BosMayor Race: Thoughts from an Undecided Voter

I have been to events with the two finalist, Walsh and Connolly. At this stage in the game the events are mob scenes and it is hard to get questions answered. But I’m nothing if not tenacious. From an overwrought voter, here are my thoughts.

Marty Walsh: I like that Walsh is humble and self effacing. I also like that he has strong union ties. I also think that his sixteen years in the legislature is a plus. The state exerts what I consider to be a lot of control over municipal decisions. I think his connections and good will there could serve him well.

I don’t like the fact that he continues to be squirrelly on the charter school front. I feel like he is inviting folks to read between the lines in his answers. But then he seems affronted by implication that he isn’t being completely upfront about his stance.

John Connolly: John gave an amazing speech last night at the event that I attended in JP. He started with the struggles of single moms. As the daughter of a public school teacher who raised 5 kids when our dad left – that is a good place to start. As always, John struck me as very smart. He has a lot of depth to his ideas. He also looked me in the eye and promised me that he wouldn’t let BPS be gutted by charter schools.

But, but but:

You know what they say about campaign promises. John’s education plan really worries me. I don’t like the hard line stance with the BTU. I truly believe that if we want extended day for our children then the teachers should be paid for their extra time.

So basically, I’m a 3. I don’t agree with the demonization of either of these guys that seems to be happening. From my little corner of the city, they both seem like good men that have their individual strengths and weaknesses.

I have some additional issues for both of them:

  1. SPED children really suffer in BPS. I am going to try and find out if either one of them have plans to address this.
  2. They both agree that we need more affordable housing. I am going to try and find out more specifics about this.
  3. Rubber Sidewalks. It’s a good idea.
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8 thoughts on “BosMayor Race: Thoughts from an Undecided Voter

  1. I can tell you that John has a lot of supporters who are parents of special needs students. This includes at least three current or former SpedPac board members: John St. Amand, Susan Battista, and Kristin Macchi.

    Campaign promises are indeed a dime a dozen and there’s no way either of these guys can keep them all, but I do trust John on not gutting BPS. He sees charters as part of the solution, but his focus has always been on BPS, and in several conversations with him and an aide about schools, they’ve really never talk about charters unless I bring it up. He’d like to see charters serve more students with disabilities and English-language learners. He would push for legislation to allow charters to set aside program seats for ELLs and kids with special needs which they’re not allowed to do now.

  2. I’ve had several chances to interact directly with John and have heard him speak in some detail about his education platform. I don’t see completely eye to eye with him on everything, but then, even when the field was at 12 candidates I didn’t see 100% eye to eye with any of the others, either. At the very least, John’s views on education have made me think things over.

    One thing that I think Boston has going for it is that, compared to places like Philadelphia and Chicago where we’ve seen huge numbers of public school closings, our public schools are generally funded better and are a little more stable. That is, I don’t think we’re teetering on the brink of massive school closings and that electing a new mayor is going to push us over that brink. That makes me feel a little bit better about the fact that John’s platform aligns with the stated goals of some of the more aggressive ed reform groups out there.

    Whether or not you agree with John’s take on charter schools, I think he really wants to mitigate some of the issues that he sees with them. I believe he is hoping to offer charters favorable deals on facilities in exchange for meeting certain goals around attrition rates and serving the ELL and SWD populations. I still find some of the things he says slightly problematic, but at the very least, I give him credit for trying to address some of the nuance. As Josh says above, he does seem to focus on BPS more than charters – just read his education platform, in which the only mention of charters is as a way that families leave BPS. There’s an implication there that charters are hurting BPS, which is a little bit hard for me to reconcile with his support for lifting the charter cap. For that reason, I actually wish he WOULD address the charter issue more directly in his platform. I think the conversations I’ve had with him reveal an interesting take on charters and I’m not sure why he’s not making his stance more clear. Perhaps too few voters are really interested in the details, I don’t know.

