Black Perspectives; The Boston School Committee and Educational Policy, Part 4
Good evening welcome to black with spectacles. Perhaps I would think you're focusing on black issues information and lifestyles in the communities of Boston and the soul sure I mean you host Charles Desmond and tonight we're going into a fourth part of our series dealing with the issue of the Boston School Committee members as a matter of fact we have had a very involved in quite sustained discussion with the Boston School Committee members that have been going on for now for almost a month. Our theme for this series is dealing with the issue of public policy and how public policy is made from the perspective of school committee members. And on that note we have two very well-informed and quite active members of the School Committee with us. Juanita Wade and Joseph Casper let me welcome both of you to black perspectives. By way of background on these two individuals let me tell you that wanting to wait is a first term member with the Boston School Committee and is currently the executive director of the Roxbury
like Debbie U.S.A. and is also a visiting lecturer with the College of Public and community services here at the University of Massachusetts. Mr. Wade is the vice chairperson of the Intergovernmental Affairs Subcommittee of the school committee. Joseph Casper is a self-employed and is also a member of the school committee. He is the chairperson of the student safety said committee in the school committee. Let me welcome both of you to the show. Glad you could spend some time with me here. Let me begin with you Ms Wade we have been spending a lot of time discussing the fact that being an elected public official sometimes the public believes that you only function in the political realm and that there isn't a lot of background research and investigation that goes into forming an opinion about something as important as making decisions about the educations of tens of thousands of young people. With regards to the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee could tell us a little bit about what the types of issues are that their
committee looks at. I think one of the most important issues we dealt with this past few months was the Gramm-Rudman bill and what if any effect it would in fact have on public school education here in Boston and any federal and state monies that would come to the Boston school system. We sat with some legislators people from the governor's office and really looked at what that impact was this impact aid that the school that the city gets that may in fact be affected the employment training programs vocational ed programs may be affected. But for the most part for at least the next year year and a half the programs that are in the schools now won't be markedly affected by Gramm-Rudman but that's what we looked at that subcommittee last few months. I think that goes of us who have been following that particular piece of legislation. I realize and I think that it's made other people realize how important it is to
be aware of what's going on at the federal level. I've seen what the power of these things can trickle down and have an effect on the quality of our schools the number of schools the number of personnel salaries and other maps of that affect the lives of not only the students but the teachers in the communities where the schools are located in the broadness of the programs and I think that we can look at what the city can provide in terms of basic programs but we depend a lot on state and federal monies for expanded programs and Hansen's in the capacity that you have as a lecturer at the College of Public and community service is what it is specifically is the area of expertise that you are sharing with our young people. There are only four black members on the school committee in a system that has a predominant black population in the schools. It means that we are seen as representing a many more students than just our elected. Areas which we elected from. I was lecturing here is in race relations and human relations and so talking about how young people are seen in the school system how
they are respected for the language and the culture. Very important issues for me and I hope to provide some direction to the superintendent in that area. Well as a person termed a school committee member I know that you have made quite a reputation for yourself and I think that the work that you have been doing particularly with regards to monitoring this gram Redmond's Hollings piece of legislation I think will alert people early enough on that they can get involved and do something about these codes which in some instances really don't make a lot of sense. Let me turn to you Mr. Kasper You have been a very outspoken in well-informed. Member of the committee taking very strong positions on a number of important issues not the least of which is the one dealing with the committee that you chair which is the question of safety in the past in the public schools. Perhaps you could tell us a little bit about what are some of the issues as you see them related to the question of safety within our public schools. Well I think the most important thing and I think we've been able substantiated over the last couple of years is that the schools are
unsafe and the school system hasn't dealt with weapons and drugs in the school and I found that getting information out to the public which is a commitment I made to go public with education I've done that I've done my homework. We've been able to get that information out through release of the incident reports with the pride of my arrival there or weren't available to the public. I think that we've been able to make some reforms in that area and get the information that's needed for the public to make the kind of demand that we have a safe school system so I think to me you cannot learn in an environment where students around you are carrying weapons and you worry about your own personal safety. So if you don't have a safe school system you're not going to get an education. So that's what I've worked on that's my number one priority transportation was an area that I felt was very strong. I pushed very hard to break open the fact that we had people with criminal records driving buses we worked very diligently to expose at the school department denied it. Finally we went public with I think we have a better transportation system so I think a lot can be served by doing your homework. And more importantly going public with it so people can make informed
