JOHN SHATTUCK: Good afternoon. Welcome. Welcome to the John F. Kennedy Library. I’m John Shattuck, the CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation. And on behalf of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, a number of whom are here tonight, and my colleague, Tom Putnam, the Director of the Library, I want to say how honored we are to be joined here today by Mayor Menino and School Superintendent Carol Johnson for this very special Kennedy Library Forum program on one of Boston’s greatest resources, our public schools.
Today’s program is the result of a special partnership with our city’s great community Foundation, the Boston Foundation. You all know it, and I’m very pleased to say that my friend and its peerless leader, Paul Grogan, is here with us today, and thank you, Paul, very much for your leadership. I also want to acknowledge the lead sponsor of our ongoing series of Kennedy Library Forums: Bank of America, along with Boston Capital, the Lowell Institute and the Corcoran Jennison Companies, as well as our media partners, the Boston Globe, NECN and WBUR, which broadcasts all Kennedy Library Forums, including this one, on Sunday evenings at 8.
So tonight we are here to celebrate the work of Boston’s wonderful new school superintendent, Dr. Carol Johnson -- it’s so nice to have you here with us today, and all that she and all her dedicated staff are doing every day to lead our public schools here in Boston. And here on Columbia Point we’re pleased to be the neighbor of the Deaver School and the McCormick School, and we’re privileged to offer all the public schools of Boston the many educational programs for elementary, middle and high school students that the Kennedy Library sponsors annually. The Mayor was telling me earlier that his two grandchildren, or two of his grandchildren, were here at one of our programs here yesterday. Thank you for honoring us in that way, Mr. Mayor.
We’re also very proud to support the professional development programs for Boston teachers that we sponsor here through an American History Grant that we receive jointly with the Boston Public Schools from the US Department of Education. But I think, above all, we’re very proud and honored to provide opportunities throughout the year for many thousands of young people from all over the city of Boston.
Before introducing Mayor Menino and turning the program over to him, I’d like to give special thanks to David Boeri, Boston’s own versatile media commentator, who will be our moderator here this afternoon. David, I’m sure many of you know, has won just about every broadcast journalism award that there is from Emmy Awards to the Edward R. Murrow Award to the Radio and Television News Directors Award. So, following his distinguished career in Boston, which led to all those awards, David has inaugurated a wonderful new program here on WBUR called Radio Boston, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about tonight’s forum the next time David goes on the air. So stay tuned for that. Thank you very much, David.
It’s now my special privilege to introduce to you a person who really needs no introduction in Boston. And I know many people say that, but I want to give him one anyway in order to recognize all that he’s done for the school children of our city. Mayor Menino has done, I think, more for public education than perhaps anyone else in this city. Here in Boston -- where the very concept of public education was first created and first founded many, many years ago -- he has been at the forefront year after year in an ongoing effort to create new and better educational opportunities for young people. And under his leadership, the improvement of public education in Boston has been recognized in a series of awards given by the National School Boards Association, particularly in the area of math and literacy and teacher training, and also with the nationally prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education, which Boston received in 2006. And through these awards, nine of Boston’s public schools, public high schools, have received national recognition. And the nation’s oldest school, our wonderful Boston Latin, has been cited as the best public high school in Massachusetts and number 19, I’m told, in the nation.
But as we know from the Mayor’s State of the City address this year, he has certainly not been resting on these laurels. He continues to challenge all of us to make a commitment to public education in our city. In January, he announced that Boston was launching a new community learning initiative to pool the resources of many of our city’s public institutions -- schools, libraries, community centers -- to create new educational opportunities for Boston’s school children.
Above all, the mayor has of course devoted great time and effort to recruiting the very best possible leadership for our city schools, and I know how proud he is and how proud all of us are of his choice of Dr. Carol Johnson as the Superintendent of schools. So to tell us about Boston’s new educational leader, it’s now my great privilege to introduce our Mayor. [applause]
MAYOR MENINO: Thank you, John. Keith Motley, it’s great to be here with you this evening -- the Chancellor of my alma mater. And the only reason I went there is because of Gerard Doherty, who is sitting back there. He convinced me I had to go, and we have a combination here. Not far from here in Dorchester, I think John mentioned, three of my grandchildren are receiving a great education at the Boston Public Schools. A little ways down the road, two of my other grandkids are at the Roosevelt School in Hyde Park. Next fall, our youngest, Thomas Michael Menino III will start his public school career as a K-1 student at the Roosevelt.
And public education remains a top priority for my Administration. Over the years, we have invested much attention, energy and resources. And it’s paid off. Under Superintendent Tom Payzant -- and thanks to many of you in the audience … I go right to this audience, a lot of you folks help us advance our schools -- we transformed a lagging school system into one that has captured nationwide attention, as John has mentioned, and acclaim over the last several years.
So, you see, we have a lot at stake at the school system. That’s why it’s important for us to find the best person to lead the Boston Public Schools. We found her in Carol Johnson. Dr. Johnson joined us just a few months ago. She says that she has hit the ground running. I say she’s done quite a lot of running to meetings also, and she had me at a meeting last Saturday morning with Reverend Gruber (?) at 8 o’clock in the morning, at his church, meeting a bunch of folks who have children in the Boston Public Schools. I think she’s met nearly everyone in Boston. I tell her to slow down a little bit. She’s trying to catch up with me. Tonight’s discussion is centered on the challenges that urban school systems face. We all know that our public schools are asked to take on more and more, and many of the students enrolled in our school system face many challenges. And that’s one of the things we have to acknowledge right up front. Public schools take on every challenge, take on every kid. We don’t discriminate against anyone. People have to understand that. A lot of other school systems out there, “We’ll take a few of these, a few of those.” We take everyone.
I ask all of you sometimes to go out to our International High School in Jamaica Plain. Kids from all over the world go to school there. It’s a wonderful atmosphere. That’s what public education is all about: Accepting everyone, to make sure every one of those children gets a good education so they can succeed in life. We all know resources have become scarce and funding more uncertain. I can go on for a half hour about that. Because we in government don’t understand how important funding is for education. When you think about it, in Massachusetts, we’re 48th in funding higher education. Just think about that. And No Child Left Behind has left every kid behind. I mean, just think about where we are. We’ve got to get smarter about how we fund education in America. How many kids graduate from engineering school, all those specialized schools? We need them, so we can compete in the world out there.
So I'll ask all of you, I hope that we can count on all of you in this room for your support. I know the Superintendent is going through some very difficult times. We just went through budgets, and we just had to lop off about $30 million, which was not easy. We’re trying to save some very valuable programs out there. It’s not easy, folks. And, to me, it’s about the future, it’s about the kids.
