By Andrew Firestone

The Boston Globe came under fire last week when Mayor Joseph Curtatone blasted a recent article, which he said levied unwarranted criticism to the Somerville Education System. “This was a prejudicial article,” he said at a School Committee meeting on May 16. “There were undertones to this article that would be offensive to anyone who has any decent set of values.”

The article, entitled  “Should they stay or should they go?” was written by longtime Somerville correspondent Danielle Dreilinger, and released on May 5 in the Globe North, and told the story of three prospective families who had to contend with the Somerville school system and its negative perception when deciding on schools for their youth. The article included a family that moved to Belmont, and faced increased property taxes and a lack of community that Somerville provides, all due to their refusal to submit their children to the Somerville education system. Reasons included poor test MCAS scores and a high dropout rate.

“Somerville and Belmont, no offense to Belmont, they can’t hold a torch to us,” said Curtatone, saying that the comparison between suburb and city painted an incomplete picture of the situation. “We take on the challenges put before us, and we do a damn good job of it.”

“It is comparing apples to oranges if you’re trying to compare Somerville to Belmont,” said Vice-Chair Paul Bockelman.

Prompted by citizen outcry, Somerville officials, including Curtatone, Rebekah Gewirtz, President of the Board of Aldermen, Tony Pierantozzi, Superintendent, and Adam Sweeting, Chairman of the School Committee, sent a letter to the Globe in response, which was published May 15, outlining their protest to the story, and voicing disappointment in the perceived small scope of the article.

“Somerville does not have an easily categorized school system,” they wrote, calling the Globe article “an elitist stance” and criticizing it for not mentioning recent awards the system had won, such as Somerville High being named “Most Innovative School of the Year,” by Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation.

“That’s what has destroyed a lot of what has gone on in the school department over the years: those naysayers who have never set foot in the school department have led to what has gone on in that article,” said Teresa Cardoso, Ward 2 member. Others in the committee shared her view.

Gewirtz said that when she read the original article, “my heart sank. People believe that about the Somerville schools.  They haven’t seen what we have to offer, a lot of people haven’t.”

Curtatone fumed about the perspective presented in the Globe, and declared that he would not take it lying down. “I refuse to deal with any member of the media who is going to put that type of trash in there, run away, and then say ‘we stand by our story,’” he said.

“Well I stand by our community. And we’re going to make sure that the truth gets disseminated the way it should be on a fair and equitable basis.”

Curtatone’s protests culminated in a meeting with a delegation from the Globe, including Dreilinger and Globe North Assistant Editor Marcia Dick on Thursday, May 19 at City Hall.

“We appreciated the chance to meet with Mayor Curtatone and Somerville school officials and we look forward to continuing to cover the city and its school system,” said Bob Powers, VP of Communication and Public Relations.

The School Committee praised Curtatone’s powerful language and called for a greater effort to push for future perspectives on the education system as a whole, that it would be more effective and positive. “We’re going to take action and we’re going to take deliberative action to make sure that everybody knows what the great things are that the Somerville schools have to offer,” said Gewirtz.

“Don’t leave because you hear these rumors that aren’t true about the Somerville schools,” she related telling her friends.  “I want to send my kids to schools here.”

 

10 Responses to “Somerville mayor blasts Boston Globe over schools article”

  1. Kim Rego says:

    I’m sorry but Somerville deserved that article.

    If I have to endure one more school official explain how diversity trumps proof of educational process with regard to the standardized testing I will scream.

    We spend more dollars per child in the Somerville school system than nearly all the high performing districts with very poor result. Graduation rates are lower, MCAS are sub par, and college attendance rates are lower. Those are facts, not feelings.

    Perhaps if we concentrated on scholastics not diversity and required language testing prior to elementary school entrance, everyone would get a fair shot. It seems to me that the only issue with standardized test is if we believe the material on the test is invalid. Work it into the school year and stop crying about teaching to the test. All of Europe teaches and grades this way and their public schools are whipping our butts.

