. It just seems odd to me that the opportunity for more ideas to be on the table for different varying perspectives to be brought to bear on these different issues and given the background of all of you know some in private business others working in government you know what have you that it just seems to me that you have just a wealth of resources at the table that would just make the whole process much more thought provoking. Well I totally agree. One of the things that I've had to do in the previous answer experiences that I've had to grow up a bit as an elected official got elected and when with all these high ideals and thought I had the right ideas and everything and and and some issues those still don't have the right idea but had to realize that I was part of a process and one vote amongst 13 and that that if on a given issue that I really felt was my side was the right side that if it didn't
turn out the majority of the committee you know favored that particular position that I could accept that and it took me a while to do that and to understand that you wrote that what you said was exactly right that that there are other people on the committee that have good ideas and sometimes the good idea might be better than my good idea and it might work out the long run so it's been I think a growing process for all of us but I think it's worked out really well I think I think it's working out well to I think I agree with both John's here that we I think we have grown up and I think that we have begun to realize that we can agree to disagree that we can respect each other's viewpoint but still agree to disagree on the issue. And in large respect that that has taken time working it out because I think you want expected to begin with. Well if you voted with somebody the first three four five times that you would always agree. That hasn't happened to the
politics makes strange bedfellows but I think that the education makes when you know the issues we've been dealing with have shifted around alliances incredibly in the last two three years and I think we're not taking that as personally now. I think that's true as a body that where we're saying OK I disagree with you. I think where there's been a lot of growth within the entire community is in the area of trust. So when we started out with a two and a half three years ago three years ago there was a lot of distrust if you will. So often when somebody made a recommendation or suggestion there was suspicion that someone so had some underlying motive that so-and-so had somebody in mind that they wanted to put in this job. And I think what the committee has grown into is an understanding that by and large we have a committee that does not interfere with personal matters in terms of dealing with the superintendent.
And that you know very few of the members have a hidden agenda if you will but the majority of the members and I think it's demonstrated by the way we have different coalitions that come together the majority members are always willing to go towards the right side of an issue. You know I would say in the three years or so since we have had the expanded committee I have not. We called one issue that I can say with one exception when we all we we had a heated discussion about bus monitors and the fact it would cost a million dollars which we didn't have and we voted to put the bus monitors on and we couldn't do it because we didn't have the money. And we later voted to be send that order. That's the only time that I think that the committee didn't vote and to get on him honestly in terms of particular issue that really impacted on his goals but for the most part you know we
really thrash an issue out and usually the vote that comes out is a vote that turns out to be a pretty good idea in that the discussion is worthwhile. OK let me interrupt right here just to tell our listening audience that we're going to cries briefly for a public service announcement. You're listening to black perspectives under UN being please stay tuned we'll be resuming this discussion on the Boston School Committee elected officials and educational policies after this message. This is Cicely Tyson. No child should stop for attention. But in 14 African countries hit by drought children are starving at a rate of thousand a day. UNICEF the United Nations Children's Fund is meeting to meet Africa's people. The U.S. Committee for UNICEF has a way for you to help. Now. Call the Africa emergency. 1 800 to 6. Eleven hundred. Thank you. We're back from our intermission and WNBA FM ninety one point nine You're listening to black perspectives I'm your host Charles Desmond. My guest tonight John
Bryant preist chairperson of vocational educational Subcommittee for the Boston School Committee and vice president for student affairs at Northeastern University. Abigail Brown is the chairperson of the Boston school committees into Governmental Affairs subcommittee. And John Grady vice chair person of rules and regulations subcommittee within the Boston School Committee. Thank you all and the vice chairman of the vocational subcommittee. I was chairperson last. Thank you very much for the correction. At the time that we took our break we were again looking at the details again of process how you all. Come to a conclusion about something. The depth of analysis that goes on using the committee structure an expanded deliberative body and the dialogue that goes on around the table before a decision is made. The press has been given an awful lot of coverage lately to this most recent and most difficult decision that's gone on involving the superintendent in the school committee. Of course that involved the
closing of schools and changing of certain initiatives within the school department. The committee took a position that wasn't consistent with the recommendations of the superintendent. And I know that that was based on that what we've been talking about up to this point in time. What I'd like to get at is from your perspectives what do you think we've learned from what you think the superintendent has learned from that and what have we learned about the school community as a result of that is an outstanding question. And I wish you'd ask him a bell in there. You know I told you to get a little controversial here. Yeah we only have 10 minutes. OK. I would say that you know the people making references to count the numbers and all that I think the super talents just like any other policy he's come up with a recommendation. It just happens that we've got an issue that's very very controversial and people have a lot of emotion attached to it in terms of closing schools and he came up with a particular recommendation that I believe the only thing that I see that some
people have given a bad rap on is that that people think that he's only concerned about the money aspect of it the financial aspect. His whole promise is based upon his Boston education plan which he felt this is a way to begin in terms of providing the best quality education for all of the children of the 57000 schools that he's responsible for. And so he presented that somewhat as a committee and I think this is where the process works and an example of it. It was his as our executive officer the best recommendations I was of his is looking at. To begin this process and the committee took a look at it we had the hearings and we and we just decided as a committee of my particular vote was to vote to support the superfans position because I felt that that the package was a sound one and and that it was based upon research and his research and the people and there were enough members that didn't agree with that that the thing wasn't his proposal wasn't accepted. I think what he's learned is well you know he's been without for many years. He just learned that on this issue the school committee doesn't agree with him and saw him come back with a recommendation and