That’s enough about me talking right now, because I could get go on and on about the schools, because we’ve got to do more. I won’t take up more of your time, because this is an evening to listen and to learn from the Superintendent of our schools, Carol Johnson. She understands the challenges of school systems not just in Boston, but across our nation. I’m really thrilled to introduce our incredibly talented Superintendent of schools, Carol Johnson. [applause]
DAVID BOERI: Thank you, Mayor Menino. Thank you, John Shattuck. My name is David Boeri. I am the host of Radio Boston. We came across a couple of issues involving the Boston schools this year in our first six months. We devoted one hour to the subject of pilot schools, another hour was devoted to the subject of special needs education. It’s a pleasure to have you here.
CAROL JOHNSON: Thank you. I’m excited to be here. And I want to thank the Mayor for his generous words of welcome. Thank you. And he’s truly been a support since I’ve arrived. Thank you.
DAVID BOERI: I’m curious: 144 schools, how many have you visited now?
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, only about half. So I have a lot more to do. But the year is almost half over, so maybe by the end of the year.
DAVID BOERI: I first became familiar with Superintendent Johnson reading the remarks she made to teachers and principals on opening day. She made a statement: “Schools were created to meet the needs of children.” That is a statement that, on some levels, would be treated as sort of an obvious, throwaway line: “Schools were created to meet the needs of children.” On the other hand, the more you look at that statement, the more important it is. It seems to me it is a call to action.
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, it is because I think that what I’ve learned after traveling around to many schools is that we actually are meeting the needs of some of our children. The challenge is that we’re not meeting all the needs of all the children in the ways that we must if we are to be a really successful community. And so, I think it’s a real challenge.
There’re sort of two experiences in the Boston public schools: one where young people are getting the best education that this nation can offer -- public or private -- and another experience for students that are not staying in school, not passing some of the basic standardized tests, and not prepared to go on to post-secondary education. And I think that the reality is we won’t be able to export our way out of this or import our way out of this. I think we have to internally decide that we are going to develop the human talent that exists in this community, and we’re going to make sure that our children get what they need.
DAVID BOERI: I’m really curious about the postcards you’re sending back to Memphis and St. Louis Park. What are you telling them? Are you telling them how much you like the weather or how much you like the budget process up here?
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, actually, a team of about eight came up this week to visit some of our pilot schools, to see the successful practices that are going on in our pilot schools, to see if there are ideas that they might replicate. So I think that the real work in public education is trying to find ways to do things differently and, when we see success, making sure that we find ways to replicate that, to share that, across urban schools in America.
DAVID BOERI: So, tell us, share some of your journals with us or some of those postcards back to Memphis or St. Louis Park. What are your observations of Boston?
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, as I said, in some cases I see the best education that can be offered anywhere. I think one of the things that I’ve seen is that where you go to middle school matters, and that you can have a different experience in middle school in Boston public schools depending on what school you enter, which is troubling because it means that, at this moment in time, I can’t promise parents that they have an equal opportunity for their children to learn.
I think that I see students who are extraordinarily talented, have enormous capacity to achieve at very high levels, and I see teachers who go far beyond the call of duty to engage young people and educate them and have creative ideas about how to make a difference in their classrooms. I see students who are traumatized by experiences that they have had either in their community or through domestic violence, or children who see things far too early. And I see teachers who try to find answers to those questions and sometimes, because special education seems to be a place that answers, they go to special education when some of the challenges that students have are not necessarily about a learning disability, but about the kind of emotional wellbeing that needs to be nurtured and supported.
DAVID BOERI: I want to talk to you about special education in a moment, but you’re saying that the disparity really begins, it becomes more marked, at middle school?
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, I would say that the disparities we see certainly start as early as pre-kindergarten, which is why the Mayor has invested so much in trying to make sure that we give students a good and early start. Just a little promo: our Five and Five (?) program, which we talked about this week is really about that kind of investment, where we know that there are young children who come to school with a very extensive vocabulary because they’ve been read to since birth; they’ve had wonderful experiences, they’ve visited the museums. When they see a picture of a museum in a book, they know what that’s like, they know what that experience is like. We have another group of children who haven’t had those experiences, some who are learning English for the first time, some who speak non-standard English but have been here all their lives, and some who just haven’t had the kind of enriching experiences that most middle class and affluent families are able to give their children. So I think that the gap in achievement actually starts before middle school, and that the only way to work on that gap, I think, as the Mayor said, is to try to prevent the gap to begin with, which is why the early investments are so critical and so important. And I think even the economists would suggest that for every dollar spent in early learning, there’s a $14 to $17 return on investment. So I think those are really important.
But I do think that transitions are important for young people, and so whether it’s a transition from home to pre-kindergarten to kindergarten, the transition from fifth grade to middle school, the transition from middle school to high school, the transition from high school to post-secondary -- every one of those transitions require some special handling if we want young people to be successful, some special supports, some special safety nets for young people.
DAVID BOERI: You did your 100-day report and your agenda after your 100 days of listening -- a very ambitious agenda. Talk to us about some of the points: After school enrichment programs?
CAROL JOHNSON: Yes, I’m going to pass the hat in a minute and just collect all of your donations for that. [laughter]
DAVID BOERI: After school enrichment programs? The importance of those? Mayor Menino was talking earlier about just how much the schools are called upon to do.
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, I think that the state of Massachusetts has embarked on some work around extended learning experiences, and the early preliminary data from that suggests that students who are involved in those extended learning opportunities are in school more often, have better attendance. I think we’re seeing some results from that. So I think the traditional time of day that we’ve had for students and their learning is not enough. And yet we don’t want to necessarily give students more and more doses of the same. I think we have to give them different experiences.
Middle-class and affluent families routinely make sure their children have dance lessons, music lessons after school, they’re engaged in sports and athletics. They spare no expense to make sure that their children are engaged in productive, structured learning activities where they’re supervised, where they’re safe, where they get the additional learning outside the classroom. And while I recognize that that’s a huge expense for any community, I think that all of us who can should push both at the federal and the state level to give students those extended experiences, particularly for poor families, that they otherwise would not have if we didn’t provide it.
DAVID BOERI: After school enrichment. Also, and I thought this was interesting, off-campus studies at local colleges.
CAROL JOHNSON: Last week, Dr. Dance, who’s the Principal of the Channing School, I think she brought about 70 students to UMass-Boston for a visit, and I think that was specifically designed to get fifth-graders on a college campus early on.
DAVID BOERI: Fifth graders?
CAROL JOHNSON: Yes, because I think that for children whose families have never gone to college, children who may be even first generation high school students, early on we have to plant the seed that college is expected, that you will go to college. Now, I believe that every student will need some post-secondary experience. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a four-year college to become a teacher, but I think that unless our young people understand that in the economy, in the world that they’re entering, whether they become a police officer, air force mechanic -- whatever they become -- they simply have to have a skill and they have to have some knowledge that’s marketable in this economy.
And for most of them, they won’t have the same job for a long time. They won’t grow up in an economy where they can keep a job for 30 years, retire, and count on significant retirement or pension. They’re going to have to understand that they have to develop a set of skills and learnings that will help them get a job so that they can feed their families, keep their lights on, and pay health insurance.
