RECORDING BY STM PRODUCTIONS
There’s a good chance that you haven’t heard of Joseph Wiley. Though the studied actor riffs on issues in the manner of an articulate old hat policy wonk, the Roxbury native and current East Boston resident and health insurance customer service worker has little political experience. With that said, Wiley is the candidate who, by simply entering the race, triggered the mayoral primary that Boston deserves. We asked him two questions about Boston Public Schools that we are asking all of the candidates.
What do you believe is the current state of Boston Public Schools? What grade would you give them now? And what grade would you give them when Marty Walsh started four years ago?
I would echo what the superintendent [Tommy Chang] has said quite often, which is that we’ve made improvements but we have a very long way to go. I don’t think this is a situation where we can rest on any laurels about the improvements that have been made. The graduation rate has gone up to 72 percent as of a few months ago, which is the highest it has ever been in Boston, but the dropout rate has gone up slightly, so we still have 4.5 percent of our students who are dropping out every year. And 4.5 percent of 56,000 students is a large number. We can’t have that number of people dropping out every year and going out in the streets with slim or no job prospects. What are they doing? How are they providing for themselves? That can’t continue.
Half of the students who do graduate from Boston Public Schools and go on to college don’t graduate in six years. That’s unacceptable. The varying rates of high school graduation are astounding. At the three exam schools, 94 percent of those students graduate. It’s just 72 percent overall throughout the system, while some schools have as low as a 39 percent college [matriculation rate]. So my main thrust would be that there has to be parity throughout the system. We can’t have a two-tiered educational system where some of the students are pushed in the direction of what’s called general education, and other students are in the more advanced studies programs. For those who need extra tutoring or remedial work, then that has to be provided to them.
What specifically are you going to do to improve schools? How many are you going to visit? What programs would you add or subtract? How much more money, if any, do you think the schools need?
The politicians that I admire the most have entered office with specific goals in mind. There are issues they wanted to confront and attack, and those were their main focus. As mayor of Boston I would put education at the top of my list. In my first year I would visit every school in the City of Boston. On a daily basis, the mayor has to deal with some educational issue in some shape or form. I would do that.
In Germany they don’t have many labor disputes, because the unions are always at the table when decisions are made. We need a coalition of everyone that’s involved—parents, unions, teachers, principals, administrators, student representatives—to sit down and work through the reforms that we need to put in place. We don’t have decades—for the last 50 years [people have been saying they are] going to make our schools excellent. Well it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t know why, but I know that we don’t have another 10 to 15 years to be working on this. What I do know is that if you put everyone at the table doing what we need to do, we can make these necessary reforms within a mayor’s first term.
Kids from Wellesley and Brookline are no more intelligent than our children are in the City of Boston. It’s just that they’ve had all of these cultural advantages that our kids haven’t had. So we need to enact cultural programs that give our kids an equal opportunity to do that kind of enrichment as well. Whatever needs to be done, we’ll do it.
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