Our Voices Were Heard, But They Were Ignored

Students at a Boston High School that grooms community leaders learn a hard lesson

By Bilal Lafta
BilalBoston Community Leadership Academy is very unique in that it has a mission to expose students to community service and focuses a lot on leadership. Students have a community service requirement in order to graduate, but many of them end up taking that requirement above and beyond and really becoming a leader. That’s the reason why when students first heard about the budget cuts back in January, we took it as an opportunity to fight back. That’s what we’ve been doing for months now. We’ve been speaking out at the School Committee, speaking directly to our city councilors, contacting the superintendent and protesting.

Our school has taught us that if you follow this path of leadership and you act as a leader and say what you believe in, adults will hear you and ultimately you’ll be able to bring about change. That didn’t happen in this circumstance, despite the fact that we had so many students protesting and voicing their opinions. Our voices were heard, but they were ignored.

Our school has taught us that if you follow this path of leadership and you act as a leader and say what you believe in, adults will hear you and ultimately you’ll be able to bring about change.

When superintendent Dr. Tommy Chang came to our school in February and saw what we were doing, and attended some classes and talked to students, he told us that he was so impressed by the school. We told Dr. Chang about the staff cuts and the classes we’ll be losing, and he told us how disappointed he was about the budget cuts. At the end of his visit, in front of six to eight students and the headmaster, he made a promise to fight to at least save the Leadership Coordination Program. It didn’t turn out that way.

#bpswalkoutStudents felt very hopeful a couple of weeks ago. We were very hopeful when we heard that the Mayor was pushing to revise the budget after we walked out. We were hopeful at my school that we’d regain our librarian, our SAT prep program, the classes we’re losing, our Leadership Coordination Program. But with the revised budget proposal, BCLA is losing more than a half million dollars. This whole school is founded on community leadership, and when you take that away we’re no longer the Boston Community Leadership Academy. We’re just Boston Academy.

When students at BCLA heard about the budget cuts and what was going to happen to our school, some of us asked if this wasn’t an example of institutionalized racism. We looked around at the districts surrounding Boston, where these kinds of cuts aren’t happening. We saw that it’s only happening here. And if you analyze the demographics of the Boston Public Schools, you realize that white students are the minority and that the district is overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic. We see these facts and we start to wonder if it’s racism.

Call me insane but I have a theory. It seems like BPS is setting up schools like mine by taking away the resources that have made us successful. They’re ultimately setting us up for failure.

Call me insane but I have a theory. It seems like BPS is setting up schools like mine by taking away the resources that have made us successful. They’re ultimately setting us up for failure. And once we reach that point where students are not doing as well in school and they’re failing the exams, then BPS will sweep in and say *It seems like BCLA isn’t working out. Why don’t we create a charter school here?* But BCLA has been working out for the last decade. We have results. We’ve reached what the district wants us to reach, and now that we have succeeded and have many great students and great staff who have built a great school they’re taking away some of the resources that made our school great. By taking away these resources, students will be set up to fail. I saw that with the old middle school I attended, the Gavin, which no longer exists, and with many other schools. It’s a pattern.

Bilal Lafta is a senior at Boston Community Leadership Academy. He hasn’t decided where he’ll be attending college yet, but has received full scholarship offers from Brown and Dartmouth.

Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Print this pageEmail this to someone

11 Comments

  1. Bilal,

    You said it “seems like BPS is setting up schools like mine by taking away the resources that have made us successful. They’re ultimately setting us up for failure. And once we reach that point where students are not doing as well in school and they’re failing the exams, then BPS will sweep in and say *It seems like BCLA isn’t working out. ”

    Bilal, you just described the last twenty years of what “education reform” has wrought in Chicago (and other cities.)

    Read this article in the Atlantic:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/04/reviving-a-hollowed-out-high-school/477354/

    They deliberately rigged the traditional public schools for failure… starving them of funding and resources, then transferring that funding and resources to privately-managed charters, combined with an incessant propaganda campaign about how public schools are “failure factories.”