And so I think it’s not too early to tell them that they have to plan for post-secondary. Now, I know I get some pushback from people who are plumbers, electricians, but even they have training. They have skills and even the person who’s your hair stylist or cuts your hair has had to go to some school to get training. And so, I say to students, “You will have to have some post-secondary experience no matter what your job is, and you should count on it. And if you decide to become a hair stylist, think about owning your own business, think about employing other people. Don’t see it as the end, see it as a step for a larger effort to make yourself independent and to make sure that you’re successful in life.”
DAVID BOERI: So setting high expectations is important to you?
CAROL JOHNSON: I think setting high expectations … I think that every single teacher who works with every single one of our children should see them as college-bound, whether they choose to be or not. That our job is not to ask which students will choose to go to college or which ones will choose to go to a two-year program. Our job is only to make sure that we create the capacity for them to get there. The choice ultimately becomes theirs, but I want our children to experience teachers who see them as college-bound. I think that’s the point. And unless adults in your community see you as having potential, you may underestimate your potential. Unless somebody encourages you to go on to college, you may not think of yourself as going to college.
DAVID BOERI: Do you think there are lower expectations for those students who come in who do not speak English well?
CAROL JOHNSON: I think that despite the fact that I think American public education has demonstrated over and over again that we can take poor kids and teach them to read, we can take non-English speakers and teach them to speak, read and write in English, we can take children who are raised by single moms and make sure they graduate from high school and go on to college -- despite the evidence that we have the capacity to do it -- I do believe that there are people who don’t believe that it can happen.
Now, it can’t happen if we are not there to support teachers and principals in schools. So I would never say it’ll happen magically. I think that there are people doing incredible work in schools, but the rest of us have to be there to make sure that we put the right investments and the right supports for young people and for the people who work most closely with them.
DAVID BOERI: That’s one of your priorities here: more programs, more programs for non-English speaking students that you identified last January.
CAROL JOHNSON: If you look at our dropout data, what you will see is that our non-English speaking students are dropping out prior to completing high school at faster rates than other students, particularly those non-English speakers who arrive late. And sometimes they’ve been in a refugee camp, maybe they’ve been in some war torn country and they arrive late. There are a lot of reasons that they arrive late, but I do think that it’s a mistake to think that we don’t have to invest in them. And I would go further and say we have to figure out how we invest in their parents, as well.
So our schools have to be hubs of a community’s work. And the Boston public schools had already invested prior to my coming in family outreach specialists. I think these people are incredibly important, as much for students but maybe more so for parents because those parents who come without a lot of resources and support need support, sometimes for the most basic skills, the most basic needs. So whether it’s about housing, or whether it’s about making sure that they have support for looking for employment, I think that the family outreach workers can play an important role beyond just the school, but broaden the connections, be a broker to other services and opportunities for young people. Our teachers are very busy. They may not always have the time to visit homes and do the kind of extra outreach that our most vulnerable parents need. But we do need a role, we do need a person in our most needy schools. In other schools that we have, it is less needed. We have parents showing up every day volunteering. Sometimes the teachers think too much. But, clearly, we have in our most affluent schools, we have a lot of parent volunteers. But it is in our schools where our parents are living on the edge that we have to have, I think, this position, this family outreach person, who sees it as their job just not to call parents about attendance -- which is still important -- but is also bridging the gap between home and school. And hopefully some of them are fluent in another language, so they can bridge the communications gap that exists between home and school for some of our students.
DAVID BOERI: You’re also talking about some of your strategic operating plans, which feature overhauling special needs programs. I’d like to talk about that in a moment -- also, marketing campaigns for schools of choice. Something else you said in that speech on opening day which struck me was -- and this is, again, it goes to what the Mayor was talking about. We see potential where others have long given up hope. It’s wonderfully ambitious, and now, instead of talking about the bad weather, we talk about the budget. You wanted a four percent increase in your budget. The four percent would have translated, by my math, to about a $33 million increase. Now, in today’s Globe there’s a story about a $31 million cut in the budget. They didn’t deal you a good hand.
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, I think that, first of all, we projected some increase already in the budget based on numbers that we’ve gotten from the city. It’s not sufficient at this point to bridge the gulf between where we are in revenue and where we are in expenditures. I notice that both, I think UMass-Boston and Harvard, in the paper today, increased their tuition. Is anybody surprised that we don’t need to as well? So I think that this is about the fact that to do the same thing costs more. Everybody who fills up their tank at the gas pump understands that. Everybody who gets their Enstar bill understands that. People understand that what it costs to do business from year to year is just more, even when you do the same.
In our case, we don’t get to do the same, because if we do the same we will still have too many students dropping out without a high school diploma, we’ll still have too many students entering UMass-Boston not prepared to do college-level work, we will still have too many students who don’t understand the importance of taking high level, more rigorous courses that we want to offer. So I think that this investment is really critical to our success.
I suspect that this year the corrections budget for the state of Massachusetts will go up. But there will never, ever be enough police in the world to police people unless we educate them first so that they know how to live as citizens in a democracy. [applause]
DAVID BOERI: We’re told some of the options you’re faced with -- terrible options -- closing schools, eliminating summer schools, pre-school teachers’ aides.
CAROL JOHNSON: I’m sure there will be a fight about that.
DAVID BOERI: Help being cut, longer school days for the troubled schools, teacher training.
CAROL JOHNSON: None of these choices is great choices. They’re all difficult choices to make. I do think we have to do business differently, though. I never say money is everything. So I think that part of the work is to make sure we’re using the public’s money as efficiently and as effectively as possible. So where we see we can do a better job on efficiency, we should do that. We should look for ways.
One of the ways that we’re doing that this year, and hopefully that’s in the budget, is to really make sure that instead of warehousing all the supplies and materials that we needed in the past, that we do some just-in-time delivery. Technology certainly facilitates that. It keeps us from warehousing materials, buying things well in advance that we may end up not needing. And so, I think we can create a more efficient way of delivering materials and supplies by counting on vendors to do that by the use of ordering technology and purchase orders. So I think there are some efficiencies on the operations side that we can certainly realize. The Mayor certainly has asked us to look at the issue of transportation. Clearly, gasoline prices are going up at an accelerated rate. I think parents value choice and they want us to make sure that they have a choice of where their children go to school. And I think at the same time we have an obligation to change our schools so that people don’t feel like there are winners and losers depending on which school you get.
DAVID BOERI: Can you find enough cuts in administration and efficiencies in your budget, and maybe even bus schedules, so that you don’t make those cuts in classrooms affecting students?
CAROL JOHNSON: I don’t think that we can find enough cuts administratively based on the positions that we have and the cuts that we’ve made so far, because we’ve probably identified about a half of the cuts -- close to $15 million -- and those cuts have come from the central office, primarily. So I don’t think we can. I think that we do need to depend on our partners for some of the after-school programming, some of the arts and music programs that we want to have to enrich our children’s lives; some of the middle school athletic programs so that our children are engaged in very meaningful ways. Johnny Caliperi, who’s the coach for the University of Memphis, and he is from Boston …
DAVID BOERI: From Massachusetts, that’s right.
