Start time drama presents BPS with an opportunity

Last Friday, amid the last-minute bustle before the holiday weekend, Boston Public School parents and educators received the one gift they really wanted this Christmas: a reprieve from an ill-conceived, though well-intentioned, plan to re-set school start and end times across the system.

It was a sweeping plan, aimed at improving school performance, particularly in the high school grades. But it was deeply flawed and failed to engage the most important constituency in the system before its roll-out last month: the people who use the school system and make it work. 

In a city portrayed as one still riven by race and class divide, the BPS plan succeeded in uniting Boston parents in opposition to this new deal. The outcry against the measure came from all quarters of the BPS community, and from every neighborhood. Perhaps that sense of solidarity can be harnessed to help the school system devise a more sensible schedule that will accomplish a goal that everyone seems to agree is worthy of our efforts— enhancing the experience for older students who would be better served by later start times.

Mayor Marty Walsh and the school’s superintendent, Tommy Chang, deserve credit for ultimately backing away from the plan. But the process left much to be desired. The fact that the School Committee had already approved these controversial schedule changes is troubling and fuels skepticism that many have about the appointed committee’s role as an instrument to check and balance the administration’s decisions. 

The meetings held across the city last week showed once again that parents and educators are deeply committed to building on the success that has kept them in the BPS system in recent years. One of the most powerful moments of the week-long series of meetings held to review the decision was in Mattapan, where the staff of the Mildred Avenue K-8 school turned out in big numbers to protest the district’s plan. The school— which has struggled in the past with poor performance— has become one of the great success stories of the last two years. They have just recently been awarded Level One status, a remarkable achievement for the students, staff and parents. In the face of that, the new schedule plan would have dramatically changed the school’s day next year from a 7:30 a.m. start to 9:30 a.m.

First-grade teacher Holly Moulton spoke for many when she said, “This drastic shift feels like punishment to a school that’s obviously doing something right.”

In the wake of this movement to halt the start and end times, there’s a real opportunity to engage this well-organized community of invested Bostonians in helping to make broader improvements in the school district. The energy and passion of that movement can be a powerful tool to help make it even better.

Mourning Fr. Von Euw

One of Dorchester’s leading clerics died on Christmas Eve after a long illness. Fr. Vincent “Vinny” Von Euw would have turned 81 on Christmas Day. He has been living in retirement in poor health for several years, but he was well cared for at Marian Manor in South Boston, where he died peacefully.

A native of West Roxbury, Fr. Von Euw was the pastor at St. Ambrose in Fields Corner from 1991 to 2007 while also serving as a priest in St. Peter’s parish. A charismatic and deeply spiritual person, Fr. Von Euw was a dynamic leader who brought together the Irish, Vietnamese, and Spanish-speaking congregants of the parish.

Like many of the city’s urban leaders of his generation, Fr. Von Euw had worked the missions in Latin America as a young priest and was deeply affected by the experience. He brought that zeal for helping people to the city’s neighborhoods.

In Dorchester, Fr. Vinny will be remembered fondly as someone who made the neighborhood a better place. He will be missed.