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Black education group hosts talk on Boston schools

Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr.

The National Black College Alliance (NBCA) hosted a discussion at its Washington Street offices on Monday night, focused on which educational approaches work and which don’t in different types of Boston schools.

Approximately 30 people attended the meeting, which was called by Greatest Minds, the NBCA’s civic and volunteer arm, as well as the Union of Minority Neighborhoods and Black People 4 Boston Public Schools. Many of the attendees were involved with public education in and around Boston, whether as former students, educators, administrators or activists.

The gathering was intended as a starting point for dialogue between younger generations, especially those who have recently completed undergraduate degrees, and older professionals involved in the administration of public schools.

“This meeting is a time for us to talk about the things that worked and didn’t work for us in our academic careers,” said George “Chip” Greenidge Jr., executive director of the NBCA, an educational advocacy group based in Roxbury.

After introductions, attendees split into three groups based on the type of high school they attended. The majority of people at the meeting, approximately 21 people, were products of the Boston Public Schools (BPS). Private schools were the second largest group with five. The four people who attended charter schools, parochial schools or went to school through the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) program were grouped together.

Each group was asked to answer three questions: What worked at your school? What did not work? And what would you change?

The questions sparked debate and dialogue amongst the groups as each worked to come to an agreement. After 30 minutes of discussion, the groups reconvened to present their findings.

Ayanna Pressley, one of eight candidates in November’s final election for an at-large seat on Boston’s City Council, attended the presentation portion of the meeting. She said she wanted to learn what the various groups thought about their high school education.

“I’m here first and foremost as a concerned citizen, and second as a city councilor-at-large candidate,” she said.

The public school group presented first, listing “tracking” and “pathways” — two methods used to place students in advanced-level classes — as well as open enrollment and student diversity as some of the things that worked in the BPS system.

“It helps broaden one’s horizons when students can go to schools with people from different neighborhoods,” said Angela Ivana Greene, 22, who attended Boston Latin Academy from seventh through 10th grade, then transferred and graduated from Charlestown High School. She is now a senior at Northeastern University.

On the flipside, the group cited ineffective teachers, a lack of parental involvement and racism as aspects of public school life that they felt did not work. Potential remedies suggested by the group included smaller classes, more teachers of color and better alumni connections.

The private school group presented second, referencing the academic challenge, parental involvement and school tradition as facets of private school that worked. However, a lack of diversity and cultural understanding were brought up as issues with private school, as were lowered teacher expectations — meaning that students of color were not expected to achieve as well academically as their white counterparts.

It was also noted that in today’s job market, a college degree has become a minimum requirement for securing gainful employment.

“It is increasingly difficult for a student today to graduate high school and find a job,” said Alvin Cooper, a recruitment manager in the BPS human resources department.

The private school group suggested that a more culturally diverse curriculum would make a difference, as would finding ways to give more students of color the option to attend private schools.

The final group, consisting of those who had attended METCO schools, charter schools and parochial schools, said that these types of schools were generally beneficial to female students, had good student-to-teacher ratios and college preparation resources available to students.

On the negative side, they said that the boundaries between students and teachers seemed to blur in some schools when students could call teachers by their first name. The fact that there were few teachers of color was also brought up as something that did not work, as well as what group members called poor administrative coordination in many METCO programs.

The group also proposed establishing a PTA to help foster increased engagement among parents with children in these types of schools, as well as setting up systems to help students who are English language learners as they adjust in school.

“We need to hold the people in charge of public schools accountable for the betterment of our schools,” said Michael G. Williams, 22, a Roxbury resident who graduated from Bedford High School through the METCO program.

Greenidge said the presence of 15 recent college graduates at Monday night’s meeting speaks to the success of the Greatest Minds program, which aims to increase civic engagement among a new generation of young black professionals.

“There are limited ways for black people to network in Boston,” said Greenidge. “This place provides a space for discourse, a place to share and be who you are.”