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Good evening welcome to black perspectives a half hour feature focusing on black issues information and lifestyles in the communities of Boston and the cell shore. I'm your host Philip Hart in tonight's edition of black perspectives we're going to focus on the issue of the Boston School Committee elected officials or appointed body with my guest Dr. James Jennings fellow of the William Monreal Trotter Institute here at UMass Boston and a professor at UMass Boston's College of Public and community service and also was formerly a dean of the College of Public community service. So welcome to black perspectives James. Thank you. Now you're doing several things and tonight we want to try to do is address at least two of those of those issues. The first portion of the program I'd like to devote to the work that you're doing with the that issue around the Boston School Committee and in the second half of the program I like to focus on the Black Agenda Project. So when we start with the School Committee issuing and I want to
give our audience a little background as to where we are now with that and the panel that you're chairing what you what you've been doing ok depended and I'm sharing with you. Really established by the Boston City Council on February 8th 1909 and it's officially titled A special commission on public education the the appointment was activated as a result of the mayor's advisory committee on school reform which made its report to the mayor a few months ago. And after the end that report was chaired by Hubie Jones after he submitted his report to the mayor. The mayor and a city council then appointed a special commission of which arm chair to look at some of the recommendations made by the mayor's advisory committee but also to look at broader issues like educational achievement in the city of Boston as well as the high school dropout rate so our
mandate is very broad although for the last couple of months we've been focusing on the question of governance in the district and as far as the Boston School Committee is concerned. Now where do you expect that the panel will go I mean what is your outcome going to be are you going to be coming up with a report that goes back to the city council. Yes. Our report after we gather evidence and public testimony will technically goes back to the city council and the mayor and at that point the city council in the May decide what might be the next step. The mayor has publicly called for a referendum on public schooling in Boston on the structure of a school committee for this November. So my sense is that that piece is will move ahead very quickly. But our role is basically to make a report to the mayor and to the city council not only regarding governance but again these broader issues. Although the
first part of the report will focus on governance in the school committee structure. Now from your standpoint and. And more from your personal standpoint not necessarily your role as chair of the special commission to what extent do you think. Settling the governance issue will impact upon educational achievement in school. Well I think it has. I think all parties concerned understand that governance is not a panacea. Changing a school committee from structure X to structure y to structure Z is not necessarily going to resolve any issues. Governance however is an important tool but it's only one of several tools that the educational really to Boston community has to look at. There are some problems with the current school committee structure which I think we can address and again will not necessarily point to will not necessarily resolve some of the problems that we have facing with public education in
Boston. But I think it's a step in and in a right direction for example. Many people have been complaining about the size of the school committee. Many people and this includes school committee members as well feel that a body of 13 is just too big. When you look at school committees across the nation as I recall Detroit is the only other school board in the nation with 13 and Detroit's school system is much larger than Boston So Boston is unique in terms of its size. Another complaint that we consistently hear around the current school committee is that it does not really reflect the diversity of the Boston public school population. As you know the black Latino Asian proportion of the Boston public school population is anyway in a range of 70 to 75 percent. Yeah. Yet when you look at the school committee only four out of 13 which I think is about 31 percent of these school committee members are black. So many
people have been complaining about really the lack of diversity on the part of school committee and that being inconsistent with the racial and ethnic makeup of the Boston public school population. Another major issue that I think governance might be able to begin to address is accountability. Many people again want to see parents have more involvement. More empowerment more power over decision making at the school level. And I guess what we're asking in a sense is can we use governance to make that happen. So those three issues especially although there are a few other concerns size diversity and accountability are the issues that we've been looking at in relation to governance. But I want to emphasize Phil that when I took on the responsibility of cheer I made it clear that I would only take on this responsibility with the understanding that governance is not a panacea because I certainly
don't want to argue or propose to the general public that by changing a structure mechanically that and other things not happening that that somehow magically is going to solve some of the problems that we're dealing with now one of the things obviously that is an issue whether or not the school committee or the city council is the difficulty. Blacks Latino's Asians to run effective campaigns citywide that is THEIR at large candidates versus district can exactly. Is that an issue that you're looking at in terms of. At large versus doing it well. Well yes that's it. As a matter of fact several people testifying before the hearings proposed a combination elective which would include district at large but also appointments in order to balance out a school committee which through elections where the district go out lauch might not he lacked the
might not reflect diversity in terms of its electoral outcomes. But I've heard many different arguments pro and con regarding the lodge vs district I myself feel that district elections its best way to to have people of color win elections at the same time when we look at the Boston School Committee we do have two black members G McGuire and John O'Brien who have consistently won on an at large basis right. Now. Also there's been a lot of discussion recently about school based management. Yes. Is your commission looking at that in any way. Well you know if you look at the contract has been signed by the teachers union and Wilson It has built into it already School base management. I think there's a general consensus that education is better if decision making around certain issues are made at the local level. Generally speaking I think what you have in Boston is a momentum is a general
consensus for school based management which I personally think it's is a very good innovation. At the same time I think what I hear going on now is some of the goshi ations in terms of just working out some of the bugs. For example I've heard some parents express concern regarding school based management. They may be for it but they want to make sure that that doesn't mean that principal at that school site or the headmaster or the teachers at that school site have all the power. So right now what's being worked out is an understanding a balancing of what school based management school based management is in terms of the power and influence of administrators teachers and parents. And I'm convinced that those kind of bugs can be worked out because it is a very important innovation. We have a reason. History of Boston. So you know along the lines of parent participation in. Schools like Highland Park preschool Roxbury I mean the school. New school for children that.