    Like you, I remain undecided. For me, right now the big difference is that I’ve met John enough times that he addresses me personally when we see each other and knows a bit about where I stand. He is a bit more aggressive on ed reform than my ideal candidate, and I’m still assessing how I feel about that. Like you, he has personally told me he will not gut BPS. I haven’t yet met Marty, so as it stands right now the difference for me really comes down to the fact that, platform aside, John has done a better job of reaching me as a candidate. And it’s not like there are huge differences in their platforms, either.

    • Hi Chris, full disclosure I am with Marty. I am also on the state Board if Ed and and the sole time John came to testify in front of us was with a very conservative pro-privatizing group of Charter advocates from across the state demanding that the state lift the charter cap, I am very aware of the strong role that charters play in his vision for BPS. I have supported John for City Council and know and like him, but as I have said in other places, I am very concerned about the ‘ed reform’ vision John that is aligned with. I actually think we are ripe to be the next Chicago or Philadelphia, if we get a Supt who wants to implement some of the quick fix innovations that haven’t worked anywhere, but make national news as ‘breakthrough strategies’, we are on our way. Some of the national conservative ed strategists are focused on Boston as the next city to undergo some of these reforms. It greatly concerns me that Stand for Children and Democrats for Ed Reform are backing him, their vision is one of bringing the marketplace into public education (I guess since it has worked so well everywhere else :))!

      I see Marty as someone wanting to bring in a strong leadership team to build on the good teaching and learning in BPS, to focus on Boston schools and engage parents and teachers in a meaningful way — something absolutely central to any school improvement strategy. Marty is a leader who listens, reflects and than changes and grows in his policy and perspectives. I want that for the Mayor of Boston.

      I am not/was not happy with many of the candidates stance on Charters, (we passed legislation three years ago to force them to be more inclusive of ELLs and SPED and it hasn’t changed anything….), but I believe there is a difference in the role that charters play in each candidates overall vision of BPS. And I believe Marty is focused on what the Mayor will be responsible for, which is not charters but BPS.

      I am looking forward to hearing Diane Ravitch next week, she is very smart about many of the ed reform fads, what has been tried and the outcomes. Anyone interested in these issue should check her out next Thursday at Harvard!

      I am someone who doesn’t think we should throw out everything about BPS, I believe there are many good schools, great teachers, strong principals and a lot of exciting learning going on. Attending the Level 5 hearing at the Dever last week was an incredibly moving and informative event — the work the school leadership, teachers and parents are engaged in to improve and change their schools is incredibly hard and complex; they are dedicated and passionate about what they are working to build, but these changes have yet to be fully reflected in their test scores. I want a Mayor who will support that process with resources and strong leaders and vision, and not look for a quick fixes which rarely stick ( thus the ups and downs of many schools).

      Sorry I have rambled on so long!

      • Hi Harneen,

        Thanks for replying. In case it wasn’t clear from the way I worded my comment, I actually agree with most of what you’ve said. Really, if I fully bought into John’s education plan I wouldn’t be an undecided voter. Right now I’m going through the process of looking at John’s ideas again with an open mind, and trying to learn about Marty’s take on things. I’m well aware of the kinds of destructive policies that SFC and DFER have advocated for in other cities, and I am really interested in better understanding both how similar Boston’s situation is to those cities’ and how closely John’s platform really aligns with those organizations’ goals. You’re certainly more deeply involved in Boston’s public education “scene” than I am, so I really appreciate your taking the time to comment. We’ll see where I wind up – right now it’s a matter of choosing between a candidate who I know well but don’t 100% agree with and a candidate I don’t know much about. It could be that I decide that my differences with John are too big for him to get my vote, or it could be that I learn more about Marty and just like him better.

        Thanks again,

        Chris

      • Hi Chris! I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. Look forward to crossing paths and having a conversation in person! Take care, Harneen

  3. I must say that I am a biased responder in the sense that John has interacted with our family in regards to education issues.

    1. John was the only city administrator to respond to an outreach my wife and I made to the City of Boston administration (This included the Mayor, all of the city council, all of the school committee and Superintendent Johnson) in regards to a special education placement for our son.

