Below is the text of City Councillor At-Large John Connolly's speech, as prepared for delivery, at his mayoral campaign announcement in front of Brighton High School.
My name is John Connolly. I am a Boston City Councilor, a former teacher, and a Boston Public School parent, and I am running for Mayor of Boston to transform our public schools.
I want to be clear. Mayor Menino is a good man. His love for this city is unquestionable. I deeply respect Mayor Menino, I’ve worked with him, and I’ve learned from him.
However, this campaign is about Boston’s future, and a need for new ideas, new energy, and a new resolve for Boston to reach its full potential.
This campaign will offer innovative approaches on every issue and every challenge facing Boston from making sure our neighborhoods are safe and clean, to ensuring our city drives innovation and job creation, to pushing our city government to be transparent and accountable.
But the cornerstone of this campaign will be a call for transformative change in our Boston Public Schools, because Boston’s future starts with our schools… and this matters for every Bostonian.
The success of our schools directly impacts our ability to create safe, healthy, and livable neighborhoods as well as our ability to create jobs, attract talent, and retain families in Boston.
Transforming our schools is not pie-in-the-sky idealism OR meaningless political rhetoric. Transforming our schools is NOT a mission impossible. It is about political will and a bold desire to break the status quo.
I know urban schools can work because I taught in an urban school that worked. I taught at a middle school in New York City. My students grew up in poverty living in public housing and run down apartment buildings in a neighborhood where there was little hope for kids to graduate from high school, let alone college. Our school stood in stark contrast putting over 85% of our students on a path to high school graduation and then college. I learned that a great school can change lives and change neighborhoods.
I also know an urban school that works on an even more personal level. I drop my daughter at the Trotter almost every morning, and Clare bounds with a huge smile into a school with amazing teachers and a great principal.
It is never lost on me that the Trotter is an urban school that works because where the city failed, Federal and state intervention allowed a longer school day, more flexibility in hiring, and programming to support the whole development of children.
What made each of these schools work is not rocket science. Both schools have great principals who empower talented teachers who engage parents in the life of the school, and excite students to learn. Both schools align resources to lengthen the school day, and provide programming beyond the classroom to enrich the lives of the students and their families.
Yet, in Boston, we have a top heavy, overstaffed central bureaucracy that spends over $1 billion annually, but fails to deliver every child music, arts, physical education, humanities, and science on a regular basis. That same bureaucracy pays little attention to developing principals or holding them accountable. It gives our students one of the shortest school days in the country. It fails to get buses to run on time. It has too few kindergarten seats, and it puts our children in a convoluted school lottery that allows some children to win while others lose, a lottery that Meg and I know all too well having listed over 10 schools on our lottery form, we received a letter that told us: sorry, we don’t have a seat for your daughter.
I’m here with Boston parents, grandparents, students, and former students in the shadow of Brighton High School. I know great teachers who teach in this school. I know one of the best special education teachers you’ll ever meet, and an incredible history teacher and debate coach. There is also a newly named teacher of the year who works here. I’ve also met amazing students with limitless potential who attend Brighton High School. But unfortunately, Brighton High School is a prime example of the school department’s failure to put a school community in a position to succeed. Last month, Brighton High School was placed on warning to lose its accreditation. Brighton High School was found to have inadequate school staffing, overcrowded classes, insufficient counseling and support programs, and a deteriorating school facility. These students and teachers deserve better. As a city, we have failed this school.
Brighton High School is emblematic of the fallout from a deep failure of leadership that has left us with a $500 million hole on needed repairs and maintenance across our schools. We have 17 high schools that have not even applied for accreditation. We have 6 high schools on warning status. We have a system where our students with disabilities are separated from their piers at a rate over 2 times above the state average. We have a justice department intervention for English language learners, and a teachers contract with hiring rules that remove talented teachers from the classroom on a regular basis. Those failures stem from a lack of bold leadership and political will.
At the same time, Brighton High School sits between three world-class universities. We have precious resources that other cities don’t have in our colleges, universities, hospitals, and laboratories. We have ground breaking non-profits and a strong business community. We have a rich history that draws people to Boston. These advantages create a comfortable status quo for some, but we need to better leverage our resources to make our neighborhoods safer, create new jobs, retain young talent and young families, and break cycles of poverty and violence.
We can’t tackle our challenges by tinkering on the edges, or by doing things the same way just because that is how it has always been done.
I know we can do better, and I have a record of taking on the status quo. As chair of the City Council’s Committee on Education, I’ve stood up for children to make sure they receive healthy food. I’ve stood up to put resources in the right places for students with disabilities and English language learners. I’ve led the charge to put teacher quality ahead of seniority in hiring. I was the lone vote, the lone elected official to take a stand against a status quo teachers’ contract that put our children last.
And this past fall, I led a coalition of six elected officials that broke the old paradigm in Boston and said there is a way to reform our student assignment system and create quality schools for every child. 7,000 Bostonians from every neighborhood and every walk of life rallied behind our plan, and the administration and school department roundly ignored all of us.
I want Boston to be the city that people point to and say THEY DID IT. I want people to say Boston was the first city to bridge the opportunity divide, to close the achievement gap, and to draw middle class families from all walks of life back to the best public school system in America.
That’s the kind of city where I want my kids to grow up.
And if I’m elected Mayor, I’ll work every day so everyone – no matter their first language, their economic circumstance, the number of parents, their neighborhood, their race, their ethnicity, gay or straight, people who are differently abled – everyone – from our young artists and young professionals to our seniors and empty nesters, families of all shapes and sizes – everyone will be able to choose to live in Boston and say it was the best decision they ever made.
If you share this vision for Boston… if you believe it is time for new ideas, new energy, and a bold desire to challenge the status quo, then join our campaign for Boston’s future.