I urge the citizens of Brookline to vote for Jennifer Monopoli, David Pearlman, and Jim Swaim for School Committee. Here’s why:
The Brookline Public Schools were once The Lighthouse District in our nation. We were special. We are no longer. Here is a not atypical statement from a Brookline parent:
“Our daughter is in first grade. We are grateful for the dedication of her teachers and staff at her school. She’s a physical girl who will climb and run non-stop whenever she can. She comes home with half-eaten meals. Her homework is taxing. In first grade! I rush from work to pick her up at her extended day program so she can complete her homework before dinner. If we wait until after dinner, she is too wiped out to do much. Even at 5 pm, getting the assignment done can be a challenge. Already she complains about school; we fear that there’s too much pressure and that it dampens her spirit.”
This anecdote reflects the disturbing data-obsessed culture of school reform in our nation. The Brookline School Committee has embraced it. Teachers nationally, and in Brookline, are demoralized by the emphasis on data-driven instruction and test performance of the children, even for children in the earliest grades. Children in our nation and in Brookline are spending too much time sitting at desks, completing worksheets, in the name of data-driven instruction and test-based accountability.
Since 2015, we have added three full-time central office positions in the newly renamed Office of Strategy and Performance (once the Data Team). One of the new positions – a Data Specialist – was added “to respond to the growing interest of teachers, principals, and curriculum coordinators to use a wide range of data to inform decision-making.” Really? I’ve never heard a Brookline teacher ask for data from the central office to help their instruction. Teachers gather data every day all day as they teach the children well.
By the way, in the context of Brookline’s love affair with data, the data doesn’t look so great. In the latest US News and World Report rankings of high schools, Brookline High was 28th in Massachusetts. Not long ago Brookline High was always in the top ten. In the MCAS rankings of elementary schools, the top elementary school in Brookline is Baker, at number 38. Not long ago, many of Brookline’s elementary schools made the top ten.
Our children are not data points. They need caring, creative, and inspirational teachers who have significant school-based autonomy, and whose work is driven by the individual academic and social/emotional needs of the child. Excellent teaching and real learning drive good test scores. Jim, David, and Jennifer know that. In their “platform” they embrace the cultivation of “the joy of learning.” How refreshing!
Historically, our school system was nationally recognized for innovation. We invested our intelligence, passion, idealism, and our resources to invent and develop nationally significant programs like METCO, K-8 elementary schools, the Brookline Early Education Program (BEEP), Facing History and Ourselves, School Within a School (SWS), Teachers as Scholars, The African American and Latinx Scholars Program, Teachers Mentoring Teachers, The BHS Tutorial, and The Calculus Project. Today, instead of innovation, we embrace the national reform agenda, designed for failing schools. Too many of our teachers and school leaders feel like we’re being treated like turnaround schools. That is not who we are. The School Committee is accountable; we need a school committee that believes in the traditional values of our once renowned school system. Jim, David, and Jennifer are those people.
There are other troubling issues. Stable leadership is the sine qua non for building robust school cultures, positive faculty morale, and strong student achievement. Candidates for a Brookline principalship once experienced an independent, rigorous, inclusive search process conducted by a team of teachers, parents, students, administrators, and members of the community-at-large. The search committee made recommendations to the superintendent. That has not been the case in recent years. And let’s look at the data. There has been a revolving door for our school leaders. The Brookline School Committee is accountable.
There is more. The recent teacher contract took three long frustrating years. After 15 years of talking about increasing enrollments, we still have no plan to address this crisis. The Brookline School Committee is accountable.
We have three strong independent candidates for Brookline School Committee – Jim Swaim, Jennifer Monopoli, and David Pearlman. Each of them represents the values that made the Brookline Public Schools the envy of public school systems in our nation — a commitment to transparency and democratic process, teacher professionalism, racial justice and equity, and yes, the joy of learning. They will honor Brookline’s sacred traditions and begin to reverse the disturbance in our Force. Brookline is not a turnaround district. What needs to be turned around is our school committee. Please vote for Jim, Jennifer, and David.
Bob Weintraub, Ed.D., is Faculty Director of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Boston University School of Education
He was headmaster of Brookline High from 1992-2011