Black Perspectives; The Boston School Committee and Educational Polices. Part 1
Good evening welcome to black perspectives. A half hour feature focusing on black issues information and lifestyles in the communities of Boston in the song. I'm your host Charles Desmond. Tonight it's a pleasure to introduce members of the Boston School Committee who will be participating in a discussion with those on the policymaking functions of the Boston School Committee and the relationship that the school committee has with the superintendent the Boston Public Schools city officials and concerned groups in the greater Boston area. With regards to educational issues in the city the school committee is a very complicated and highly structured organization that is structured that way in order to provide the best input at all levels in the formulation of public policy as it relates to education in the public schools and tonight we have a very distinguished group of people with those who will help us to understand a little bit about the structure of the school committee and perhaps to discuss a little bit some of the issues that the school committee will be looking at in the months and years ahead to introduce our guest today. Let me start off first of all with join Ngugi who is the president of the Boston School Committee and the community coordination directive for ABC D. Also with us this evening is the vice president
of the Boston School Committee Shirley Owens Hicks who is the chairperson of the personnel subcommittee also within the school committee and is a advocacy counselor here at the University of Massachusetts and Boston. We also have the chairperson of the facilities an Operations Subcommittee William Donlon who is an assistant professor of philosophy at Salem State College. Let me first of all welcome you all to black perspectives. Thank you. When we when we went on the air I said that what I hoped that we would be able to do today was to educate to our listening audience a little bit as to how the school committee actually is structured how do you go about doing the business of the School Committee I know that you have some eight subcommittees and perhaps you might want to beginning with you Mr. Newt you talk a little bit about from the president's perspective since the president holds a tremendous amount of power on the school committee that you might want to share with us a little bit about how the committee itself is structured. Certainly Charles I think. First of all if you recognize that that public education is one of the
most important issues facing the city right now because of its implications on the future of the city then you must also recognize that the Boston School Committee then becomes one of the most important governmental bodies in the city of Boston. We are the policymaking body for the schools in the city of Boston. We set the direction along with the superintendent. We set an educational agenda for the Boston public schools and we constantly strive to provide the type of level of quality education to Boston children deserve and we work hand in hand with the superintendent in doing that. In order to do that becomes necessary to coordinate the activities the concerns the ideas the suggestions and criticisms of 13 members 13 elected officials. That of course is a newly expanded number the Boston School Committee until the very recent past was a five member committee elected at large that is by the city at large in 1983. The school committee in the city council became district in nature that is that we now consist of
nine members elected from districts of the city and four members elected by the city at large. What that has brought. I believe there is an increased sensitivity and response of this to the people of the city of Boston. It's brought greater access by the people father people of the city of Boston to government in general and in our case to the school system of the city of Boston. It's brought more and better minority representation to the Boston school community city council which I think is so very important to have this be a city that's working together to its common goals. But it's not always easy to coordinate all those concerns. And as the body becomes bigger it becomes somewhat more on manageable. But I think the bottom line a very positive in a very positive way that is that the problem with democracy is never too much democracy. The more input the more concerns the more responsive we can be. I think the better we are. To try to facilitate that that type of functioning we have broken the school committee of two subcommittees that focus on specific areas
that the school system has to deal with in terms of setting policy. We do have eight subcommittees this year. We have a curriculum an instruction subcommittee which deals essentially with exactly what it says it deals with what goes on in our school buildings what's being taught how it's being taught in that type of activity we have a student safety subcommittee which deals with the very important issue of student disciplined student safety creating a sound and safe learning environment for schools which really comes out on top every time you ask parents what their major concerns are. And I think that committee is doing a fine job. Recognizing the need for public education to survive only with the help of all levels of government state government federal government we established an intergovernmental affairs subcommittee whose task is to coordinate activities at various levels of government to ensure that public education is given the rightful priority that it deserves at all levels of government in terms of funding and resources the personnel subcommittee which is chaired by one of our guests Julie Owens Hicks.