  2. harry says:

    More than 60% of students entering SHS freshman year don’t speak english well enough to make it through to their senior year. English is their 2nd language and usualy it is not spoken at home. That’s the problem – it all goes back to this city welcoming illegal immigrants with open arms – we can’t afford to teach them english and MATH! So they learn neither.

    We spend on average per student with the lowest results. How can anyone paint this for anything than what it is? A big FAIL.

    Hey, but the mayor will have the city paint more bike lanes!!! WINNING!!!

  3. SomMom says:

    To Kim: Have you read an MCAS exam, or tried to help your child with MCAS questions for homework? If so, you’ll realize that there ARE actually many problems with this standardized test. I have a graduate degree, and yet there are questions on every MCAS homework sheet that I cannot help my child answer because none of the answers makes sense.

    For English language learners, it’s even harder, because even the math test asks kids to “explain how you got that answer.” So: you can’t just do the math; you also have to write a sentence “explaining” it. (This isn’t so easy to figure out how to do!)

    I also can’t figure out how “requir[ing] language testing prior to elementary school entrance” would give “everyone . . . a fair shot”?

    To Harry: Notice which SHS graduates are going to Harvard this year, and which language is their native language. Look back at previous years’ top students at SHS and notice what their native languages were. Kids who are coming into our schools with limited or no English are often succeeding beyond many people’s wildest dreams for their kids.

    The Somerville public schools and teachers are doing a spectacular job, given the challenges they face (including budget cuts). Belmont (as one example) doesn’t have the same population of students we do.

  4. Joseph Keller says:

    “The School Committee praised Curtatone’s powerful language”

    Anybody can talk tough…. Not much to praise there.

  5. Kim says:

    If everyone entered each grade level with the same language competencies, the learning process would be on a more level playing field for all. Very simple. No sneaky agendas here.

    Everyone, with the same skill in the language the country educates in.

    Thats how it used to be. My elders all had to get proficient BEFORE entering school instead of getting proficient in school and possibly altering the learning curve for everyone else.

  6. Kim says:

    @SOMMOM

    If you have a graduate degree, I’m sure you remember TOFL? Do you take issue with that as well?

  7. Hillson says:

    I agree with Kim Rego and Harry on their comments and statements. Joe the phony Curtatone is the ultimate spinmaster and dealer in deceit. He is also a flip flopper on many stands and issues he has taken.

    His whole agenda is furtherance of his political career, self promotion, and pandering for votes. People, don’t forget your ABC’s at the polls.

  8. SomMom says:

    Hi Kim
    TOEFL is a Test of the English Language. It’s totally different from MCAS. MCAS does not measure a student’s understanding of the English language; it asks content questions about math, reading, science, etc. (depending on the subject of the test).

    I know many students in Somerville who have learned English while in our schools and are now in Honors and AP classes at SHS or have graduated to go to top-notch schools, including the Ivy League. I don’t mean that every English Language Learner has excelled to this extent, but these kids started out just learning the language, and look how far they got! they didn’t pull down anyone else’s learning in the process; instead, they may have actually made other kids take learning more seriously.

  9. Eduardo Escalante says:

    I’m sorry, but if you live by the numbers, you die by the numbers. Somerville was oh too proud to boast our MCAS scores when they were favorable. Now that we’re slacking, the numbers don’t mean anything? And while certain economic and cultural conditions must be considered, having a dropout rate ten percent higher than the rest of the state is unacceptable. This article could have been written in 2002 when I graduated Somerville High. What is more likely: that nothing has changed, or that this article is a false representation of SHS, which just so happens to look exactly the same as a decade ago? Mayor Joe can get as mad as he wants, you can’t brow beat facts.
    To me, this is just further proof that the working people in this community continue to get the short end of the stick, while the affluent continue to refuse to commit their families to the community. If the city wants to keep their precious young urban professionals, they better do more than just talk tough on education.

  10. Kim says:

    I’m with Eduardo. Well said.

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