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World-class education should be in reach of all children, regardless of background

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Sheyla Negron
World-class education should be in reach of all children, regardless of background
Juan Gomez of Dorchester & family signing up for Unify Boston. (Photo: Photo courtesy Unify Boston)

Boston is the birthplace of public education in America. But today, we’re a city where far too many of our kids can’t get the education they deserve.

This is a sobering fact that Boston families are all too familiar with. I’m excited to be part of a group of parents who have decided that it’s time for a change.

Families for Excellent Schools Massachusetts, a coalition of parents and education advocates based in Boston, recently launched the Unify Boston campaign — a campaign dedicated to ensuring that every child in Boston has access to an excellent school.

Through our campaign, parents and residents have been knocking on doors, visiting coffee shops, canvassing T-stops and hosting meetings in Dorchester, East Boston, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Roxbury, South Boston and beyond. Just two weeks into our campaign, we have collected more than 2,000 signatures from Boston residents, and we’ve engaged thousands more on our social media pages like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Author: Photo courtesy Unify BostonAndrea Alleyne of Mattapan and her family support Unify Boston to make sure our teachers reflect the diverse communities they serve.

There’s a reason why Unify Boston is catching on. For years, parent and community voices have been ignored while politicians and advocates debate what’s best for our kids. These debates – particularly when it comes to issue of charter schools – divide parents who actually want the same thing: a quality school in their neighborhood, a school where their child can succeed at the highest level.

Our communities don’t need more division. We need unity. And that’s what Unify Boston is about. Parents from every neighborhood are coming together around three core principles:

  1. Give every child access to an excellent public school in his or her neighborhood — whether it’s a district or a charter school.
  2. Make sure all kids can succeed in Boston — especially those who speak English as a second language and children with special needs.
  3. Ensure that our teachers reflect the diverse communities they serve.

While our Unify Boston campaign is just a few weeks old, our movement isn’t new. Families for Excellent Schools launched our Boston chapter in the fall of 2014. Our organization employs a unique, neighborhood-based organizing model that empowers parent leaders to build neighborhood chapters, host workshops and trainings, and speak out on issues important to their schools and communities. Unify Boston’s principles are based on what we heard in one-on-one conversations with over 400 parents who are desperate for more quality schools in their neighborhoods.

In November, 2,000 Boston parents, teachers, and students stood together outside of Faneuil Hall for the 77,000 Reasons Rally – the largest rally for education in Massachusetts in recent memory. At the rally, parents spoke about the 77,000 children statewide who attend failing schools, where two out of every three kids cannot read or do math on their grade level.

These parents are ready to demand that their voices be heard. Josette Williams, a mom from Roxbury, told us that “parents need to get organized because it’s what our children deserve. If we act in unison it sends an even more powerful message to our politicians that the crisis is global and impacts us all.” In East Boston, Liliana Castro, a mother of four, said that “we need to come together and have our voices heard so that we can support schools that are doing well and help improve ones that are underperforming.” And in Dorchester, Carolyn Butler wants her son, Khaleil “to never forget struggle, to never forget his own culture.”

We hope Bay State Banner readers will help join parents like Josette Williams, Carolyn Butler, and Liliana Castro to become part of our growing Unify Boston movement. We also hope that parents who read this will consider joining one of our neighborhood chapters.

Help us Unify Boston, because all students deserve a world-class education, regardless of their background, race, income, language or learning levels.

Join us by visiting unifyboston.org today.

— Sheyla Negron is lead parent organizer with Families for Excellent Schools Massachusetts