I guess you could say school based management was exorcised parent participation was was a premium. Do you see those two things being compatible in the sense of the parents or that principals and teachers will willingly share power with parents. Public schooling will not work whether Boston or any other major city in America if parents are not empowered if parents are not shown how to be effective participants in the learning process. That is a position has been expressed not only in the literature but you constantly hear teachers lamenting the fact in some cases that you know some parents may not be involved in this in that it's clear to me and I think to a lot of people that unless parents are involved at the local level in a qualitative way. Public schooling will not work. So my response would be that it is very compatible with or interested in making public schools work and in a place like Boston. Do you sense any resistance to that on the part of it ministration or parent
or other principal your teachers to a certain extent. Yes I think change is always difficult and for the most part up until now parents have not had a major say in what goes on in a school building or the classroom or how that school interacts with the remaining sectors of the community so I think change will be resisted. At the same time I think that the public school in crisis is at such a state that concerned administrators and teachers will want to investigate ways. Of inviting parents to become partners in the learning process because as I stated that's the only way public schooling is going to work if parents are involved in qualitative ways. At the local level I want one way that and if I may add something Phil you mention Roxbury Community School I think another thing that we will find is if parents are involved in a very integrand qualitative way that the education in fact is
could be superior and could be improved vastly. And focusing on Roxbury Community School which I think has closed down. But my son went to Roxbury Community School and he's doing very well in high school now and I think a large part of that has to do with the kind of education he received at an institution like Roxbury Community School. I think we need more schools like that one where parents had a major role to play. You know all schools I mentioned Highland Park preschool Roxbury Community School a new school for children are all close at the present time. And but there was an indication in the mid-seventies that. You know those schools didn't necessarily see standardized tests as a be all right. But those children in those schools perform much higher than exactly the norm for Boston and for the nation. Right. And and and in fact. The situation today proves that those schools were spearheading some very important discussions and
innovations because as you know an increasing number of educators are now beginning to argue and to show that the use of standardized tests and Stana dies ways of learning are really not appropriate for a modern technically technically advanced society like the one we live in now along. And speaking about parent participation and perhaps one drawback of. Forced busing and programs like Medco is that it makes it more difficult for the parent particularly a parent who doesn't own an automobile. Perhaps to really involve themselves in schooling for example of a medical child was right in Concord in their parents live in Roxbury it's difficult and they don't have an automobile it's difficult to participate in Concord or even if somebody is Boston and and Dorchester. How do you see the dilemma of being addressed. Well I see that primarily as a logistical dilemma and let and let
me say first of all that I think in responding to the urban education to the need to enhance the quality of Urban Urban Education we need comprehensive approaches so at the same time that I call for more parental involvement at the local level. I'm very much in favor of this. If some of the bugs can be worked out the school assignment process that has been started in Boston. But we also need a METCO program. We also need children in Iraq humanities experiencing the the range of educational alternatives out there. But as I said I think that's primarily a logistical difficulty I think a parent who has a child and say concord will find it very difficult to go to some of the meetings and that sort of thing but but there's not there's not any reason that parents should not be involved in the local schools in his or her neighborhood. In directly. I think that would have an effect on
how the parent perceives the kind of education that his or her child may be getting at this school out in Concord. So by parents becoming more involved even in Italy even those local schools where they may not have children they become more affective in evaluating the kind of educational services that they're receiving and more effective in articulating their concerns. OK we're going to take a brief intermission here. Pause briefly for this public service announcement here on WNBA FM ninety one point nine black perspective stay tune will be right back. Coming up one Sunday at 6:00 a.m. Join WMT FM for acoustic sunrise a program showcasing instrumental acoustic music acoustic sunrise Sunday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on W.. You empty something pleasantly different at ninety one point nine FM.
