System-wide Reform of Schools
At a time when many big cities are frustrated by the ills of their school systems, Boston is rebuilding its facilities, reharnessing resources and support, and restoring public confidence in its 123 schools. Leading this resurgence is Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino who has long been invested in the success of the Boston Public Schools. As a City Councillor, he visited scores of schools and actively supported policies and programs to advance educational reform. Indicative of his early efforts, then-Councillor Menino took advantage of state legislation to set up the City of Boston Scholarship Fund. Under this program, qualified Boston students can apply for scholarship money, collected through property and excise tax bills and corporate donations, to attend local colleges and universities.
Early in his administration, Mayor Menino helped forge a path-breaking contract between the Boston School Department and the Boston Teachers Union. This contract has paved the way for real systemic reforms, allowing for the creation of six pilot schools which are free from most school regulations (one of which, the Fenway Middle College High School, was cited by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the nation's 10 New American Schools); further empowering parent organizations; and infusing arts into the schools. In his 1996 State of the City speech, the Mayor tied his political future to the success of the city's school system, urging Boston residents to "judge me harshly" if goals for schools were not realized. Mayor Menino has invested financially in the schools as well, adjusting the city's entire budget to ensure that educational reforms have priority. Since Menino took office, the School Department's operating budget has increased by $60 million; its capital budget by $43.2 million, or 255 percent.
Vital to the future success of the Boston Public Schools is the appointment of Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education and a nationally recognized educational leader. Under Superintendent Payzant, new city-wide curricula and assessments are being instituted, standards elevated, and professional development for staff and parents secured. A school committee appointed by the Mayor allows all entities which govern the schools -- the city's administration, the Superintendent, and the Boston School Committee -- to work in tandem. This team has effectively developed and worked on nationally recognized initiatives, including:
School-to-Career Programs -- Boston has become widely recognized as having the most accomplished and extensive School-to-Work effort in the nation. Called School-to-Career in Boston to underscore the long-term impact of both training and continuing education for students, over 1,150 are enrolled, making it the largest formal school-to-work program in the nation.
Blue Ribbon Commission for Community Learning Centers -- Nineteen months ago, Mayor Menino established a Blue Ribbon Commission and charged this group with developing a process and plan to create community learning centers. These centers will be designed to provide the best possible environment for educating and supporting school-aged children and community residents, and will house a full range of social services. Next year, construction will begin on the first of these centers: three early learning centers catering to the needs of a growing population of five-year-olds, their families and the community, which will be built in diverse sections of the city. These new facilities will bring the city closer to its goal of guaranteeing that by September 1998, every five-year-old in Boston will have access to a full-day kindergarten program. In addition, the Commission is working in conjunction with other city departments to equip all Boston schools with current information technology, and to train teachers and parents accordingly.
Contact: Office of the Mayor, (617) 635-3817
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
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