Deals with personnel policies and I think a distinction needs to be made I'm sure Charlie could make it later if he so chose. But the personnel subcommittee doesn't deal with who is hired for what job and that type of activity but rather it deals with establishing fear in sound personnel policies to maximize the contributions of our employees towards educating our children and that committee's been been very very active over the last couple of years. The facilities and Operations Subcommittee has been particularly active as has Mr. Donlin the chairman of that committee in the past couple of weeks because I did Mr. Donlin the favor of making him chairman of the committee that deals with school closings. And I know I know he's very appreciative of that. But that type of that committee does deal with issues regarding buildings and school facilities and making sure that they are sound and safe and that they are in good conditions and that they are used properly and currently that subcommittee is in the process of developing criteria for school closings. Should they be necessary when they are necessary I should say in the future. The
vocational education subcommittee deals with the whole area of vocational education in the Boston Public Schools focuses a lot on our Hubert Humphrey occupation resource center and many of those programs. The rules and regulations subcommittee is really an in-house type committee which deals with the functioning of the committee and has been very helpful in assisting me as president to put into place the type of rules procedures and processes that helps us facilitate our operation. And finally the Human Services Subcommittee is a new committee this year which was formed essentially again because of the understanding that public education has to be a joint effort not only at all levels of government but also involving all the human service and other type agencies in the city of Boston and that subcommittee is working to sort of strengthen the ties and linkages with the human services community of Boston which is very very strong and we need to take full advantage of that network so that's that's basically the subcommittee structure their job is to really do the legwork to take issues analyze them develop recommendations to the full committee
and justify them hopefully and have them approved which then would be implemented by the superintendent. Well I think that that is a very good overview of what the composition and structure of the of the committee looks like and I think that what I'd like to try to do now is to get a little bit into the operations of some of these subcommittees and I surely am going to switch to you immediately and then I'll have some general questions but I'd like to have a sense that we have committee chairs subcommittee chairs with us here I'd like to have a little bit of a discussion on the subcommittee chairs and then we'll get into some general and broader issues affecting the school system overall. But the personnel issue has been a critical question that's been brought up in the public about. The Boston Public Schools on one hand you have a group of detractors who feel that the problem with the schools today in America is that they the teachers are qualified in many states in the country have said we should give competency testing for teachers what have you and administrators should be evaluating criteria that again are controversial. This must put an awful lot of pressure in the role that you're carrying out dealing with these broad policy issues relative to
the staffing in our schools. And beyond that the question is At what point does the school committee have to sort of go along with what the public the general political consensus and pressure is to do versus sometimes your own good judgment as to what are the best things to do to have good schools in the city of Boston. Thank you Charlie the personnel subcommittee has been very active and most recently related to this particular issue certification versus qualification. I think the distinction has to be made that those individuals who are schoolteachers who are not certified qualified the certification process is one that is extensive in some areas and in some instances so that. Students who teaches rather who. May have come from other countries who are teaching in a bilingual component or who may have been recruited to work in our occupational resource center or some of those locational education areas may come
not with the necessary qualifications related to certification and that they have not taken the courses that the state has mandated that they would take so what we do in a situation like that is look at the qualifications and ensure that these teachers are qualified. Then outline an agenda for them to become certified UMass Boston has played a major role in certifying our teachers in that the institution of learning and teaching has a program that our teachers feed into in order to obtain their certification in addition to some other schools in the area so that. We may waive certification for a period of time to allow these teachers to take just the appropriate courses that the state may mandate for certification. And then of course they become certified if they are not certified within the prescribed period of time. Then they understand that they will have to leave the system. But again I think the major issue we need to address related to that is that qualified
does not necessarily mean certified immediately. And there work has to be done to ensure that I correct in saying that this quote unquote problem presents itself only because of the complexity of the variety of programs that operate in the school systems which require you to have people who are qualified to teach certain things even though the state apparatus or the educational apparatus may not to get it set up yet to the point where they're producing people with the sort of occasion necessary to meet the needs that you have in school. Absolutely I think that's that's a major part of it. The the bureaucracy as it is established and also the State Board of Education goes through its review and periodically decides that they need to issue a different or an extended set of mandates related to certification so that individuals who are not certified who have not become certified within a prescribed period of time then have to extend their study
in order to meet those certification criteria. And that's something that does exist and we do have to recognize it acknowledge it and deal with it. And I think that's what the Boston school department has been trying to do. OK now I am going to come back to you but I'd like to get William Doleman here who I think has been in the thick of the controversy over the last couple of weeks I think that the president was modest in saying that you were just sort of involved in and I know that this has been a difficult last couple of weeks in light of the whole controversy and discussions that have grown out of the superintendent's plan to restructure the schools in the city of Boston maybe you might want to tell us a little bit about what you're doing as that you're the facilities and Operations Subcommittee and then perhaps spend a few seconds a few minutes filling us in on what happened with regards to the what seem to be the premature advancement of the plan by the superintendent to deal with this question of facilities in a highly political environment such as the city of Boston.
