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Though there are three viable candidates gunning for the Boston City Council seat that touches East Boston, the North End, and Charlestown, there’s no denying that attorney Lydia Edwards stands out. Currently on break from her job as the deputy director for housing stability in the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development, the candidate’s credentials also include work as a Massachusetts Superior Court clerk, as well as a stint with Greater Boston Legal Services, where Edwards served as the equal justice works fellow. We asked her two questions about Boston Public Schools that we are asking all of the candidates.
What do you believe is the current state of BPS? What grade would you give them now? And what grade would you give them when Marty Walsh started four years ago?
I don’t know that there’s a grading system you can give because the schools vary so much, and my concern about standardized assessment of all the schools in general is that they don’t account for all of the differences the schools have. In East Boston, for example, we have one of the highest if not the highest rate of ELL students. Some schools in my district have taken on more students with disabilities and learning disabilities in general. So to give a standard that is across the board, I kind of reject that. I don’t know that I’m going to give a grade, but I will say I’m excited about what a lot of them are doing. I’m hopeful for our future and I think that a lot of our teachers are dedicated to making [our schools] the best institutions they can be.
In terms of when Mayor Walsh started, again I don’t like the grading system. I will say some of the things I do like coming from his administration [like a] commitment to universal pre-k. I think it’s a real support for our school system and that is the kind of standardized movement I would like to see more of. In terms of the ability to continue to improve and assess our schools, we need to be looking at all of the challenges they deal with. Graduation rates are one factor, but in many cases if you’re dealing with special ed or folks with disabilities who don’t graduate, a lot of schools get dinged in their assessments and I don’t think that’s fair.
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?
When it comes to improving schools, you need to be first assessing what they’re dealing with. Most of the schools, a lot of the issues come outside of the schoolhouse, and we need to acknowledge that in many cases there are schools dealing with so many more social problems that come into the school that, unless we’re really preparing and looking at them in a holistic way, that we’re not really giving them a fair shot anyway. I also think we need to be focusing on accountability and standards that are fair, and that make sure adults are held to a standard without punishing the kids. Again, I look at MCAS and these standardized tests, and I understand the goal of them was to have a measure, but I feel that they have become the goal instead of just a measuring bellwether. And when they become the goal, you can end up forfeiting things like the arts. I was in band, I had home ec, I had shop, I had life skills training, I had driver’s ed in my public school. All of that was for free, and I think when you’re dedicated just to a test you’re going to forfeit a lot of basic things.
I think our schools should be really investing in vocational training. We should be preparing kids to be on the college-bound track, but those who aren’t should [also] be on a career track, and our schools could be partnering more with either our unions or other vocational training schools to make sure that if you want to be a painter or an electrician that you can get the skill set.
In terms of money and funding, I know that we do have some of the higher spending on individual students, but I want to make sure a lot of that is going to the actual education process. I think we need to look at our budget—I am sad to see the shortfall that has happened, and I think that we should be looking at partner institutions—nonprofits in the area and universities—that are dedicated to education in making sure that they increase their programs with direct line items that benefit BPS and BPS students.
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