By Jass Stewart
I know something about schools. I have a master’s degree in education from Boston University. I also started seven small high schools across the country, based on a model lauded as “an education stimulus for the nation’s cities” by the mayors of Indianapolis, Newark, and Nashville. And I’m a proud parent of a Brockton High School junior.
So when I say our new superintendent is on the right track, it’s based on a lot of relevant experience.
Dr. Matthew Malone has come to Brockton with his eyes wide open. The new superintendent of schools went on an extensive listening tour, opened his doors to teachers and residents, and crafted a five-year strategic plan for the district – all in his first six months.
Equally as important, he recognizes the global challenges we face as a country and as a community.
A generation ago, America had the best-educated population on the planet. Today, we are number 10. And by 2025, we’ll need to produce an additional 15 million graduates with a post-secondary credential to compete internationally. Yet, the U.S. is hemorrhaging high-school students at the rate of 1.2 million dropouts a year.
So how do we tackle a problem that’s so enormous and yet so local? You do what our superintendent has outlined in his “Realigning Resources for Results” strategy.
First, you start young. Malone proposes that Brockton Public Schools jumpstart a robust, literacy rich early childhood program for every 4-year-old in the city. He is right. And when the critics start bawling about the cost, keep in mind: by adding 1,200 new students to the system, the program pays for itself.
Second, build on the district’s existing work to prevent kids from dropping out, using a vigorous early warning system. Experts have already done the math; high school dropouts in 2007, for example, will cost our nation more than $300 billion in lost wages, taxes and productivity.
Third, for those students who are struggling but are likely to graduate, let’s increase academic expectations and offer them a direct line to college. This “college in the high school” approach, where students earn a diploma and college credit, has shown incredible results in schools across the country, including higher graduation and college-going rates.
And fourth, re-engage students who have already dropped out by providing multiple points of re-entry. The data show us that students who drop out of school keep coming back. They re-enroll in their regular school. They try for a GED. They take some classes at the community college. But too often, they just can’t make the connection stick.
As an elected official, my primary role is to ensure our city is strong and healthy. Every indicator of strength and health take us right back to education, from income level to safe streets. For example, if we increased the male graduation rate by only 5 percent, the nation would see an annual savings of $4.9 billion in crime-related costs.
In reality, you don’t have to be an expert on education to know our superintendent is on the right track. You just need to have a Brockton High School junior who happens to be your son.
Jass Stewart is a city councilor at large in Brockton and a vice president at Jobs for the Future in Boston. He can be reached at Jass@JassStewart.com.
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