decisions. Right I think that it goes without saying that the present perception on the atmosphere within the Boston Public Schools is a more positive one than it was five or 10 years ago. I think that the efforts that the school committee is taking out and perhaps most significantly under the leadership have drawn attention to the fact that more attention has to be focused on the question of safety in the schools and I agree with you that you cannot have education in schools where people feel threatened for their lives or where in point of fact violent actions are taking place inside the schools. Well I think one of the key things in this is I think this is an unfortunate perception I mean we with district representation we were elected from different districts and as a sort certain kind of a polarization. And I think Juanita hit it right on the head when she said we represent all of the city. We have a minority school system that's predominately minority. So naturally when you look at the incidents in the school system you're going to find that more minorities are committing crimes in the school are guilty of
weapons and drug possessions. But that's not necessarily symptomatic exclusively of the minority community that's symptomatic of our society except it happens to be the school system we're dealing with. And I think what you see is a lot of the flight from the school system has been forced in the first instance had to do with the busing issues and now we put that decade behind us but if you still have an unsafe school system you're not going to attract people back in. So I don't think you look at the statistics I think you look at what is what we have and what Wilson is dealing with and what's pulling didn't do it and that is we have to make the schools safe. We have to give the kids a good bus ride. We have to make sure that they're getting an education and if they are dropping out which has been a hot issue why I mean they didn't just discover those the stiffest districts Overnight they've been there's been an ongoing problem so I think we've opened up the system I think that's where District representation is done it's opened it up. Well I think that again that the efforts that have been made to demystify the whole process about how the school system works and I
think that on two occasions just now you said going public with these things and letting the public be aware of how things get done how decisions are made what is involved in decision making process is fundamentally in the best interests of young people I believe. Oh I think so I think I've been accused and want to do in our first term together but I've been accused of being you know everything I running out of adjectives names to call me but I I think that you have to. Be persistent and only through an open process. Will things get better. I don't expect people to agree with me in every instance but I do expect that if I take a point of view when somebody else takes another point of view that somewhere between those points of view we may reach a middle ground. And the system will be better for it I think it's a better system. I mean I think it's important times of what Mr. Casper is bringing that out in terms of the debate of the issues. It really is important that we have an informed community in Inform city about what is happening in the schools at every
level what decisions are made within the schools what decisions are made at 26 courtsey it's really important that people know what they're getting when we talk about public education. I do believe that safe schools in an atmosphere of comfort are in fact key. And also an important piece a piece that will draw whomever has left the schools back is that they really believe that what they'll get at the end of the of the ride is a good education. And if they feel that we as a school committee commit ourselves to that commit ourselves to providing the children the city of Boston with the best education possible then they'll come back. And I think people. Do in fact move their young people into the kindergarden and often move them out quickly afterwards. We need to build your confidence back up and I think that's what both Joe and I are members are committed to. That's a lot of work but that's what we have to commit ourselves to bringing
the best path. I think that that makes a lot of sense obviously and I think that that's what's happening. I was talking with someone today who was examining the budget not the total budget but at least the the city appropriated portion of the budget and you know this individual is saying oh this is such a complicated thing I can't imagine how you can get anything done here as well. You know imagine members of the committee they're going to deal with this budget the federal budgets all of these other trust funds and whatever. And so we were saying well how do you bring about change in the Boston Public School Committee and so the analogy that I used was this is like trying to turn an aircraft carrier. It doesn't mean that you can't turn it. There's a way that you have to turn to but it takes a lot of thinking a lot of planning and you have to know when you're moving. Otherwise you can be turning and not recognize that you're going anywhere. I think that the schools are turning for the better. I mean in the investigation the work that I've been doing with young people I become more and more impressed with the quality of the young people that are coming out of the public schools in Boston I think that they know more. I think that the positions that they took relative to advocacy one way or the other with regards to
the most recent issue that you all were dealing with dealing with the school closings whatever. Clearly let the public see that young people are concerned about their education. They're much more knowledgeable than most people believed in that they were very outspoken and quite articulate in support for their positions whether they be for the ideas or opposed to them but I think overall. The public in general felt very good seeing young people speaking up on the question of quality and education. Well I think one way you can equate that change to is look at the housing situation in Boston I mean houses that were literally falling down and now going for you know inflated prices at this time but the market will hold up the same thing I think applies to education now before people are taking it for granted we had people who were held captive in the school system held captive because and no place else to go they couldn't afford to go anyplace else. And now people looking around say wait a minute education is a pretty important thing we're not talking about busing we're not talking about a decade of disaster we're talking about education so once the focus begins to deal with with education delivery of services I think it's important I think what I've learned in my time the one