You want to know in other words how I got between the rock and the happy place. I didn't want to put it that way but I guess that's about what gave me the chairmanship of the facilities and operations. I thought it would be a nice laid back way to get my feet wet in the school committee as a first year member. But after Dr. Wilson proposed his consolidation plans I realized that I was going to get more than my feet wet position. We have eight subcommittees and nearly everyone gets a chairmanship eight out of 13 will get a chairmanship if they want but. I found that I was in charge of facilities maintenance of the buildings and consolidation if necessary building of new buildings if that came up. But it has been quite hectic trying to decide you know whether we should consolidate or not and when and how. And it's our job to hold hearings for all the schools
involved and we did that over the English High School. We could go to get the opinions of all the students and and the teachers and the parents administrator says. Why we should consolidate why we should not and to factor all these criteria and then give an opinion to the superintendent. But we didn't really get a chance to establish many criteria at this time. I was one of the reasons why superintendent Wilson didn't get us votes. It takes you know it takes a great deal of time we have sixty eight hundred children school kids that we're going to be disrupted in. Hundreds of teachers. And we realize that we have to consolidate because there are many seats and utilized. But it will take more time. So I think that there may be some
disruption of I think it would have been more disruption if we had voted to close all those schools right now. So that's that's my view on the facilities and operations with regard to the change in the school committee district representation. I think it's it's good in a sense because many of the parents and the Concerned Citizens of the neighborhood can call us personally and voice their concerns. Whereas in the past when I was a five member board no member was individually responsible for any particular area. But now we are. So and that respect it's good we're present the people more directly. I think on the other hand when have 13 members it's difficult to debate fully every issue at a meeting because it takes so much time. That's one thing we're still trying to get used to.
We call questions and things. Also I think that because this comes up and all relationships train school boards school committees and the executive arm of the school board which would be super Dan Wilson will have to have closer communication. So our job is to approve or disapprove policy or make policy and make policy makers even if it doesn't seem that at times because we are just asked to approve or disapprove this. And I think you can't approve a policy that you don't understand. And if you if you're going to understand it you really have to collaborate with the executive wing with the superintendent. I think we should collaborate more I might take more of our time but I think we should do it. I think on that note I'd like to say that we are going to pause briefly for us public announcement let our listening audience know that you're listening to black perspectives on WMD. Please
stay tuned we'll be resuming our discussion on the Boston Public School Committee elected officials and educational policies after this message. This is Alex. My career as a journalist began in my spare time with a lot of formal training professionals then getting into the news business. Things have changed but not enough. They are still far too few members of racial minorities pursuing news careers are being given the chance to do so. If you have talent as a writer cartoonist graphic artist Our photographer and you are interested in a career in the news business call this number 1 800 2 5 5 6 0 6 0. You will get free information from the Society of Professional Journalists. Journalism needs minorities and minorities in journalism. That number again 1 800 2 5 6 0 6 0 0 ask for
operator 1 2. We're back from a brief intermission on WSB FM ninety one point nine I'm your host Charles Desmond and tonight I'm introducing an educational series on the Boston School Committee and its relationships with public officials and dealing with the question of educational policy in the city of Boston. With me this evening a joy knew she was the president of the school committee really on sex who is the vice president of the Boston School Committee and William Donovan an assistant professor at Salem State College and chair of the facilities and Operations Subcommittee of the Boston School Committee. Again welcome back from a break. We've been talking up to this point pretty much from the perspective of just organizational and structural issues how the school committee comes together what are some of the issues that you're dealing with structurally and organizationally. And I would like to try to swing it around and talk a little bit about given these structures given the complexity of the system and the monumental problems that you're dealing with in this constantly changing system. How do we in fact make policy in a situation like this and I'd like to use this recent example where the superintendent
