Superintendent candidate would decentralize Boston schools

Tommy Chang, who currently oversees 115,000 students in 132 schools in Los Angeles, says moving BPS to the next level would require giving all schools far greater autonomy than most now have.

"All schools deserve levels of autonomy and should be doing innovative things," Chang told members of the School Committee today.

Chang is one of four finalists for superintendent being interviewed this week. The School Committee decides Tuesday whom to pick.

Chang cited Mayor Walsh's goal of launching innovation in every neighborhood and said all BPS schools part of that. Chang said that in his job as local superintendent for the Intensive Support and Innovation Center for the Los Angeles school system, he is proud of setting up a system in which schools select from a menu of educational systems and programs, rather than being forced to try to teach everything alike, and in which central administrators work more to support schools in their goals than just setting directives.

He said he oversees three types of schools: Schools that have consistently underperformed, pilot schools and schools that have "robust partnerships with outside organizations." Each school turnaround plan has to be unique because of each school's unique history and makeup, he said. Rather than coming up with a 200-page document that nobody reads, he said he and his team sit down with a school's teachers and parents and come up with two or three key strategies - with intensive support from central administration to help the school achieve that.

He said that over the past 2 1/2 years, graduation rates in the schools he oversees - part of a larger 600,000-student system - have increased 15%, to 70%, attendance is up and suspensions are down.

Chang said that if you Google teaching methods from the 1800s, 1900s and 2000s, not much has changed except for the technology and the greater use of color. But "it's such a different world" now and kids are getting content from everywhere. "That should be happening in our schools," and part of his job, he said, would be figuring out how to teach teachers in how to work with and deal with that.

In response to a question on how to increase school funding, Chang said one of the first things he would do as superintendent is to look at why Boston currently spends $16,000 per student - twice as much as Los Angeles. "I deeply want to understand why that is."

Chang, who came to the US from Taiwan at age 6, started out as a biology teacher at Compton High School. He recalled taking on the extra job of coaching the girl's softball team, which had never won a game - and which finally did in his third year as coach. And he said he took lessons from that experience that he still follows as an administrator:

"You have to be willing to invest in teams and you have to build team culture," he said. He said all of the members of his staff are given a "challenge coin" which they present to each other outside the office and, instead of sharing a drink as in the military, share complements. And "equal is not equitable" - each team member has his or her own unique needs and goals and needs to be coached differently.

Chang said he would tweak Boston's emphasis on early education to ensure a focus on early literacy. This, he said, would help with the issue of students coming into first grade doing well and then starting to fall behind in the third grade. And he said that while repairing Madison Park's vocational programs, he would also try to layer in some more traditional acadmic classes there - because in today's economy, voke students need certain academic programs as well to succeed.

Committee members asked him why in the world he would want to leave warm Los Angeles for frozen Boston.

"Hanley Ramirez did," he joked.

He said he's gained a national reputation for his work but had not applied for jobs anywhere else. "Boston matters," he said. "Boston is actually unique in the sense in that it really is a hub for culture and innovation that you don't find in some other areas. ... I'm psyched [to be considered]. This is the district I want."

Also see:
Change's Boston application.
School superintendent candidate saddened by what he sees in Boston.
Superintendent candidate knows Boston challenges first hand.
School superintendent candidate says Boston just too good an opportunity to pass up.


Councilors propose city alcohol tax to fund substance-abuse programs

City councilors Bill Linehan (South Boston, South End, Chinatown) and Frank Baker (Dorchester) will try for legislative approval to let Boston charge up to a 2% tax on sales of alcohol in local liquor stores and restaurants as a way to curb substance abuse in the city.

The two will ask the council tomorrow to start the ball rolling on their proposal, which they say would not only help alcoholics and addicts but the city as a whole by reducing the amount of crime related to substance abuse.

If the rest of the council agrees, a council committee will hold a hearing on the proposal, after which the council would vote on it.

The council's regular Wednesday session begins at noon in its fifth-floor chambers in City Hall.


Councilors: Boston needs beefier snow-removal equipment

All quiet today at the South Boston snow farm. Photo by Conventures.

City Councilors Tim McCarthy (Hyde Park, Roslindale, Mattapan) and Mark Ciommo (Allston/Brighton) say the past month suggests the city needs better equipment for clearing city streets in the winter.

The two say that despite valiant efforts of city DPW workers, all the snow led to "gridlock and dangerous conditions" across the city and that residents continue to struggle just to get up and down their own streets.

On Wednesday, McCarthy, a DPW administrator until his election in 2013, and Ciommo ask the council to begin looking at buying the sort of "oversized" snow blowers, snow melters and "other current technologies" the city does not currently own - and to see if the city can pick up any tips from other snow-belt cities and countries.

To deal with the deluge of snow over the past winter, the city borrowed and rented snow melters to dissolve the endless truckloads of snows being hauled to city snow farms in Hyde Park, Charlestown and South Boston.


Olympics backers claim 100,000 to 125,000 jobs, but admit not all will be paid

WBUR reports on a Boston 2024 community meeting in Roxbury:

"Let me talk about jobs specifically," Fish said. "When you talk about hosting an Olympic and Paralympic Games, there will be over 100,000 to 125,000 jobs, between volunteers and newly created jobs. This can be, we feel confident, benefit the entire community."

But asked how many will be paid and how many will be volunteer, Boston 2024 CEO Richard Davey didn’t have an answer.


She probably didn't play any hunger games at the food court

People reports Jennifer Lawrence spent Sunday night at the Pru mall instead of at the Oscars.

She is, of course, in town to work on a biopic of the inventor of the Miracle Mop. No word on who plays Billy Mays.


Teeny little trash fire smokes up Red Line station

Firefighters responded to South Station shortly before 9:30 p.m. for a trash fire on the outbound side of the Red Line. The fire was not on the tracks, it was quickly blasted with some water and that was that, except for the smell of smoke and the delays on the Red Line.