thing that seems to be missing in the school system is a goal. They don't seem to have a goal and I think that Wilson's leadership is beginning to provide us with a goal. My goals are different from other members goals and their goals are different from other members goals if we said if we for example want to a great kindergarten program would say wait a minute this is what you have to if you want a great bilingual program you say wait a we don't want teachers who can't who can speak both languages if you if you want to get good certification program you say well wait a minute we wouldn't tolerate with that and then somebody come along to wait a minute wait a medium understand. So I think once we have a goal then we can argue over how are achieving the goal but we haven't agreed on a goal as far as I'm concerned as schools and we all have different ones. And I think that's that's why issues such as health clinics guidance counselors development people I mean there are a lot of issues that constantly come up as eyes. To close to unity I think because we are trying to reckon with what do we want as the end product what are we looking for when a young person at 16 17 18 or whatever graduates from high school what we want is the end
product. And we've got 13 years generally and sometimes 15 16 years to shame the individuals. But it takes a lot and I think it's just that each one of us is I think coming from a very different angle in terms of what are we expecting for our from our young people. We've got to make sure that we have young adults who can be constructive in a society can build our communities and can work and live and develop as strong adults. And the schools have to provide that. On that note let me interrupt you here and then just to tell our listening audience that we're in a pause briefly for a public service announcement. You're listening to black perspectives at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Please stay tune will be resuming our discussion on the Boston School Committee elected officials and educational policy. Today you're in excellent health plenty. Goodness what tomorrow could bring the misfortune of a catastrophic illness. Carol this could be Administration on Aging talks about the financial burden of such
an illness for the older person who was struck by a catastrophic illness the last occasion if that can be. Thank you for the individual as well as for the family member health coverage disability income insurance cash value policies IRAs and other assets can ease the financial burdens of illness. But the government and private companies are working to develop a form of coverage specifically for catastrophic illness. Insurance is a major component of the private sector that I think we'll have. We hope a major role to play in helping solve this problem. This is been a service at the National Association of life underwriters. OK we're back from our brief intermission and WNBA famine ninety one point nine. I'm your host Charles Desmond. This is the black perspectives and tonight we're continuing our series on the Boston School Committee elected officials and educational policy. My two guests this evening I want you to wade and Joe Casper at the
time we took a break we were talking about how do you find really that a unifying goal essentially bringing consensus in an area of diversity. You have a lot of different people. You have a lot of different interests impacting on the schools businesses and corporations have certain types of INS that they would like to see city officials elected other elected officials have certain outcomes that they'd like to see the communities themselves have outcomes that they would like to see. The school committee members have different things. How do you courage a coalition and unified direction out of such diverse different interests and. Big city like Boston. Well I think one of the ways is that you have good committed people. And I think we have some good committed people on the school to have some strong people. I think there's a difference between the strong people that we have on the school committee and that's why we're in the news more than say the city council I think we have a lot of that's a later is on the city council and people who are a little more into political areas because the fact that they vote themselves a pay raise you
know without public participation but I think in the school committee we have some very people who have been very strong people who've been active and I think that's good that encourages that kind of debate and I as I say I see us moving time to gradually moving to higher ground. I know that if we were to do a show two years ago John O'Brien I would do a show and we would be pretty much at each other's throats. We've done a couple of shows in the last month and we're talking on a different level on on different issues I think that's part of moving towards a goal. We're beginning to understand one another more and we're beginning to understand that the commitments are there that people are not necessarily calling each other names anymore saying well what would you mean by that. Where would we take this and want to hit it with the health clinics are we. I have very differing points of view I believe she can speak herself but I know that a couple my colleagues speak all differently and I was I was talking to Abby Brown this morning and I said I don't disagree with you personally I admire your commitment but I don't agree with you. And I'll tell you why I don't agree with you. And so I think the fact that we're not arming ourselves with guns and knives at these meetings and were able to conduct
things in a very aggressive way is encouraging us to. Sure. I think too I think that Joe is right we are in fact spending more time listening to each other and spending more time getting to the heart of the issues instead of some of some of the superficial debate. I think the other part is we're identifying who the population is in the schools. We're no longer talking about who ought to be in the schools who's left the schools but who is there now and what can we provide to the students who are there now. And we certainly hope that in making What's their better it will attract more people but that we can't worry about those who have gone we've got to do the best that we can for those that are there. And as I said as we develop those and make the schools better. We'll we'll have to build a school there. Well I'd like to pick up on that and that's that's been my argument from the beginning I mean what you'd like to have and I think that's a real big problem with the administrative people that we have in the school system we have