Back from our brief intermission on WNBA FM ninety one point nine You're listening to black perspectives and I'm your host fell apart in tonight's edition of black perspectives we're focusing on the issue of the present controversy and study that is presently being conducted in one of the Boston School Committee says it should stay as it is or change its structure to an appointed body by the mayor and second have the program I wanted to focus on another issue with my guest James Jennings. The Black Agenda Project that has been going on for some time now James wants to give our audience members who are perhaps not familiar with that effort. A little background. OK. Let me say that the Black Agenda Project could very well be one of the most important. Political and educational efforts in the black community in Boston the goal of the Black Agenda Project is to develop a what is a public policy agenda for the black community. What are the strategies and tactics that
black communities might utilize to respond to educational crisis the economic crisis to make sure that we have the maximum political influence as possible on the process sees the public and private processes of decision making. So it's an effort to bring together different networks and different factions and different personalities elected officials agency directors in the black community to talk about. To use Martin Luther King Jr's phrase where do we go from here. And where are you now in that process. Well the the black agenda convention was held in use June 17th. The it involved more than 75 community organizations leading to the convention we had a year long process of meetings at different locations involving more than 200 participants and let
me add that the three co-chairs of this effort because of my role is basically that of staff but every culture has a Lloyd king of Roxbury action program Reverend Charles Stith and Shirley Carrington and these three call she has for the last three years have been attempting to pull a lot of different groups together. This is all of this. I think this is the first time this is happening on this grand scale in Boston. I do want to emphasize that when you look at the history of black people in this country we have a long tradition of coming together around conferences and conventions to discuss how best to push a black agenda forward. And I like to think that what we're doing in Boston now around this Black Agenda Project is in line with that very long and heroic history. You know the Trauma Institute here at the university is providing the staff. Yes I guess yes several about again about a year and really about a year and a half
ago several different groups approach myself into the human role trotting Institute for technical assistance in getting this kind of project off the ground. People were generally concerned at the black community move from a reactive posture to an active posture. When you look at some of the issues that have split the black community you know last year two years black people were basically reacting to issues and reacting to the stimuli provided by external sources. So about three different on three different occasions I was approached by different people in different organizations and these organizations did not know that the other that I talked to me exactly. And I sense a. A sort of consensus building unintentional consensus for the need for the black community to come together. I should also say that although the focus here is the black community there have been several attempts to reach out to other
communities of color and we have. We've had representatives from the Latino community and Asian community as well participate in some of our meetings because we feel that a black agenda is only a quality one. If it's the kind of agenda that responds to the needs of the communities of color as well. So what is the outcome going to be is it going to be a document. Well yesterday in terms of a concrete product we're working on a document which we will have to three parts to it. The first part will be a narrative the history the documentation of what we've been trying to do because some of us believe that documentation is very important for future generations. The second part is going to include priorities in about 8 0 9 10 different areas priorities of action and a third party is going to include the sub committee reports that lead to these priorities. When we look at education for example
as one of the areas where we will prioritize some actions in fact we we appointed a subcommittee on education which has been meeting for again over a year. This primarily elementary and secondary and also higher due to higher education and the priorities come out of that subcommittee reports out of the deliberations out of the convention and so forth so when this is completely over we can look at an area like health for example and see what the black community feels the priorities as far as health in the black community is concerned. But as important what political strategy should be pursued to make sure that within the next year the next two or three years the black community is postured politically to go after those goals that we feel important in the area of health education economic development and so forth. So you want analysis as well as an action plan exactly and analysis
and action plan. But also it reflection of certain principles I should have stated that in the narrative part of this document we have identified already about 12 or 13 principles that we feel should be guiding the analysis and also should be guiding the political strategies and the prioritization. What kind of principles. Well one print and education for example and I'm just. Pick in here name one principle that we feel in education should guy prioritization and strategies. He simply stated as every child is a potential genius and we feel stating that that way and that principle in that way gives us some insight in evaluating the kinds of reforms the kinds of suggestions that are made around improving public schooling in Boston. If it somehow if whatever is suggested by policymakers is somehow
