Boston Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Payzant previewed his plans to improve the city's public education, which include establishing full-day kindergarten for 5-year-olds and reorganizing administrative oversight of schools, at a forum Monday night in the Lower Campus Dining Hall's Heights Room.
Payzant also called for a broad-based effort to address youth and education-related issues, one which does not rely solely on parents, but encompasses government, business, and most importantly, other community members.
"We've got to engage the public so it understands that we are virtually all connected to children in very personal and direct ways," Payzant told the audience of approximately 70. "We have got to make the case that we are all in this together. As citizens, as educators, as parents and as students, we all share in the accountability system to ensure our young people progress, meet high standards and are able to experience the best of whatever we can provide . . . Together we can make a powerful difference."
Payzant's appearance, his first on an area campus since he assumed leadership of Boston Public Schools this fall, was organized by Research Prof. John Cawthorne (SOE), the National Urban League's vice president for education.
In his address, Payzant outlined the general challenges facing American education, focusing on the debate over equity among schools and the diverse populations and needs public schools now serve. Many of these issues are reflected in the experiences of BPS' 62,500 students, he said, and schools must use an integrated approach in teaching, professional development and other areas to confront these issues.
Payzant said he has begun an initiative to establish standards and general curriculum frameworks in basic subjects, such as math, science and history beginning next fall. They will provide "clear expectations about what children should learn," he said.
Each school, he added, will develop a strategy to meet the system-wide standards, and - noting research done by School of Education faculty in Boston schools - will use different kinds of assessment tools, such as writing samples, science experiments and demonstrating work in solving math problems.
The role of parents is another priority, Payzant said. Familial involvement must be defined in terms of assisting with homework, communicating with children and ensuring their preparedness for school each day, he said.
Early childhood education will also be critical to the future of Boston schools, Payzant said, describing plans to institute an all-day kindergarten program by September of 1998.
The new superintendent is also planning a reorganization of the schools' administrative leadership to foster a more integrated system of elementary, junior high and high schools. Schools will be grouped in clusters of 10 to 13, with a principal from one working directly with Payzant and other system administrators.
Payzant said he was aware of the strong desire among city officials and parents for progress, and said recognizing gradual improvements would be important in the overall advancement of the public schools.
"There have got to be some small victories along the way," Payzant said, "while not losing sight of where we need to go to make a system really change."
Following his address, Payzant participated in a question-and-answer period with the audience. Responding to a question by SOE Dean Gerald Pine, he discussed the importance of partnerships between public schools and higher education, including collaborations currently in place between the University and the Boston Public Schools. Payzant also dealt with issues of inclusion for disabled students and teacher accountability.
Cawthorne said the event was the first in a series which will bring speakers to Boston College who "will challenge us to think deeply about the problems facing our schools."
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