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Considering how rarely sitting Greater Boston pols are beaten in elections, it is hard to deny that incumbent City Councilor Mark Ciommo is the person to beat in Allston-Brighton. With direct experience organizing with educators, administrators, parents, and students before and during his City Hall tenure, he knows his way around the school system as well. 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?
As a proud graduate myself of Boston Public Schools K through 12, I’m really fortunate to have been in a position to affect education in the City of Boston for the past 10 years that I’ve been a councilor. I think we’ve made great strides. I would say that there are some gems in the system, and there are also some failing schools, and we need to address that. We have an achievement gap that we have to tackle, and I think one of the best things we have done as a school system in recent years is go to what we call a weighted student formula, which gives weight to young people who have vulnerable circumstances in their life, whether it’s poverty, whether it’s disability, it could be autism. It becomes more child-focused, and I believe that’s been a great achievement that we’ve had over the past several years, and I believe we are bearing some fruit from that. We have the highest rates of graduation in the history of the system, we have great teachers, we have extended learning time now. These are all measures that I believe will actually impact our classroom and give kids the opportunity to maximize their potential, and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.
As far as Mayor Walsh, I think he’s done an outstanding job working with the school system, hiring Dr. [Tommy] Chang [as superintendent]. We’ve had some transition in leadership… we went through a very transformative time—in my first four years in office, [BPS] closed and merged 26 schools. In Allston-Brighton we merged the Garfield with [Mary Lyon Pilot High School], and now we have the Mary Lyon K-8 also, and it’s a feeder, it’s an inclusion model. We’ve seen great success with the inclusion model in the Boston public school system, still we have many challenges, and certainly many kids are getting the benefit of a great education. We have to make sure we identify those failings and address them to make sure we don’t lose any kids along the way.
In Allston-Brighton, I work with every single principal, and with every parent council for years. Even before I was elected. I was the former director for the Veronica Smith Senior Center, and I forged many partnerships with schools in the Allston-Brighton area. We had some great intergenerational programs.
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?
Allston-Brighton geographically is kind of connected to the city by just Commonwealth Ave, and sometimes we feel isolated in ways. Transportation becomes an issue. We want to continue to save money on transportation, and [with a] new student assignment program [implemented] three years ago, which gives more preference to kids who live close to schools, we will hopefully be able to save money. And we need the kinds of communities within schools where parents can really get involved. Many studies will show that a young student’s success is tied directly to a parent’s education, so we need to make sure we have these programs in place.
I want to continue to identify where we’re failing kids. And where we’re failing kids, we need to assess what we aren’t doing right to reach these kids and these families. In Allston-Brighton, most of the middle schools are level-three schools. I want to continue to focus on raising the level of their success. We’re going in the right direction, and I want to continue to work on these issues so I can leave our neighborhood in a better place than when I arrived. When I arrived in 2008, there was an exceptionally bad recession. As I mentioned, we closed or merged 26 schools. But we’ve made great strides since then.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE CANDIDATE AT MARKCIOMMO.COM
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