a lot of people I consider suffering from terminal tenure. They don't identify with the kids in the school system in the hearings we held on public safety dealing with suicide prevention programs and drug and alcohol abuse programs. They're talking a language different than the students we have in the school system. And if people would say to me well you're you know you're against the grain I say if I was against the grain what I'd be doing is I'd be pushing in directions opposite what I'm pushing for why would I want to say for a school system. I certainly don't want to save a school system for the children not in the school system. I want to save the school system for the ones who are there because they have a right to a quality education. And so I think that's a key thing. When you look at the guidance counseling areas and you're listen to the guidance counselor you know suicide seems like a reasonable alternative to a second conversation with some of the people we have this notion. Well I don't know how I'll respond to that when I think that I think that it is an it goes without saying and I am going to get out there myself in this matter. I think that you're absolutely right. I think that in point of fact the times have
changed people are changed and unfortunately not enough people have changed at least their attitudes haven't changed in such a way that they can be effective at what it was that they were once effective perhaps in their careers earlier on the show has Let's take it let's take for example we have most of our children on some sort of public assistance in our school system and we have most of our people who deal with providing counseling services and example who live in the suburbs. When you talk to them they're then not interested these kids have problems I want to deal with kids with problems the problems or problems problems are time consuming. The attitude is if these kids even show up every day we wouldn't have a problem running the school system. We would have a problem. So I think we have to look more closely at performance and that's part of the goal accountability. What is your job what you do here. We went over this just the other day at a subcommittee both Juanita or myself attended and they were talking about cutting and recently the Boston Globe did a major story on the wonderful work that's been done at the Bourke High School and one of the two jobs we're talking about cutting a Burke High School was the dean of
discipline. He said wait a minute they're just hallmarking this and I think you have to say wait a minute what is our goal what are we trying to do. So let us as we see it cuts need to be made. Why do we write that the superintendent may certainly recommend to all of the headmaster's that some cuts may need to be made. Well I have to be with some direction that if you feel the impact of cutting even one person would be overwhelming to the success of the programs here then you have a right to say I can't do this unless we continue something else. And so we're saying we're looking for that kind of direction. That to arbitrarily cut to three or four hired people is not always in the best interests of the students in that school. And those are some of the questions in our budget meeting we talked about cutting into half and lay offs that we need to have answers for. And and as Joe said earlier that we do the investigation that we asked the questions I think is absolutely crucial that we get recommendations all the
time. We can either rubber stamp those recommendations or we can do the kind of investigation that's necessary and raise questions. And that's and that's where the strong members command we get that budget hearing a couple of members wanted to let's move on down the road let's go to the next thing a wait a minute wait a minute we persisted and that's what I think the. Is there there's there is that strong commitment on the part of certain members. I say the pro activists the people who will not take that step back would I consider Juanita to be one of those people I consider Jean McGuire to be that type of person there are certain people that I say will not take a step backwards. Dan Burke is that kind of a guy and as long as we have those kind of people on the committee. Not that the others don't serve a purpose. But I think as long as you have those kind of people you have the give and take and I think you need that kind of give and take. I think that sometimes when people look at the Boston School Committee and its budget they sometimes draw analogies with the Defense Department. They feel that here it's this big bureaucracy. They've got lots and lots of money and is
ruminant for Ali's manipulations in moving this and moving that there and there. And so in so therefore it's hard for as it is. Time for defense to make the case to get additional resources to do more things. And I feel that the school committee in the school department here in Boston is in the same situation. It's hard to make the case when the general perception real or imagined but the perception of the left still exists. That school department has surplus dollars and that it wastes resources and that is not as efficient as it needs to be and I think that what I hear you talking about today is an effort to try to educate people more clearly to what the real needs are and what steps you're taking to improve and sophisticated the whole system and efforts that you're making to bring quality back into the schools with the resources that you have. But however you cannot bring quality without financial support to go along and you cannot in the one point that we talked discussed on probably the year your addition to that your PSA is without accountability. We do not
hold people accountable in the school department for their performance. A major foul up means to shift everybody transfer you know we pay play bumper pool in that place I mean people bump from job to job and you have to use the dye to get to leave the air or retire you don't you don't get fired and I would like to see the con of a kind of accountability where I say to Wilson often times shoot somebody shoot somebody who's not performing I mean when somebody does a terrible job you you demote him to a lower job with the same money. You can't run a good business that way and I think the business is that we're in the business of educating children and public schools are guaranteed to sink money in students no matter how bad the product every year. And we're going to business and we have a goal and we're trying to make a profit the profit has to be in quality education and educated students if we don't have that we'll lose and we're in the red and that's why I think we are is a as a school system we're in the red. I think that that new piece it that came into the central system is in fact research and valuation I think for a long time. We have not been able to