CAROL JOHNSON: When I came to Boston, he called to wish me well. But when he was in Memphis, he really worked to put a strong middle school program in place with Memphis City Schools that really focused on both academic achievement and athletics. And I think he realizes that if he gets players who can’t meet NCAA requirements, he’s not going to be a good coach. I think recently there was an article about the rate of graduation for athletes. So I think that it’s in the best interest both of the higher ed community and the athletic community to want to see students do well, because they really won’t be able to compete if they’re not educated well.
DAVID BOERI: Sounds as if you’re not cutting back your ambitions, but you’re lobbying for that money to make up the deficit?
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, this is not just my job. This is our job. [applause] If I thought for a moment that I had to do this all by myself, I wouldn’t have come. [laughter] The mayor promised me that this was a community that was committed to its children. And so I’m looking for the community to be committed to its children. And I think that we all win when our children win. We all do.
Last week, the Private Industry Council had a meeting where they invited five students who had dropped out of high school to come back and speak. All of them were young men, four African-American students and one Latino young man. And if you look at our data you’ll see that the highest drop-out rates are represented by that panel of young men. And they talked about what they needed from us to be successful in terms of relationships with teachers, in terms of opportunities -- not necessarily going back to the same kind of schools that they left. And I think that they needed mentors who understood, who look like them, and who understood their circumstances.
In one case, one of the young men -- and these are young men, 17 to 20 years old -- he’s a young father, and he needs somebody to coach him through this experience. So I think that our young people can tell us a lot about what they need, and then our job is to really make sure that we provide the safety net and support, because for those five young men of color, 17 to 20 years old, without a high school diploma, they’re going to be ill-equipped to get a job from anybody unless they get a high school diploma. So we don’t really have the luxury to allow them to just wander the streets. We need them in school. We need to educate them. We need teachers who care about them. And we need leadership in our schools’ great principals who are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure they get through.
DAVID BOERI: You’ve talked a lot about the gap, the gap in scores, the gap in achievement, the need to improve those scores and to make people capable not only of graduating, but then doing well in college. You also talk about the need for bigger budgets. In terms of marketing, it seems you’re reaching out and you want to reach out with a message of how good at least some of the Boston schools are to pull people in. You have a declining school population, about 10 percent in recent years, about five years, if I’m not mistaken. That would bring more people to push for bigger budget for the school, to fight for it, that would bring in middle class parents who are now deciding whether they leave the city or send their kids to private schools or to charter schools or elsewhere. You’ve identified innovation as the way both to decrease that gap and also to appeal to other people who have options, who are thinking of sending their kids elsewhere. What do you mean by innovation, and what is your idea of a model of innovation?
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, I think that our marketing strategies are to all parents, because I think that -- and I do say the monopoly is over, because I think that poor parents can make other choices today. In the past, it was affluent parents who could go to private schools and afford it. I think in the economy we’re in, poor parents can go to charter schools, they can go to pilot schools, they can go to private schools, sometimes with scholarships, they can go to Metco. There are so many choices that families have today, and even some families choose to home school. So I think that, given that competitive marketplace, we have to encourage students to choose us, and we have to invite the parents that live across the street to want to choose us over all the other array of choices that they may have. I think this probably started back when a lot more women went to work; mothers decided that they had to choose which pre-school their kids were going to or which babysitter they were going to use. Before that time, people kind of assigned, you know, you’re assigned based on your address or what zone you lived in. I think you have a whole generation of young mothers who spent a lot of time researching where they were going to send their kids to even Head Start or child care or whether the grandma was going to babysit. And so now they enter school, they want that same level of input to where their children go to school. And I don’t think they’re going to sit back and just accept an assignment because we give it to them. Now, having said that, how do you encourage a diverse group of people to choose us? And I think some of it is about making sure that we have great teachers, we have great principals -- some of them are in this audience today -- who understand the marketplace we’re in, and who invite parents in as co-partners in this endeavor. We have to look outside of the traditional way we do business -- international baccalaureate is one of the suggestions, because I think that it is the highest diploma that you can get in the world.
And I think our young people have to be exposed to an international community. So, for example, I was in a teacher’s classroom last week at the Dickerman, and this teacher had spent her summer in China. And she now has an exchange program between her students and the students in China. They’re writing each other on a regular basis. I went to the superintendents’ conference this year. I went to a session where a Chinese group is willing to send teachers to Boston to teach Mandarin, to teach Cantonese. In exchange, they’ll pay the salary. I have to pick up and find a place for them to live. No small task in Boston, but nonetheless trying to figure out ways that we can expose our children to the international community that they’re going to inherit. Because the companies that are going to be hiring them want to know that our children have had more of an … Now, I personally think that Boston is better positioned than many, because we do have an international community, but we have to do the connections piece. Mayor Menino’s wife, Mrs. Menino, went to Rwanda last week to set up a new school, a new elementary school. One of our schools, the Trotter Elementary, has already volunteered to be the school that could be pen pals with that school that she helped to set up.
So I think that we have a lot of young people in our school who are from all over the globe. We have to help them see a connection not just between Dorchester and Roxbury, but between the globe that they’re going to inherit and how well they have to be prepared to live in it. So I think that innovation is about making sure our children get the very best. It’s about making sure our children understand what the future is, how competitive it is. It’s also about thinking differently about how we govern and manage schools, how we give autonomy, how we give flexibility. But it’s also about how people are held accountable for results, because, at the end of the day, we all have to be accountable for how children do for our graduation rates, for our performance on MCAS; it’s just that if we only measure MCAS, if testing students is all we do, I don’t think any nation can survive if it relies solely on testing and not great teaching. [applause]
DAVID BOERI: This sounds like marvelous innovation. Now, you have people, clearly there is a demand for innovation. There are about 20,000 students in charter schools across the state. There’s a waiting list of another 20,000. In Boston, you have pilot schools. And you’ve given the proponents of pilot schools a lot of hope. You’ve spoken favorably about them. You’ve expressed a desire to have more pilot schools.
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, I think when a group of teachers, educators, principals, come together, and they decide that they want to transform how learning takes place and they’re willing to be held accountable for results, we should give them a chance to try and make the changes, to self-correct. Putting a name on something doesn’t make it great. So if I call something a charter school or I call something a pilot school or I call something a new high school, a new small high school, that’s not what makes it great. What makes it great is that teachers are given some latitude in how to support young people, parents are actively engaged in the work, principal leadership has a chance to make some different choices. And I’ll never say that there’s anything perfect or magic about any of them. We have pilot schools, as you know, from the high school evaluations that are outstanding. And we have a couple of pilot schools that require some intervention on the part of the school district. And I think that I have a responsibility to intervene where I don’t see that success taking place.