what he recommends is that we realize that we have to probably stay with a certain figure so that we're going to have your proposal militias is going to pull back some of those initiatives for next year. And to go forward with the direction of the school committee is going to no I don't think that he's overly upset by it it didn't seem that way I mean he's a professional person and he realizes that's his job. He brings a proposal to us a recommendation and the school committee has a body either accept or reject at every reject and then he says OK give me some more direction would you like me to do. And he goes on to the next issue of the next situation. He also was in a tough position because he came into Boston and saw that we had an excess seating capacity the high school level which I think we most of the committee would agree with and work pressure was being put on ice as far as budgetary considerations. I think that so that he may have made some recommendations for the right reasons. Saving money and consolidation of schools and therefore being able to provide
programs but I don't think that he truly understood the feeling of instability that is shaken the Boston public schools particularly over the last five years. After after Traeger 1981 massive layoffs and closings of schools and I think that he didn't understand that perhaps or at least from my perspective there was an issue that was as important which is redoing assignment plan which will provide for some stability and some consistency coming up with educational criteria on which to judge the closing of or consolidating of programs and doing them all at one time rather than drawing out the changes that the change of the student's plan would would call for and consolidating business buildings with core programs would call for. I think that the timing was was was wrong more than his attempt to to make changes I think we were going to have to. But let's do it together and yes
we may need to buy another year or even two years of keeping those buildings open until we can do it in a coherent consistent systemwide fashion. That was why it is important for the public to understand that that vote that we recently took has nothing to do with whether or not the Committee supports Dr Wilson the committee is very supportive of Dr. Wilson. It's simply that they didn't feel that there was enough educational justification for supporting the particular plan. I made it an issue very clear that I'm concerned about and that is every time we come to budget time the first thing we want to do is cut teachers to satisfy City Hall because city hall saying we're only going to give you X number of dollars and we have to stop that. I I was the chairman of the committee and in 81 when we had five members we closed 28 schools and we laid off over a thousand teachers and an additional eight or nine hundred school personnel. You talk about trauma and difficult time.
We have not recovered from that yet. We still have a number of schools that do not have art that do not have music. We do not have languages in our middle schools. We only had one physics teacher that was certified the last time I looked. I suggested at the last meeting that look Dr. Wilson you really need to take a good look at that teaching. The staffing patterns that we have in various schools and look at it from a program matic standpoint and not just layoff 230 teachers but take a look based upon what our needs in the system how can we get more music. How can we get more science math and then come back to us with a plan that says look we have we have the languages covered in the middle schools we have music covered in the high schools and the elementary level. We have guidance in the elementary level. And then I will feel comfortable voting for a plan to lay off teachers when I know that the bases are covered and the students will be hurt by it. I think that's very critical. One quick addition to Mr. Bryant's comments and
that is that it's been we have been accused of making this as a political decision. I know for one that in the years on the school committee John O'Brien has supported the closing of buildings and laying off 15 every time every time it's happened when it had to happen. He is not averse to making the tough decision when necessary. This in many of our opinion was not the time. There are many people who believe and I happen to be one of them as well that the Boston school schools themselves are poised right now to make a significant movement towards real institutionalization of quality in the schools I mean I think as I said earlier seeing the young people that I see coming out of the Boston Public Schools is absolutely telling with very much yeah we're there and I think that you know people don't know it but we even at or above grade level in reading and math and in seven out of eight grades in the elementary level in one out of four. I think all grades of the Elementary and I mean one out of four in a high school level which means we're just about
there. People do not understand how good our system is a night that bothers me. And it's it is tragic in my opinion to break that momentum. Right. Especially two or three years in a row that we might have to do it. Relaxed we got time. We may need to get four five six seven eight million dollars more. But it's worth it to make sure that that momentum keep keeps going. Well I think that that's what I've been hearing coming from the people that I've been talking to recently is that we're in a good position now to make the case for doing the types of things to justified I think the justification is there with the type of strength that we have on the committee itself and the leadership that we have in the role of the superintendent to get in and make the battle for the additional resources to really make the system the best it the best that it could be in the England clearly one of the best systems in the country. Let me say that is usually the case whenever we have interesting topics and informed people that the time goes by very quickly and I want to thank all three of you very much for coming on and spending some time with
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- Part two of a four-part series on the Boston School Committee and its policymaking role, featuring guests John O'Bryant, a past president of the Boston School Committee; Abigail Browne, chair of the Intergovernmental Affairs Subcommittee; and John Grady, vice chair of the Rules and Regulation Subcommittee. Topics discussed include the issues taken up by various subcommittees and the process involved in creating educational policy, including the input of experts and public comment; the benefits of a large committee and elaborate subcommittee structure, the personal and professional growth of members in their committee roles, and lessons to be learned for Boston Public Schools Superintendent Laval Wilson and the school committee from their disagreement over Wilson's consolidation plan.
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Guest: O'Bryant, John
Guest: Browne, Abigail
Guest: Grady, John
Host: Desmond, Charles
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- APA: Black Perspectives; The Boston School Committee and Educational Polices. Part 2. Boston, MA: WUMB, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-345-22v41qxn