evaluate. The successes of our programs we've seen students graduate and we've seen many students drop out. Why. Those questions are not at the tip. Serve our tongues. We were even keeping information that was they view. They didn't answer any questions. I mean that was useless we were keeping information on why students dropped out. I think now we have the opportunity to begin to MS-DOS it evaluate. We should not roll the budget over. We should talk about which programs work and which ones don't. And our budget has to be based on. I mean the only budget we can fight for is the one that we say these programs work. These are the successes that have come out of it. Therefore it should be this much more money so that we can do a better job next time then we can fight for the budget then we can fight for whatever money we say we need. But you're right it is difficult to in fact ask for suggests more money when we cannot hold people accountable. We cannot talk about the successes we
cannot or we have not evaluated the programs. That's right and I think you know I look at it and I don't disagree with the idea of the point you raised earlier Charles about the idea of social services and delivering of services in many instances they're not getting them in the community and the schools unfortunately have to be at the point where students go and seek some direction. But I think that one of the problems with the school system that's stood out to me. In addition the students safety and I think one of the things we have to do is like the comprehensive program for student safety. We have all these kids in the school system who are over 5000 on more than triple probation from the courts we have to get into that and bore into that whole bit more but if I was to single out one thing beyond the students and the problems with the students if that were like a home or a systems like the home team if ever Johnny Pesky or Mel Parnell do play by play for the Red Sox Johnny Most They never do anything wrong a Celtics never commit a foul. And that's the same thing with the administrative team in the school system. I would get some new good
leaders coming I'm very pleased with a guy like Rudy Crew setting up curriculum that's always been a very weak area and I think that people like that are saying wait a minute I'm not part of this. This click with a click in there no matter what happens everybody circles away and train we have to break that down a little bit. I think the other thing we need to begin to doing encourage more. Just to talk about what good and very positive things are happening in the school system because many of our students are coming out and doing very well. I spend a lot of time in the schools not just as a school committee member but through my job I run programs for youth. So I spend a lot of time looking at what young people do in the schools. There's a lot of good stuff happening and people need to know there. I don't think people believe that until we ask for more money. Is that how they're already you know they've already got enough. Yeah. We need to promote what's good about the system and we need to promote it and make the people who send their children to the system feel good about having them there.
I know myself that we have a program here at the university that I've been working closely with for the last three years called Urban scholars which is dealing with talented and gifted students and in that neighborhood Boston public schools. And I'll tell you these are some of the most amazing young minds that I have ever had the opportunity to get exposure to in point of fact we're doing a presently doing some work to do a documentary on these students from neighborhood schools and different backgrounds and just sort of just for the very purpose that you just mentioned. More people need to understand that there are young minds that are fully capable of dealing with the major problems and issues confronting our society today that for many reasons over which we don't sometimes have control are being utilized effectively. And I think that the type of work that you all are doing and I commend both of you for being outspoken and standing up and advocating for equality which is essential I think all of this reduces down to in certain respects that I think that the work that you're doing and other members of the committee are doing to to bring quality into the schools and to call the question about what it is
that we exactly want to take place in these buildings I think is doing a tremendous service to the city of Boston and ultimately will do a tremendous service to the young people that are in the schools as well. I think you have to you don't take a physical with your clothes on. You have to strip the system down. I think one aide is coming on board at a time where we're getting to that third stage I think of the whole system in the in the area of three stages first you must identify the problem. We have done that in nearly hand-to-hand combat. Then the hottest thing on this has been the most difficult thing that I've had to deal with in the school system is getting them to admit that there's a problem getting them to admit that they don't have a suicide prevention program getting to MIT that there is crime is because once you get them it would mean that nets a second stage then you can begin to work on the problem. I think we're gradually getting to that stage and I agree I think we have some exceptionally talented people in the school system. I think the image is that of a loser and I think if that's the case then what you have to do is you have to strip it down. You have to open it up you have to put the microscope out and you look at it and I think I'm a different school committee member in my second term when I was in my first term but I think that's
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- The fourth and final installment of a series on the Boston School Committee and its policymaking role. With host Charles Desmond, Boston School Committee members Joseph Casper and Juanita Wade the committee's work toward improving the Boston Public Schools (BPS), including the local impact of the federal Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, concerns about school safety, the need for transparency and accountability in BPS, the need to develop unified goals for BPS while balancing many competing interests, financial constraints, the need for evaluation and research of school policy/programs, and the need to acknowledge positive achievements of students and the BPS system.
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Guest: Wade, Juanita
Guest: Casper, Joseph
Host: Desmond, Charles
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