I went to visit the Neighborhood House Charter in Dorchester. It was a great school. But I went right down the street to the Murphy School, and I can tell you, Murphy has a long waiting list, there are parents clamoring to get in, and I saw extraordinary things happening in that school. It’s not a pilot, it’s not a charter, it’s just a regular old public school. I’m not suggesting that flexibility and autonomy might not be essential components. They’re not sufficient components to make excellence happen. Excellence will happen when great teachers care, when great principals work hard to bring teachers together around a common mission that invite parents in.
When we decide that black kids, poor kids, Latino kids, kids who can’t speak English, kids whose moms can’t speak English, when we decide that we have a responsibility to educate them all, regardless of where they come from -- and we believe that we have the capacity to do it and that teachers are supported to do their jobs well. [applause]
DAVID BOERI: I was out at the Boston Community Leadership Academy (inaudible) very impressed, very high, what, 80, 85 percent of those kids get free lunch, extraordinarily high minority percentage going there. The principal says that the key to that school is autonomy of staffing, of budgeting, and curriculum -- whatever you call it. Do you want to see more schools where there is that autonomy?
CAROL JOHNSON: I want to see more schools where there is excellence. [applause] And I want to see more schools that have equity, where I don’t have to worry about whether your child will get music or the arts, where I don’t have to worry whether your child will have great science experiments. You know, I got a letter from a student this week, and it was a letter from a student who had participated in our science fair last week at Northeastern. And so this student said, “This is the second or third year I’ve participated in this science fair, and every single time I participate I wait for them to call my school’s name so that I can come up on the stage. They never have, and they didn’t again this year. And then I watched all the other schools who had professors from MIT and Harvard helping them with their science experiments, and I realized that part of the problem is my school didn’t have that kind of help. So, in the future, could you just make sure my school gets the help that all the other schools that are winning on the stage get, so that I can come on the stage and, after all my hard work in science, I can win a prize at the science fair.” How powerful. The kids know about inequality. And they will write you and tell you about it.
DAVID BOERI: We’re going to turn to the audience for questions, but let me ask you, there were 24 applications for pilot schools, 24 applications, in January. The unit contract calls for seven …
CAROL JOHNSON: Up to seven.
DAVID BOERI: Thank you. Up to seven. It says …
CAROL JOHNSON: At least seven, I’m sorry, at least seven.
DAVID BOERI: And the way the union president says it is …
CAROL JOHNSON: Up to seven.
DAVID BOERI: He says up to seven, and he also says that they voted to allow consideration. Would you like to see 24? Are you hoping to see the rest of the seven? Would you push for those schools?
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, first of all, I’ve looked through some of the applications, not all of them, and, again, I think that what I’m looking for is excellence, what I’m looking for is great schools. Not everybody who has an idea has an idea about how to do it. [laughter] I don’t want to mislead parents, and I don’t think that the Center for Collaborative Education wants schools that aren’t of high quality, either. And so, I think that what we want to make sure is people want to do the best job for children. And as we read through them, now, I think about four of them are expansions in the sense that they are grade levels. So a school wants to add up to 12th grade; they’re K-8, they want to go 9-12. There’s a school that has 9-12, they want to go down and pick up 6-8. So I don’t consider those new pilots, personally.
DAVID BOERI: None of them are conversions, Superintendent.
CAROL JOHNSON: They are expansions.
DAVID BOERI: But part of the idea of the pilots is that there is accountability, as Ms. Bonham says over in Brighton, “If I’m not doing the job, get rid of me.” But will you push for more experiments, for research to show you how you might be able to innovate with accountability?
CAROL JOHNSON: I think we should definitely push for more … Here’s why we have to experiment. We have to experiment because the way we’re doing it isn’t working for all the children. If everything worked well for everybody, we might not feel a need to try new and different things. So one of the applications is for a group of teachers who have come together, for example, and they want to work on the dropout prevention problem. And, clearly, if I could retrieve a thousand kids who have dropped out, it would improve my $33 million problem, and it would improve education for those kids. But I just want to emphasize: we have great schools in Boston that are not going to write a pilot, but they’re in high demand. I’m not suggesting that every school has to be a pilot to be great. I’m just saying that schools, if they want to come together, if they think that that flexibility will give them some better chance, fine. But I have principals also calling me saying, “I lose some of my kids every year because they want to go to the advanced work class. I think I can provide enriching activities for them with just a little seed money. Help me figure this out.” So I would argue that maybe for that school, the answer to their question isn’t about necessarily autonomy and flexibility -- because they’ve got thousands of parents already engaged -- but what they want to make sure is that they have enough resources to offer the kind of enriching programs.
I think we have to have a portfolio of opportunities for young people. There’s a writer by the name of Daniel Pink, and he said the prefix for the 21st century is multi -- multidisciplinary, multi-opportunities, multi-cultural, multi-media, multi-lingual. It’s because, I think, that there isn’t one school, one answer for every community, for every child. There has to be a diversity of opportunity. And we have to keep experimenting, which is why the pilot schools provide a window of opportunity.
And we also have to make sure that we empower people if they’re willing to do whatever it takes. But in public education, we do have to be concerned about the issues of equity and making sure that there’s a place for the student who’s deaf, who’s autistic, the group of students who have severe mental impairment. As the Mayor said, we accept all who come, regardless of race or income or religion or whatever background they have, and our job is to make sure we tailor the right individual response for them so that even the student who has severe special ed needs can be transitioned into some kind of independent living. I think that’s what our job is.
DAVID BOERI: Let’s turn to some questions from the audience. There are two microphones here. Go to either microphone, if you have a question.
Q: You all can come, too. I know you’re laughing because you knew I’d be first. Hello, Dr. Johnson.
CAROL JOHNSON: How are you?
Q: I’m great. I’m going to be brief. My daughter grew up in greater Boston colleges. She worked at two universities for the summer. She was actually offered a job at the science program at Harvard based on going on a field trip and asking a question. So my point is I really think that we are under-utilizing our neighbors that use up a lot of our space in our Boston neighborhoods. I know people are waiting to help our children, and I know that until we take the attitude that I took in middle school when my daughter was being bullied by a student who was a special needs student, I went to the Federation of Children With Special Needs to learn to be an advocate for children with special needs, even though my child was not one of them. My attitude is we are raising these children, not just the individual mother or father. So I’m asking again, when are we going to make use, like I did, as a single mother with a very fixed income, raise a child that’s now, after six months at Bentley College, been asked to be an admissions fellow at Bentley College and is on a full scholarship. She is the way she is because I raised her on each and every one of these six campuses. And we’re wasting time, and we’re wasting money, if we don’t use these colleges.
CAROL JOHNSON: Mrs. Cash, first of all, I want to congratulate your daughter and you on her success. Mrs. Cash’s daughter was one of our student school board members, and so she’s been back also to speak to the school committee about concerns and participated in some of our dropout forums. The Mayor did set up a program called Step Up, and it’s a program that’s designed to ask five of the top universities in this city to each adopt two schools that are part of our Superintendents’ schools. So these are the schools that the state has designated as part of our Commonwealth priority, schools that are in need of extra support.
