School committee post for Barros
Add this to week full of firsts: On top of the City Council's increased diversity and a milestone for the city's chief executive, the first person of Cape Verdean descent was appointed to the city's School Committee.
Dorchester's John Barros, the executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, was among two new members that Mayor Thomas Menino appointed this month to the seven-member board. The other appointee is Mary Tamer, from West Roxbury, who writes for the Harvard Graduate School of Education and other local colleges.
"What made me decide to put my name in was that we're in the right moment," Barros said this week, pointing to President Barack Obama's administration offering federal stimulus funds in exchange for states changing their education systems to be more receptive to charter schools and Menino's push for the changes through legislation that House lawmakers are considering this week.
Barros, 36, has spent 10 years as head of DSNI. He also has an ownership stake in Restaurante Cesaria on Bowdoin St. He is a Roxbury native who attended Boston Public Schools and is currently a candidate for a master's degree in public policy at Tufts University.
The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, established in 1984, is a community-based planning nonprofit that works with youth.
Friends of Barros said they expect him to bring to the board his experience as a community organizer.
"His focus is the kids," said state Rep. Marie St. Fleur, who has known the Barros family since elementary school. "He's an independent voice that's a real advocate for kids."
"He has been a very active member of the city and the Dorchester community neighborhood in particular, serving in DSNI," said Tito Jackson, a civic activist from Grove Hall and political director for Gov. Deval Patrick's reelection campaign. "I'm confident that our young people will be in good hands with the mind that John has and in addition the heart he has and the passion for the community."
"The schools need to be engaged with the community in a way that excites the community," Barros said. "The school system alone is not going to be enough. I can bring years of experience in community organizing, reaching out to the community."
Rev. Gregory Groover, chair of the school committee and pastor of the Charles St. A.M.E. Church, said Barros brings "added strength when the school committee will increase its role as an activist body, bridging policy-making with getting things done for the children."
"We are a student-centered school committee," Groover added. "Everything else is secondary. That's the tone. That's the mantra."
Asked about eliminating busing, which critics say is outmoded and draws money away from cash-strapped school programs, Barros said given the tough fiscal climate, "any big items need to be considered."
Barros said he has not favored eliminating busing in the past. "Quality education for all is the first priority," he said. "If we eliminate busing, the question is what it does for the quality of education for all."
The elimination of busing could end up "cheating" some students out of an education. But, he added, "We need to ask it anew."
In a statement on the two appointments after they were sworn in on Monday at Faneuil Hall, Menino said, "I am honored today to appoint two extraordinary individuals who have already given so much to the Boston public schools and to supporting our young people and their families."
Both Barros and Tamer were appointed to four-year terms.