Campbell lays out her ‘action plan’ for ‘equity’ in BPS system

Andrea Campbell

City Council President Andrea Campbell on Monday released a multi-step plan she believes will help address systemic inequities inside the Boston Public School system.

Based on four broader recommendations – a responsive central office, access to quality schools, early learning, and quality high schools – the report, “Action for Boston Children,” makes specific recommendations ranging from better data collection and distribution, to school formula adjustments, to accountability milestones that she hopes will set a more concrete timeline for improvements.

As a councillor, Campbell does not have any direct influence within the city’s public school system, though she says incoming Superintendent Brenda Casselius’s July 1 start date makes the report “timely.”

The plan was placed on the City Council meeting agenda for Wednesday (June 26).

Campbell is a product of Boston Public Schools, she notes, having attended five schools, including Boston Latin School. Inequities in quality pervade parts of the system, she said, noting as an example a Northeastern University report in 2018 that found more than 80 percent of kindergarten students in Back Bay/Beacon Hill, Central, and Charlestown attended high quality (Tier 1) schools, compared to only 5 percent of those in Mattapan.

Campbell is running for re-election against challenger Jeff Durham for the District 4 seat she has held since handily unseating longtime councillor Charles Yancey in 2015.

“I was served well by BPS,” Campbell said in an interview, “but I’m mindful of the fact that many of my peers, including my twin brother, Andre, were not.”

Rather than focus on what is not working, she said, her plan was the result of meeting “with as many stakeholders as possible [to]… come up with what I think is a pragmatic action plan that I hope will serve as a catalyst to move the system in the right direction and to support the new superintendent… as she is also thinking about coming up with her own plans to transform the system.”

Campbell spoke to Casselius on Tuesday at a meeting that had been scheduled prior to the report’s release.

With respect to the central office, Campbell’s report calls for collecting and sharing annual “central office perception and satisfaction data” along with plans to improve. She would like the Welcome Centers to be overhauled for a better experience for those navigating the school assignment process.

The report calls for a more ambitious push for a clear number of Tier 1 seats in BPS and offers an action plan for meeting that goal. Campbell also calls on the district to readjust the Home Assignment formula to guarantee a minimum number of Tier 1 and 2 seats rather than assignment preferences based on Tier 1 and 2 schools, a policy that can penalize families who live in areas with fewer high-quality schools nearby.

She would like a transparent accounting of the progress toward closing the remaining half of a 1,500 pre-K seating gap, as well as data and a clear chain of control for the age zero to five year old continuum of care. Similarly, open data and common graduation standards should be established for the district’s high schools, the report states.

Another ask is that the district “create a new process for open enrollment schools to develop and launch innovative school model redesigns, starting by piloting such an effort in a few schools.”

These priorities all come with timelines ranging from 90 days to June 2020, starting with early planning and data collection, and ending with broader standards and long-term comprehensive planning.

“This was very much a personal mission,” Campbell said of the report, noting that BPS has been helpful in offering input along with community members. “You know, in addition to saying I care about education and participating in the budget hearings and going to my community meetings and talking about it with my voters on the doors, I said I want to come up with tangible things that can shift the system, that are pragmatic, that are realistic, and that attach an accountability timeline that forces the district to respond to some of these thoughts and ideas.”

Interim Superintendent Laura Perille said in a statement that the report’s recommendations parallel several areas of ongoing work in BPS. Some instances of existing efforts that BPS highlights are a budgeted $500,000 for district Welcome Centers, a Quality Pre-K fund to close the remaining 750-seat gap in high quality pre-K availability, and a report recently presented to the School Committee making recommendations for improving local high schools.

“It’s encouraging to see a number of the ideas expressed in Councillor Campbell’s report resonate with key themes and work already underway in the Boston Public Schools (BPS), including high school improvement, expansion of early childhood education, and increased support for families,” Perille said. “We welcome the collaboration of Councillor Campbell along with community members and partners to develop a stronger school system that continues to improve outcomes for all students.”

Her report’s recommendations are couched in a definition of equity informed by conversations with parents, teachers, and school officials, Campbell said. While there are equity initiatives in BPS planning, they are not necessarily the guiding principles across the board, she said.

“I don’t think those currently exist in the system,” Campbell added. “I think we’re often quick to come up with action and initiatives but don’t necessarily take the time that’s required to come up with ‘What is the driving force and values that inform our work?’ And if you are looking at issues through an equity lens as well as certain values that we articulate in the report, you can sometimes come out with different outcomes.”