In the third and final public forum in the series hosted by the Boston Foundation on school governance, the Foundation’s Education to Career Graduate Intern and Boston Public Schools Teacher Sakeenah Chapman moderated a conversation among four people currently active in the public school ecosystem as advocates, organizers and educators. The discussion was wide-ranging but driven by the issue of a potential switch in the Boston Public Schools from an appointed to an elected (or hybrid) school committee and focused on matters of equity and access.
From their varied vantage points, all were excited about such a governance change. As Latoya Gayle, Senior Director of Advocacy at Neighborhood Villages, said, “Currently the School Committee is a mystery to people in the community. They don’t know who the members are or how they got there. It seems there’s no way to hold them accountable.” She described a sense of disconnection between the appointed School Committee and its constituents.
Other panelists added that those constituents were sometimes blamed for “not caring.” But Lisa Lazare, State Director – Boston at Educators for Excellence, asserted, “Teachers are engaged with the School Committee. They will wait for hours and hours to get their chance to speak to them for three minutes.” Then typically it’s on to the next thing. Kwame Adams, Program Manager, Office of School Transformation for Boston Public Schools, compared it to a water balloon fight where you only get one balloon. Have fun. City Councilor Julia Mejia argued that parents too care about what’s happening at the School Committee level, but they don’t know how to engage. “Information is currency: Some have a lot, and some have none,” she said, suggesting one move to expand access to info for many people would be language equity—with translation available at public events and in published materials.
All agreed that the School Committee should go where the people are—both physically and figuratively—and view families and faculty as equal partners. “We need a mind shift there,” said Adams: “Parents and teachers bring the expertise.” Mejia expanded on that to say, “Parents should lead the change, not just react to a policy agenda set by the School Committee.” Lazare and Gayle emphasized the need for the School Committee to actively engage with the community outside of its scheduled meetings and not make family and teacher input feel like an “add-on.” If School Committee members were elected, they’d be keener on getting out in the community they argued. As Lazare said, “The whole push for an elected committee is an act of accountability.”
When asked what action or area they would have the School Committee prioritize—after the initial inclination to say, “Everything!”—the foursome coalesced around budgeting to shore up student literacy, and much greater support for teachers, including professional development on the pedagogy of literacy. Adams, who works with the bottom quartile–performing schools, said, “We need to quit the cycle of blame, and make sure instructional capacity is there to provide for students and live up to statements made around caring about equity.” Indeed, as Mejia said, “This is not just hard work but heart work. Unless we’re ready to lean into biases and barriers in the system, we won’t proceed.”
Welcome & Opening Remarks
Sakeenah Chapman, Graduate Intern, Education to Career, The Boston Foundation; Teacher, Boston Public Schools
Kwame Adams, Program Manager, Office of School Transformation, Boston Public Schools
Sakeenah Chapman, Graduate Intern, Education to Career, The Boston Foundation; Teacher, Boston Public Schools (Moderator)
Latoya Gayle, Senior Director of Advocacy, Neighborhood Villages
Lisa Lazare, State Director - Boston, Educators for Excellence
Julia Mejia, City Councilor, At-Large, City of Boston