goes off in a direction where he thinks he has a plan and an idea that's going to improve the quality of the schools. This runs head in head one into the general political process of how things are done in Boston in just good public policy in some respects some people believe that this isn't even a good idea presented the wrong way isn't going to work. And it seemed as though to me that the school committee and its vote sort of indicated that even though there may be certain merits of this idea this isn't the way that you go about doing it. How do you what we've learned from this experience. What does it say about where the schools are now and where do we go from here with regards to this impasse. Let me. OK let me just say first that I think there is nobody in the school committee members or any of the school committee members who are not here who would not say that superintendent Wilson is highly competent highly capable and that the kinds of ideas that he has related to running the school system are ideas that
in a number of instances are very very sound. I think he has the support of each of us on the school committee. I think when you look at the structure and how it is I sort of analogized it to an organization that has an executive director and a board of directors and I think that's what it is that we are so that the chief executive officer makes recommendations and of course the board has to vote on it. I think that in any instance of situations a way individuals are considering whatever it is that they think are important related to the recommendation and some of voted up and some of voted down in this particular instance I think it was voted down because as a number of individuals have indicated we need to establish criteria for closing schools so that we can take every single high school we can measure the educational programs that it has the number of youngsters that it has a number of administrators. We can look at everything within that school and measure it against a
criteria that says yes we should or we should not close a school every single high school in the district not just target the ones that we had targeted and then accept or reject. So that I think the lesson that we learn from this is that a process has to be followed prior to making particularly major policy decisions such as this one. Classic conflict the lack of a better word that's probably too strong a word between superintendents and school committees in the city of Boston it's historical it's nothing new and it's also nothing particular or unique to the city of Boston that exists in any school committee superintendant relationship as it exists says Mrs own success at any corporate executive office or a board of directors. And the conflict is usually over the definition of role and what the role is of the chief executive officer in our case a superintendent and what the role is of the board or in our case the school committee. And so often there is a gray area between day to day administration of the school
system and the setting of policy. And so often I think both sides that is the superintendent in the school committee crossed into that gray area in conflict comes about. I don't see the recent issue however of school closings as being one of those cases this is a policy matter. Clearly if ever there was a policy issue that the school committee is ultimately accountable for it's the closing of schools that affects thousands of students. It in a sense sets a direction for the system because you now have X number of less buildings X number of less things you can do with the system. So it's clearly a policy issue. One of the most important aspects of a superintendent recommendation a generic superintendent recommendation is that it's doable. And to be doable it has to be passable by the school committee. This particular recommendation was not. And it. I totally share Mrs. Owens Hicks's sentiment about our support for Dr. Wilson. I totally support Dr. Wilson I think he has the potential to become the best superintendent that Boston has ever had. I share
so many of his ideas and his philosophies and I'm just totally excited about his his superintendency here in Boston. But we're going to disagree from time to time. And I know that superintendent Wilson is professional enough to understand that when you put a proposal before a government body or a deliberative body or a board of directors you have to understand that it's going to be passed or could be rejected. Happens every day. It's nothing new it has nothing to do with supporting the superintendent. I think what we hopefully have learned from this. Is as Mrs O in Texas said we need appropriate processes in place before we can make major decisions and I think we will do that from this point on particular on this issue of school closings. I think we've also learned in the superintended perhaps as learned is that more and constant communication with members of the school committee might be required in the formulation of a recommendation. Recommendations cannot be formed in a vacuum and then brought to the school committee. He needs to check for direction. He needs to check for consensus because of a recommendation is perfect
in a superintendent's mind but still can't pass the school committee. The school system will choke and die of inertia. Nothing will happen no progress will be made and ultimately the children of those so I think there are some really good lessons in this whole issue but I think that what has not happened in this issue as I think some of the rhetoric around the whole issue is is the need to say is the superintendent as law support. That clearly has not happened he has almost the unanimous support I'll say of the Boston School Committee and I think he has the most support of any superintendent in Boston history of the school committee at any given time and I think we're going to move forward from here. Mike you remember I Mark Warner. It was that the school committee give it an A school going to take it yeah. Well Father I want to say anything about the superintendent here that I haven't said to him privately and publicly I thought that one of the items on his Boston plan with a reassignment of students was of critical importance to the successful improvement of education in Boston because many of