And Karen Daniels is the person who is working with that program. She was a former administrator in the school district, and I think that if you would ask any of the principals and headmasters at the Superintendents’ schools, what they would tell you is that they are getting support from those five universities -- UMass-Boston, Harvard, Boston University, Boston College and Northeastern. So I think that they are stepping up to the plate. But I would also say that we do have partnerships with Wheelock, with Lesley, with some of the other colleges around our teacher education efforts. And so I wouldn’t want to just say that those are the only ones. And, certainly, the Benjamin Franklin Institute and Bunker Hill have been helping us to broaden our work around dual enrollment, getting students on campus to take at least one college course before they come to college.
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, I think that one of the things that the colleges also need is this: they need -- and I realize there is a revenue stream problem -- but they need additional support for the dual enrollment tuition coverage so that those opportunities are open. And I know Paul Reville is here so I know he hears my voice on this, but I think that they need additional support to expand the kinds of opportunities you’re talking about.
DAVID BOERI: Sir?
Q: Thank you, Dr. Johnson. It’s wonderful to have you here in Boston. And as the son of two educators -- my dad was a math professor, my mom an elementary school teacher -- it’s wonderful.
CAROL JOHNSON: Did you become a teacher?
Q: In my spare time I do cultural competency. I do training as part of my work.
CAROL JOHNSON: That’s okay, as long as you empathize with us.
Q: Empathize and support. I wanted to talk to you about the issue of mentoring, because I think that’s critically important. And you mentioned the five young men and how they needed mentors. And partially you said mentors who look like them. I have two daughters. And I certainly would be interested in mentoring young men like this, but I also have experienced it’s very important, both for me as a mentor and a protege, to work with those who are different from myself across gender and cultural lines. I just wonder if you would speak to your experiences with that, both as a mentor and a protege. I think it’s very important that people have a variety of different perspectives in their mentoring lives.
CAROL JOHNSON: I absolutely agree. The students of color in the Boston public schools are about 79 to 80 percent. The teaching workforce is about 33 percent. So that means that two-thirds of the teachers and educators that our students will engage with won’t look like them. It doesn’t mean that they can’t learn from anybody. I think the point here is that they are caring adults, and I think it’s important also for students of all races to have experiences with adults from different backgrounds.
I was reflecting, however, that -- and it wasn’t necessarily just people who look like them. The mentors that Neil Sullivan and the PIT Group had connected them with were people who actually had had similar experiences, but had survived, had been resilient against the odds. And so they were able to share their personal journey and story about how they thought about dropping out, about how they had to stay in and finish school. A lot of young people think that they’re the only ones that have ever gone through that experience that they’re having. They don’t know that other people have struggled and achieved. So I think it’s important that they have a connection with people who can show them that they can get there despite their family circumstance. Thank you for your question. And Neil is right there, and I’m sure he’ll get your name, so that you can mentor someone.
Q: Hi. My name is Lily Lockhart, and I’m currently a graduate student in education policy, and I was formally a New York city public school teacher, and I also have a sibling who grew up going to special ed and is wheelchair-bound and has development disabilities, so I know the point of kind of seeing things from all sides. And first off, I’d love to thank you for so many of your words, because it is inspiring to hear somebody saying a lot of these things in a position of power. At the end of your talk, you spoke a little bit about having a place for every child and having a place for the autistic child and the deaf child and children with all kinds of special needs.
And one thing that I’ve realized or been told about -- largely anecdotally -- is that, primarily with charter schools but also with some of the other new schools that are new innovations, that the admittance criteria and what they’re allowed to do, of who’s admitted, is a little slippery, particularly with charter schools, and some schools have used it to basically only admit the kids who are going to be easy, who are not special needs students, who are not going to be an extra challenge, who do not have substantial achievement gaps. So there are a lot of really great innovations and there are a lot of schools who are still taking in those kids who are going to be more difficult. But there are also a lot of schools that I think are really innovative, but they’re only taking the kids at the top of the class. And so, I’m just wondering if you could comment on that or any plans that you have in response to that in your own experience?
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, I think in the early development of the pilot schools in Boston, from what I understand, they did have lower percentages of special education and non-English speaking students. I think that the district has worked really hard to try to create opportunities particularly for special needs students to be assigned to the pilot schools if their parents choose and want them to go here.
In some of the low incidence population -- and when I use the term low-incidence I mean there are some special needs where we don’t have huge populations of students. So students who are blind represent what I would call a low incidence, and even some students who are deaf or hard of hearing are low incidence. We don’t have large numbers. So we don’t have a deaf program in every school; we don’t have a blind program in every school. We may have several autism programs throughout the district, but not necessarily in every school. So, to some extent, we can concentrate some services and deliver them better when we have a cohort of students with that same sort of limited disability. But in the broader array of special education services, and Boston has about 11,000 students who are special needs, I think that those families should have the same opportunities. And I put wheelchair students in that same category.
But we have examples. I went to the Rogers Middle School in Hyde Park, and I have to say that it is one of the best inclusion models that I have ever seen. The principal, (inaudible), just does an extraordinary job of inclusion with kids who have disabilities into the regular classrooms. So I think that we need to replicate models like his, have him coach and tell others how he’s done that in order to make sure that the students you’re describing have an equal opportunity to learn. We also have to make sure that all of our schools are great schools, and we have to intervene intentionally when we don’t see the kind of results that we need to see for all children.
DAVID BOERI: Let me ask, if I may, just a quick question because this is rather important, and it has to do with special needs. You’ve identified a problem in special needs students that might speak to this issue of the disproportionate numbers of minorities to whites in schools. You identify a disproportionate number of black boys …
CAROL JOHNSON: And Latino.
DAVID BOERI: And Latino boys, who are labeled as special needs students, who you believe, and evidence indicates, are not special needs, but behavioral problems. Is that right?
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, I think that I won’t make a judgment without, I think, further analysis of an individual child’s IEP. But I do believe that -- and this is not a Boston problem, this is a national problem -- we have some children who have had very difficult life circumstances, and they may be reacting to those life circumstances in what would be the normal way anybody would act to the amount of stress and trauma. But they’re pushing back at the system, and they’re disrespectful, they’re rude, they haven’t learned the social skills that they’re going to need to have to survive in America. They’re not going to be able to keep a job with those behaviors.
And we’ve got to make sure that they don’t interrupt the learning of other children. And also that they learn because for some of them -- they’re interrupting other people -- but they’re also interrupting their own learning. The problem is we can’t just warehouse them in a classroom and say, “You get to stay here for five years, and we hope you get better,” because that’s not the answer to the question. We’ve got to bring them along, and we’ve got to help them learn how to behave and how to do well.