inconsistent with the belief that every child is a potential genius then hopefully that will give some guidance to people involved politically around that. As far as that goal is concerned say what about economic development what might be the principal that we're looking at economic development is that economic development is important for all sectors in the community. So we're looking at a process of prioritization and political strategies that certainly enhance the potential for economic development in the black community but do it in such a way that the poor and more low income sectors in the community are helped. At the same time that say entrepreneurs also. Our help so we think that should be as far as economic development is concerned that this certainly should be more opportunities for economic entrepreneurship. But that economic entrepreneurship should be conducted in an organized in approach and
conceptualize in ways that will also help the sectors in the community. Now you've got a very diverse group of individuals that haven't been involved in this process some of whom. Probably perhaps haven't sat down the same room with each other in a while. Has it been difficult keeping them together keeping them focused. Well it's first of all let me say that you are very correct in pointing that out Phil. certain factions and sectors and personalities individuals have come together in some cases for the first time. And up until now they have not been talking to each other. And at times it's been difficult when we've had our internal debates but I have to say that person I'm very proud of how the discussions have been going on I'm very proud with the honesty and sincerity that people have fixed that have reflected the one way of keeping a sense of unity. And this is a way to try to institute has played a very
important role I think is continuing to focus on these principles continuing to focus on what the end product is and making sure that all points of view that the diversity of opinion in the black community is reflected in what we do. So you know we've been very process orientated in order to to make sure that all factions feel and you know representatives of certain factions points of view feel that they've been included. But we think in the final analysis that's going to make this even more powerful than if we've just diag Zach Lee. Exactly. One of the things that you're aware of both here in Boston and where you're from in New York and around the country is that in the black community and to a certain extent in the Latino community we are seeing a broadening between the haves and the have nots. Yes. How do you see that's playing itself. Well that is exactly why this Black Agenda Project is
so critical at this point because there really is a a growing economic differentiation in black communities and communities of color. I as an optimist feel that they are certain approaches that there is a certain way that we can conceptualize problems in the black community that capitalizes on those individuals who are beginning to make it economically politically educationally and otherwise. But we have to show people how to do that we have to show people how to be involved. We also have to convince. Everyone that unless the black community moves forward as a community the gains that a few of us may make as individuals and not really institutionalized within the American social economic fabric. Again if you look at the history of black people in this country there have been various times where we have made some progress as individuals but that progress is not institutionalized as if it's not based on strength in the community. Chances are
that progress can be whittled away. So I think the Habs have a very common cause with the have nots right in the black community. I got about a minute left James anything you want to leave our audience with. Well only I'd only wish to emphasize that this project is is a very critical one at this point. It is a project that I think will be beneficial not only to the black community but to all the citizenry of Boston the greater Boston area. I think that people will find that a black agenda an agenda that responds to the needs of the black community in fact has an agenda for all in our society. Now already members of our audience who may want to contact you regarding you the school committee commission or the Black Agenda Project where can they reach you they can reach me at the University of Massachusetts Boston the William n roll Trotter Institute. And what's the number 9 2 9 7 4 2 0. Thank you. James doesn't usually get his phone number. Thank
Black Perspectives
The Boston School Committee with Dr. James Jennings
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Episode Description
Host Philip Hart interviews Dr. James Jennings, professor at UMass/Boston's College of Public and Community Service, and fellow at the university's William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture. Jennings discusses his work as a member of the Special Commission on Public Education, its mandate to examine the structure and governance of the Boston School Committee and its priorities within those contexts. He also discusses his involvement with the Black Agenda Project, a national effort to develop economic, educational, and other policy priorities aimed at improving conditions for black people and other communities of color.
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Black Perspectives is a public affairs talk show featuring in depth conversations about issues of interest to the African American community.
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Race and Ethnicity
Public Affairs
Politics and Government
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Copyright Holder: WUMB-FM
Guest: Jennings, James, 1949-
Host: Hart, Philip
Producer: Pierre Louis, Gary
Producing Organization: WUMB
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: BP46-1989 (WUMB)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Generation: Original
Duration: 00:30:00?
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Chicago: “Black Perspectives; The Boston School Committee with Dr. James Jennings,” 1989-07-05, WUMB, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 20, 2022,
MLA: “Black Perspectives; The Boston School Committee with Dr. James Jennings.” 1989-07-05. WUMB, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 20, 2022. <>.
APA: Black Perspectives; The Boston School Committee with Dr. James Jennings. Boston, MA: WUMB, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from