BOSTON MAYOR 2013
5:00 am
Wed October 9, 2013

A Closer Look At Walsh's Plans For Boston Public Schools

Mayoral candidate Marty Walsh.
Credit Sarah Birnbaum / WGBH News

It's been two weeks since the race for Boston Mayor narrowed to two candidates. City Councilor John Connolly and State Representative Marty Walsh are now laying out their platforms – from transportation to public safety. WGBH news has assigned reporters to the campaign trail...not to cover the sound bites of the moment, but to look deeper into the issues for the next five weeks. WGBH News' Sarah Birnbaum looked at Marty Walsh's recently released plans for Boston Public Schools.
 
Estafany Pujols dropped out of high school when she was 16-years-old.  She said her problems started when she got sick and had to miss school:
 
"I was a straight A student, I got behind, I was overwhelmed and I became extremely depressed," she said.
 
Pujos said she didn’t get the support she needed from her teachers, administrators or principal at Snowden International High School, a public school in the Back Bay.
 
"When I asked for help they seemed to always have an excuse of the reasons why they couldn’t stay after school so it was hard for me to catch up because of that," she said.           
 
At a press conference on Monday in Jamaica Plain Boston mayoral candidate Marty Walsh unveiled an array of proposals aimed at preventing students like Pujols from falling through the cracks.
 
For example, he would implement an online system that would alert parents, students and teachers when a child is at risk of dropping out.
 
“As mayor I will create an online system of students and parents to follow the progress and milestones connected to high school graduation," he said at the press conference. "A system that exists in other school districts.”
 
Walsh also wants more AP classes in the 11th grade and vocational and career courses in every high school.
Walsh said that education reform would be a top issue were he to become the city’s next mayor.
 
"As mayor of Boston I will work to ensure that every Boston public school has a good quality education and we will close the achievement gap," he said.
 
Paul Grogan is a former aid to former Boston mayors White and Flynn and the president of the Boston Foundation, a charitable organization that is a strong supporter of charter schools.  He said a lot of things are going well in this city, but the Boston Public School system isn’t one of them:
 
"We have a particular problem in the early grades where only about half of the youngsters who show up to kindergarten are really school ready according to a standard test that’s administered," he said. "Another key variable early in the process is third grade reading levels. Only one in three Boston youngsters is reading at grade level in the third grade, which is a real problem."
 
Another challenge is that half the schools in the city rank in the bottom of schools statewide.Sam Tyler heads the business backed Boston Municipal Research Bureau.
 
"The number of students in these underperforming schools is over 30 thousand.  The school department has the exam schools, which do very well, but too many of the high schools, middle schools and elementary schools aren’t performing well," Tyler said.
 
So parents like Rev. David Wright, of Hyde Park,  put in a huge amount of effort and time to make sure their kids land at good schools.

Wright’s middle child Micah has been to four different schools, and he’s not even 13-years-old.  And it’s all in an attempt to get him into advanced classes and eventually into a good high school.
 
"It’s a shame as a parent, you’re constantly trapped in this position where you have to roll the dice on your child’s education," Wright said.
 
Finally, Wright moved his son into a 6-12 charter school instead of taking chances trying to get into an exam school.
 
"We know he’s going to get a good quality education through the 12th grade. If we left him in the Irving, we’d be rolling the dice, once again, in an attempt to get him into a good school," he said.
 
A Boston Globe poll found that 42 percent of respondents with children were so dissatisfied with the city’s schools that they have considered moving away.
 
John Connolly has built his campaign around the state of Boston schools.  He’s known as the education candidate.  But Walsh said his opponent doesn’t have ownership of the issue.
 
"I have a strong record on education, what I’ve done as a legislator," Walsh said. "And we’ve been talking about that.  If you look at our plans, our plans are deep and concrete."
 
Walsh and Connolly’s positions on education aren’t very far apart.  And many of the measures they’ve embraced are similar to the ones President Barack Obama, Governor Deval Patrick and Mayor Menino have put forward.  Those include extending the school day, expanding charter schools, and giving public schools more autonomy in making decisions about staffing, budgeting, and curriculum.
 
One place where they differ slightly is when it comes to dealing with the teacher’s union.
 
Menino spent more than two years negotiating the teachers contract.  The Menino administration was insisting that time be added to the school day.  In the end, Menino couldn’t get the concession.  He signed the contract last year without it.
 
Walsh said he would reopen the contract to try to bring about a longer school day, rather than waiting for the contract to expire in 2016.
 
"I’m going to ask the teachers union to take a look at their contract.  Right now they’re in the middle of the contract.  And I’m going to ask them to talk about it now, not wait until the contract expires.  We need some concessions now.  We need some changes now so we can move the school system along."
 
Walsh implied he can get the concessions Menino failed to get and boasts that his labor ties leave him uniquely positioned to negotiate favorable deals to the city.
 
The teachers union hasn’t endorsed any candidate.
 
Both candidates have expressed hope that they can make a difference in solving the chronic problems plaguing Boston Public Schools.

For children, like Estafany Pujols, who dropped out of high school when she was 16, that day can’t come soon enough.