I see Dr. Morrow in the audience, and he’s a Principal at the Warren Prescott. And a couple of Friday nights ago I went to an art showing that he had in one of the neighborhood community centers, and it was all student art work that they were selling and displaying for a fundraiser to be able to keep a portion of an art teacher. [applause]
But the point I want to make about this is, he had a young woman -- and I won’t use her real name, I’ll call her Susan for the sake of this discussion -- but Susan had been really a holy terror at the school the year before she was a seventh-grader. And he told me how he had spent endless hours with discipline with her. When I came in to go through the exhibit, you know, I had written down several paintings that had been done that I wanted to at least explore purchasing. By the time I got back around for my second visit, Susan had done four of these paintings. They were already purchased by other people. Every one of them was over $100. And Susan’s mother said to me, “I never knew she was an artist. I never knew she could paint anything. I’ve never seen her paint anything.” Her work was extraordinary. So I say that to say part of the work has to be, with these kids who are disaffected for whatever reason that we’re not sure about, we better find a hook that keeps them engaged in school.
When I was at the Edwards -- the Mayor and I were over there because Fidelity gave them a whole lot of music instruments, just wonderful instruments, all these kids wanted to play a band instrument. I mean, if you looked in the faces of these kids, they were so excited to see all these instruments on the stage. One young man played a wonderful solo on the trumpet. And afterwards I talked to the band director, Mr. Rivera, about what a wonderful solo he had played, and he said, “You know, he’s special needs. He’s in a special ed program.” He said, “But he’s brilliant, brilliant on the trumpet.”
So I think what we have to think about is that, as I think Howard Gardner would say, our children have multiple intelligences, and we have to tap into where they’re most intelligent if we want to engage them in ways that will keep them in school and help them graduate from high school. And it won’t always be in reading and math. And that’s why it’s so important to broaden the scope of what we define as learning beyond just a multiple choice test -- and not that I’m opposed to them, I’m only saying it won’t be enough. [laughter]
Q: Good evening, Dr. Johnson, Mr. Boeri. My name is Daniel Blanco. My name is Darlene Charles. We’re AP government politics students at the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science.
CAROL JOHNSON: Welcome.
Q: You mentioned the case of the student at the science fair, the fact that he noticed that there was a type of inequality and that he wasn’t getting notice. Me, as a student, an AP government politics student, we see that our class has a lack of resources in terms of not getting the resources that we need to achieve the 5 on the AP exam. We don’t see that there’s any approach of getting other types of professors like other AP classes do. My question is how do you approach this situation of inequality and lack of resources in some of the AP classes?
CAROL JOHNSON: When you say lack of resources, are you talking more about materials for advanced placement courses?
Q: And, like, professors.
CAROL JOHNSON: People coming in to broaden your understanding about a particular topic?
Q: And updated books, yeah.
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, two thoughts I have, and thank you for your question. We are trying to broaden the number of students taking advanced placement classes because those classes, actually, students who do well in advanced placement tend to do better in college. And not all of our high schools offer advanced placement, although I think that all of our high schools should offer either some kind of advanced placement or honors course, because I think at every high school, no matter what neighborhood they're in, no matter who’s there, there are some kids who could benefit from more rigorous course work.
Michael Contompasis, the interim Superintendent who’s here today, worked with the school district prior to my coming on a grant that will help us to expand, particularly at the John D. O’Bryant, the advanced placement work. But I do empathize with the problem that you’re surfacing, because I think that one of the challenges of the budget shortage is the ability to make sure that a) you have in your hands all of the materials that you're going to need to broaden your opportunities. -- one of the things that I’ve seen teachers do, although I acknowledge that it takes somewhat more time, is they do use the public library, and we have a great public library system here, but they use the public libraries as supplemental to particularly the original material sources that you need to look at in advanced placement. So if you write your names down before you leave, I’ll try to touch base with you after this about your situation in particular. And I think we are proud of you for taking advanced placement courses, because it’s more rigorous work, it’s harder work, you have to give up a lot of nights when you want to be with your friends to get the homework and the writing done. But I think it will prove to be very valuable for you in the long run. Did you have a question, too?
Q: I just want to say that they were thinking about dropping the course, AP government and politics, versus AP European -- and we were just very concerned, because politics is what informs the youth more to get involved, and I was just trying to understand how could we better inform the students and the teachers and the principals that this is an important course?
CAROL JOHNSON: And I encourage you to be activists, to go to your headmaster and say that you hope that they’ll keep the course. But in Memphis I did require all of the high schools to offer a minimum of two advanced placement classes, because I felt that we did have to have a more rigorous set of coursework. The Mayor has asked us as part of his State of the City address to double the number of students participating in advanced placement courses. Today, we have about 3,000 students who are taking advanced placement courses, but we only have close to 1,000 that are actually taking the AP test. So one of the things I want to work on is also making sure that once they take the course, they take the test and they get some financial support to take it. I think the state does provide a little -- I’m not sure -- I know some states do underwrite the advanced placement test so that students don’t have to pay for it.
Q: Thank you.
Q: It’s sort of jumping in, but it’s tied to what they’ve had to say.
CAROL JOHNSON: And you’re a teacher at the John D. O’Bryant.
Q: I’m a teacher at the John D. O’Bryant.
CAROL JOHNSON: Are they your students?
Q: I’ve had Darlene in the past. I teach biology there and primarily 9th graders. And I have to speak for my school. I’ve been at the John D. O’Bryant for 23 years -- it was Boston Tech. And I also spent 10 years at South Boston High in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. The John D. O’Bryant is one of the city’s exam schools. It is the third-ranked one. We have Latin School, Latin Academy, then the O’Bryant. For reasons that are not necessarily anyone’s particular fault, the John D. O’Bryant has not been supported at the same level that the Latins have. The Latins have outside resources that we do not have. However, the position of being sort of the step-sister is a difficult one. Children regard being at the O’Bryant as, “Oh, that’s where you go when you didn’t make the real exam schools.”
I’ve spoken to Mayor Menino about this in his office, I’ve spoken to Contompasis in his; you knew me as Marsha Poindexter many years, Dr. Contompasis. And, yeah, we need stuff that we don’t have, and you guys know it. You’ve been there, you’ve looked at it. I had a gas gauge in my room that was broken for 22 years. That’s an unreasonable length of time. Only half of our rooms have windows. Of those windows, half of those you can’t see through. We have accreditation issues right now, and you’re aware of those issues. This school has some of the best kids in the United States of America. They are fantastic students. And I’d like to see more support for them.
CAROL JOHNSON: Thank you. [applause]
Q: My name is Douglas Baker and I want to speak on behalf of the terrible students, the behavior problems. I work in the film industry, and last fall I was supervising about a dozen young men from Roxbury and Mattapan and Dorchester and most of them went to Boston English or Madison Park. And none of them believed that their education was going to be of any value for them to find a job. And they knew they were never going to be successful. And we worked in Boston Common once, and three of the kids with me were from Roxbury and none of them had ever been there. They lived in Roxbury all their lives, and they’d never been to Boston Common and they couldn’t tell me where the State House was. I asked them if they could name a single person running for president, and they said they couldn’t. I said, “Don’t you ever think about that?” And they said, “Well, I didn’t know there was an election.” And they don’t have a chance. I know advanced placement is really important, but these kids, I mean, it’s got to be a lot of work. They’re like trying to stay alive. I would pick them up and drop them off at night, and I didn’t really take it too seriously, you know, they were worried about going here and going here. And like I would fool around a bit and I’d wave to some people and they’d duck down because they thought we were going to get shot. And that was real. They thought they were going to get shot.