the parents and the children want to have more flexibility and choice in their and their schools. And it seemed to me that unless you found out where the kids are sitting you can't count the empty seats. You don't really know what buildings are going to be underutilized and you can consolidate. And secondly you know if the students and the parents in charge of the students have the children where they want them to be then you'll have fewer dropouts. That's another problem that's setting us tremendous proud dropouts. So I agree that with. Mrs on sex and Mr No CI that you know he talked all about Wilson as admired by the whole school committee and he will get our encouragement. I thought his his his document that he proposed to us the other night was as he said well researched and logical. The only thing I think. Just because a largish on the premises from which he made his deductions might have had more insight
from us even from the school committee and that's why I speak of the possible gap of the in some intangibles that are real. What would happen if we did cause our schools now would we have more dropouts. Those are things you get a feeling for either being in the community for a number of years and perhaps Dr. Wilson didn't have that but we should have given it to my dad and that I might have made his decision probably a little different. Wiser whatever you know I think the superintendent obviously brings qualities to running the school system that the school committee doesn't have the superintendent or the educational expert the superintendent is the education leader of the city and that's obviously very very important. But the school committee bring something else to school committees job and I think this is inherent in any elected body is to represent the people that are affected by whatever it is you're involved with whether it's the city council or the school committee. And that's a very important factor in any equation when you're setting policy for the Boston school department. And clearly
I think the sentiment being conveyed by by as the elected officials was that the instability in the school system over the past five or six years is really beginning to take its toll. And I think the school committee was trying to avoid what has become a yearly dose of instability with regards to closing schools and I think what the school committee is saying to the superintendent is yes you are right. We have too many empty seats in yes you are right school closings and that's all Asians can potentially help programs. But no we don't want to close schools simply to react to a budget issue. You never ever close schools simply for budget reasons. You should never close a school for economic reasons. Schools are what we're all about. And if we're going to send a message that whenever there was a tight budget because a couple more buildings we may as well go out of business right now. We are saying to the superintendent that we understand your concerns about the number of empty seats we understand your concerns about when to close or consolidate schools will support you on that. But first we need to do several things including gathering all the relevant data.
Let me say that I am as is usually the case whenever we have an interesting and controversial topic such as this one and three experts such as we have are on the table today the time goes by very quickly but I'd like to thank the three of you for setting the framework for our very and I'm going discussion that will be having on the policymaking in functions of the Boston School Committee I think that the three of you have helped us a lot in understanding first of all how the school committee is put together and how it deals with controversial issues and I think that this is indeed a very difficult one but I think it's been extremely instructive to all of us as to how the school committee has to intervene in place itself in the crux of the decision making process over these critical issues that are affecting all of our allies in the welfare of the city of Boston as well. So let me say thank you very much for coming and spending some time with us today actually oinks Hicks vice president of the school committee John new president of the Boston School Committee and William diamond of the first I have a chance to meet you it's a pleasure meeting with you as well. I'm sure I'll be hearing more about you in the future as we deal with this question of school closings.
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- Part one of a four-part series on the Boston School Committee and its policymaking role, featuring guests John Nucci, Boston School Committee president; Vice-president Shirley Owens-Hicks; and William Donlan, chair of the Facilities and Operations Subcommittee. Topics addressed include the school committee's structure and functions; Boston Public Schools personnel issues and teacher certification; controversy surrounding Superintendent Laval S. Wilson's consolidation plan; and committee members' support for Wilson despite disagreement with him on consolidation.
- 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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Guest: Owens-Hicks, Shirley
Guest: Nucci, John
Guest: Donlan, William
Host: Desmond, Charles
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- APA: Black Perspectives; The Boston School Committee and Educational Polices. Part 1. 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-345-84mkm4x7