    They then use that “failure”… that they actually caused with the initial starvation, and the resulting loss of enrollment, as justification for closing them, and of course, opening more charter schools.

    Here’s another interesting quote from Chicago Public Schools facilities chief Tim Cawley in which Cawley freely admits that he will only repair schools AFTER they’ve been closed and given to private-sector charter management:
    David Steiber, MECHANICS:

    “To be honest and straight to the point, closing a neighborhood school means the city has failed that neighborhood. It should come as no shock then that all the school closures in Chicago over the past decade have been in black and latino areas of the city. Many of these neighborhoods, like Englewood where I teach, have been ignored, underfunded, and blamed for their own problems for decades.

    “Logic dictates that CPS should be trying to help improve struggling schools, but using logic and CPS in the same sentence is a mistake.

    “As CPS Chief Operating Officer Tim Cawley said publicly,

    ” ‘If we think there’s a chance that a building is going to be closed in the next five to 10 years, if we think it’s unlikely it’s going to continue to be a school, we’re not going to invest in that building.’

    “So CPS admits that if a school needs help there is no way that they are going to fund that school. Since the vast majority of underperforming schools are in poorer communities, CPS has, through its own policies, decided to give up on the schools in those communities. They look at a school as a business investment, not a community investment.”
    ——————-

  2. Bilal – I think you are quite perfectly sane, and that the pattern you discern is true. I look forward to voting for you when you stand for election to office here in Boston. We certainly need leaders like you.

  3. Congratulations, you’ve figured out at a very young age what the problem facing democracy is in our modern world. You’ll have that much longer to figure out the solution which people two, three and four times your age haven’t figured out. What do you do when you work the democratic system like you’re supposed to only to find out that you don’t really have a voice (even though the powers that be may make a convincing show at first)? How do you get that voice back? When you figure out that answer, you’re going to need to teach it to your elders who are groping in the dark.

  4. The difficult part about reallocating a budget is always to decide who should get less. Generally in the US the answer has been that the elderly should never get less (because they vote), so it has to be someone else. Many recommend that the taxpayer gets less, as long as they are not the taxpayer who actually get less. These days it is often the young, or even better the future generation that gets less because by definition the future generation is not voting today.

    1. Or, we could decide who has to pay more. As in, those who benefit most from society. Let’s raise the top marginal rate back to 70%. Let’s implement a transaction tax on speculative trading. Let’s restore corporate taxes (with provisions prohibiting that tax from being passed on to consumers or non-executive level employees).

      After all that, if we still need to make cuts, how about eliminating the Department of Homeland Security? Got along just fine without it for the first 225+ years of this nation. How about closing some foreign military bases? How about cutting back on weaponry? How about a little less to Israel while they’re slaughtering Palestinians? How about stopping corporate welfare (including charter schools)?

    2. Dienne,

      When I talked about who should get less, I meant to include the good taxpayers of Boston. After all, if you want them to pay more, they do get less.

      There is, of course, a limit on how high Boston can raise taxes as the good taxpayers of Boston may just pack up and leave the city’s tax jurisdiction. States out east are small enough and the transportation network rich enough that the citizens of Boston may well leave the state.

      Your idea to expand federal financing of public schools is certainly possible. I think there would be many objections to the federal over site that I think is likely to be inevitable.

      1. The only taxpayers of Boston who need to be paying more are those currently not paying their fair share – corporations, rich people, speculators, etc. They can all afford plenty more. Most people would not be affected by higher marginal rates (you do understand what that means, right?) or transactional taxes.

        1. Dienne,

          Again, if the marginal rates rise to much in the City of Boston, folks can simply move out of range of Boston’s taxing authority.

  5. It is painful to see how yet another community, in yet another city, yet another state, is finding that the school reformers’ game includes “listening” without any intention to hear. This is a pattern now running out of control across the nation — public meetings which have absolutely no accountability to the public. It is only a shell game made complicated by smoke screens, such as the smoke screen of “pretending to care.”

    1. I am not sure this is anything more than the age old story about unlimited desires and limited means.

Comments are closed.