CAROL JOHNSON: Well, first of all, let me say that, how is it that our students would think about a career in engineering if nobody they knew was an engineer? How would our students think about being a journalist if they knew no one who wrote for the paper? How is it our students would understand the job of a banker if nobody they knew used the bank or nobody they knew worked at the bank? So that’s where learning is more than about what happens in classrooms. It has to include how we expose young people outside of the neighborhood they live in and bring them to a world that is different and a world that helps them understand the connections between what’s happening in classrooms and what happens in the world of work. It won’t help students to just learn math if they never meet somebody who works as an actuarial at an insurance company. So I think that where the gap is is between what happens in schools. And I think one of the students that was talking about advanced placement, he’s not talking about just more materials. He’s asking for more human resources that are not necessarily paid resources, but people who come into their schools and broaden their understanding, or people who invite them to their businesses and help them see a world that is broader.
And, you know, for middle class kids, for kids who are from affluent families, their kids are visiting dad or mom at work really on a more regular basis. And so we have to figure out how we include those experiences for young people in a way that they otherwise might not ever have. When we did the John Hancock Music Program this year, there were kids performing on the stage. My guess is, if we hadn’t taken them, they never would have gone there.
So I think that the challenge is not to blame teachers for not teaching them everything. I think the challenge is to help teachers bridge the gap between what they’re doing in school and the real world of real work. And I think that bridge has to be jointly built, not just by school people, but people in this community who don’t have kids in school, but who understand that their survival really depends on making sure those young people … because for the people they’re trying to dodge bullets from, those are the same people that maybe we didn’t rescue. And if we don’t rescue them, we get to pay for them and we have to pay annually more than we’re paying for teaching them. [applause]
DAVID BOERI: We have time for one more question. Please do afterwards come down and talk to Dr. Johnson, and ask her your questions. Miss, we have one more question for you.
Q: Good evening. My name is Pasala (?) Fasimi (?). I attend Boston Latin Academy. I’ve lived in Boston all my life, but from elementary school to 6th grade I went to school in Arlington. And what I noticed there was that we had a stronger motivation, like teachers would motivate us to go to college from a young age. I remember my elementary school, my first grade teacher, the first year of school ask us, “What do you do want to do when you grow up? What school do you want to go?” Not only that, but, I mean, I had motivated parents who told me, “College was not an option in my family, but you’re going to college.”
So as I got to Boston public school, I noticed that teachers don’t really motivate us to go to college. They look at us as if, “Okay, you’re just here and you’re probably just going to drop out. You’re not going to graduate.” So I just wanted you to comment on how do you intend to motivate not only the students, but motivate the teachers to want to teach us? [applause]
CAROL JOHNSON: I think we have to redefine to some extent the outcome. I think that for a long time those of us who work in K-12 thought that all we’re supposed to do is get a kid from one grade to the next. We never realized that our job wasn’t really to get one kid to the next. Our job was to actually get students ready to go to post-secondary, to college. And so I think it’s really about reframing what we do. But you remind me that there was some research done a while back, and it looked at students who were poor that achieved and students who were poor that didn’t achieve, and tried to answer the question, “Is there any explanation for why some poor students achieve and some poor students don’t?” Now, some things you can do something about and some things you can’t. One of the things that they found was that the students who achieved tended to have both parents in the home. Well, there’s nothing I can do about that, so I can’t worry about it. But the other thing, the kids who achieved came to school every day and went to class. The students who achieved, their parents knew where they were on school nights. And the students who achieved always expected to go to college. And so, I think planting the seed, you’re absolutely right, planting the seed early on that college starts in kindergarten is a really important concept to tell students early on, to talk about what career possibilities there might be.
And I heard an example that one of the suburban districts is doing, and I’ll say it quickly. When it’s a child’s birthday, the parent is expected to come some day that month and they’re expected to tell the rest of the class what they do for a living. And so the gift to the classroom for that child’s birthday is the parent telling the class what their career was, how they got their job, what they had to do, what schooling and what education they need. So I think you’re right. We have to do exactly what you said.
Q: Superintendent, I hate to be gauche. Everybody here knows me. My name is Janette Cisco. I think my important question would be the status of the library. I’m in a very eroding profession that maybe when the President’s wife leaves, we may not be able to spell library. But we have to know the consolidation, because this year I did not get any funding, and you cannot run the library without any money. You cannot read without a library. And we have all learned to spell library. Please give us an analogy of the future of the status of the library, the important part of reading. And I’m Janette Cisco and I have someone that can out-talk me.
CAROL JOHNSON: You’re talking about school libraries?
Q: I’m a school librarian.
CAROL JOHNSON: Okay. Well, Einstein said, “If you want your children to be brilliant, read them fairy tales. And if you want them to be more brilliant, read them more fairy tales.” So reading is essential; it’s critically important for student success. I think that nationwide I’ve seen a deterioration of both libraries. The University of Minnesota eliminated their entire library science department, which is what would’ve prepared people to become librarians. And I know that, to some extent, people have shifted to sort of media specialists or people because of the technology, but we really still do need libraries and we need people who are librarians.
I think one of the challenges that the Mayor has given us is to figure out better ways for us to partner also with all of the city services. So in the past we’ve talked a lot about public-private partnerships, but the public-public partnerships are extremely important. So how do we connect with the public library system, how do we connect with the recreational activities and the neighborhood centers? The only answer, really, to your question, I think -- though, in terms of the libraries in schools, is I have to do a little bit more research and background.
Q: I’d be more than glad to help. [laughter]
CAROL JOHNSON: I look forward to it, Ms. Cisco.
Q: I will volunteer.
DAVID BOERI: Thank you very much, everyone. [applause] This is wonderful. This is what we call “the conversation” at WBUR. Thank you so much, Dr. Johnson. It is clear to me that the need for you to succeed is terrific. I can tell you the weather is going to get better. And you keep talking, because I think some of those millions might come back. Good luck.
CAROL JOHNSON: Thank you very much. [applause]
JOHN SHATTUCK: I can just say in conclusion that we have national and world leaders who speak from the Kennedy Library, but I’ve never encountered somebody with a more difficult and important job than you have, Dr. Johnson. Really. [applause] I think the mayor may have encountered someone with an equally difficult job in that sense. But thank you, Mr. Mayor, very much for all you do, and, above all, for your commitment to the schools of this city, and thank you for finding this wonderful Superintendent. And, David, thank you for leading this wonderful conversation. Thank you all for coming.