Discussion about public school system attracts many community members


Jacob Spiegel/Sagamore Staff

Members of the Brookline community gathered at All Saints Parish on Wednesday to discuss issues facing the Brookline Public Schools.

Jacob Spiegel, Business Manager

On 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 15, the wooden pews of the All Saints Parish in Brookline were filled with educators, parents and students, eager to hear members of the community speak about current issues within the Brookline Public School system. They were impatient for certain changes to happen, such as increased pay for paraprofessionals and the closing of the achievement gap between White students and students of color on standardized tests.

The event did not discuss other issues within the public schools, such as the high school’s need for expansion and the debate over a possible 9th elementary school.

Following light refreshments, the event was opened by Brookline Educators Union (BEU) President Jessica Wender-Shubow, who talked about her positive experience growing up attending Runkle School and the benefits that the METCO program has brought to Brookline’s schools. She noted that while she was a student, she regrets that she never had the chance to visit a METCO student’s house.

After Wender-Shubow’s remarks, there were two student performances, the first being Music, Unity and Social Expansion (MUSE), with students playing “Hey Jude” by The Beatles. Next, drama students from the high school performed excerpts from “Every 28 Hours”, a series of short plays expressing controversial messages on topics such as racial profiling, “trigger warnings” and racism within the high school’s history curriculum.

After these performances, three paraprofessionals had the chance to speak about their dissatisfaction with their wages. Wendy MacMillian, a paraprofessional and parent of a Brookline student, said that paraprofessionals were not treated well before their last contract expired, and the new contract, which recently reached a tentative agreement, deeply divided the paraprofessional community and did not achieve wage increases.

Next, paraprofessional Rodolfo Machirica said that his job is to make sure that students with disabilities are able to learn at school. His heartwarming speech was met with a huge applause, which he ended by saying, “I hope you heard this message with your souls. For it is the truth.”

Finally, mother of a student and paraprofessional Roylene Hunt said, “I go home rich in my heart knowing that I touch someone every single day.” She also said that the pay she receives does not match the value of her work.

Next, Brookline Parent Organization (BPO) member Adam Weiner talked about the failure of the school committee to solve many issues. “Parents want their children to spend six and a half hours a day with teachers who are happy,” Weiner said. “People would often go to the school committee, but instead of answers, they would respond with ‘you have three minutes’.”

Weiner’s speech was met with a mixture of laughter and applause, as he ended his speech by saying, “In a democratic society what I’m about to say should not sound like a battle cry, so here goes. Public schools belong to the public.”

Wender-Shubow spoke next about the school committee’s “management prerogative” as an explanation for why equal pay for paraprofessionals was not included in the contract. She also spoke about ways to close the racial achievement gap, including “having time for {students of color} set out during the day.”

Members of the community that lead various organizations spoke next, such as Abby Erdmann, the founder of Brookline for Racial Justice and Equity (BRJE) to dismantle racial inequity in Brookline. Matty Farlow also spoke, representing Brookline PAX: a local organization for progressive action. Finally, Lisa Guisbond of Citizens for Public Schools (CPS) said that her organization helped to defeat ballot question two in the November 2016 elections, which would have diverted some funding for public schools to charter schools.

The final speaker was President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association Barbara Madeloni, who, in addition to speaking out against unequal pay for paraprofessionals and the racial achievement gap, said that standardized testing was contributing to racial inequity.

“Standardization is white supremacy”, Madeloni said. Her speech was met with a standing ovation.