    2. John was the only City of Boston administrator to call for a hearing to stop a plan to draftically cut funding to our sons SPED inclusion school (basically the elimination of approximately 50% of the teachers and teachers assistants in the school)

    Speaking as a parent, the topic of charters are simply the call for choice. We know there are many failing Boston “Public” Schools and we understand charters are not the end all solution but the basic premise as I understand it is that having a choice will allow for parents additional options that will also drive competition to incent better performance. With all due respect teachers or administrations shouldn’t be a limiting factor on what parents are asking for. If there are bad charter schools they will fail. I am not sure currently how bad public schools get identified, evolve and get better?

    Again to know John plain and simple is to know he is committed to making BPS better. If you believe improving education foundtions lead to kids staying in school, those same kids having better opportunities to not turn to crime and the profound effect of a good education on the local economy than you should at least listen openly to what John is trying to do…not just shcools but Boston. It may or not be charters but at least he is trying…otherwise what other solutions do parents have???

  4. I don’t have a fight in this anymore as we moved out of the city solely because my special ed daughter was not serviced at all in BPS. One could even label her year as traumatic (nothing like learning maladaptive behaviors – including SIB’s – in kindergarten, eh?). But I also am a single mom and I’m having a hard time with Connollys speech platform that we struggle (ugh!!). I am a single mom by choice raised by a single mom by circumstance — I moderate a large single mom online listserv and I even do public speaking at conferences and the like about choice motherhood — and I would be hard pressed to find a group of single moms who want to continue this stereotypical “oh, poor, struggling them” mentality. It dimishes us as women and mothers and it truly diminishes our children and their familial reality. (off soap box)
    Charters are more than choice — my daughter could never be served by a charter the way Boston has set up their education system. Heck, she was failed by a high incidence strand inclusion school because her “strand” of need is complex and multidimensional. To be told, by BPS, that their view of her level of {special} need was “beyond their pay scale” spoke volumes. I also worked hand in hand with Macchi and St. Amand (who have since become friends) and SpedPac AND worked tirelessly for a solid 18 months and countless hours of team meetings and teacher meetings and parent counsel meetings (and in and on) to make BPS work. But even city counsellors can’t help when asked (and I did … I even begged) of option C that would help my kiddo when only options A and B are offered.
    All of this to say: to paint a picture that Connolly understands single moms is a broad stroke. Ditto special education.
    I like Walsh — I like that the former candidates of color have endorsed him (as a momma to a child of color, yes … this matters). I like his experience in state politics and I like his broader life experience that is beyond the emerald necklace of JP/WR. But really who I like means not much now that I sacrificed it all for my child’s education and moved 75 miles north to a rural collaborative school district that IS servicing my child in ways that honestly leave me teary.
    I guess my question to everyone who has had a Connolly favor delivered, how will he keep that up once mayor? I hear a lot of “he helped me” but I want more than that (maybe I’m bitter because his help isn’t universal) but how will he help beyond schools? My mom has lived in JP for 25 years — how will he help her as she ages and continues to live on Sumner Hill? Schools don’t matter as much to her as other topics do.
    (now firmly off soap box and back to enjoying our home in the woods on this amazing fall day)

  5. I wanted to connect with you–I’ve worked with a lot of schools in the Boston Public School system…engaged in professional development and quality improvement as an outside partner. I want to let you know that John is incredibly sincere in his efforts to follow through with parents and families that have required an extraordinary amount of advocacy on behalf of their children who need special education services. He has heard from hundreds of parents about the struggles they face in getting the right school placements and appropriate services for their children…it’s not okay and he is adament that we must do better by kids and families–all of them. I’m sending you a link to Nora Blake–she’s a mom in Charlestown and she talks about her struggle to get Andrew into a school that was a good fit for him–she was literally on the verge of giving up and leaving Boston. Give it a look–it’s short but you’ll get a true sense of how committed John is to advocacy on behalf of families of children with special needs and to problem solving and following through even in difficult situations. http://youtu.be/6YshGoWxxo0

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