Boston hears a wide-ranging proposal for public school reform

Good schools are not free, says Boston school superintendent Laval S. Wilson as he discusses a $28.5 million program that he hopes will reform city public schools. His 16-point Boston Education Plan aims to revitalize a system that has lost nearly 40,000 students in a decade marked by racial strife, political pyrotechnics, and the watchdog surveillance by US District Judge W.Arthur Garrity Jr., who ordered desegregation of Boston schools in 1974.

``Our goal is not only to bring stability to Boston's public schools,'' Dr. Wilson says, ``but to retool and remodel our curricula and our activities to upgrade the academic achievements of students and to broaden them as citizens....''

He does not limit his proposals to stock solutions. For example, he seeks two years of kindergarten. He calls for full school days in Kindergartens 1 and 2 and in the first grade. In addition, he recommends that schools provide after-school care for these children.

``Nearly 20 percent of our first-graders are failing,'' Wilson says.

``This is because many children have no preschool training. So we are requiring two years of kindergarten before first grade. Then our elementary (Grades K to 5) schools will offer after-school day-care centers. This will permit working parents to have their children under supervision throughout the school day. These children will have a good start toward education, too.''

Wilson seeks to resolve problems that are common to other urban public schools in the United States, especially those operating under court-ordered desegregation. Boston's drop in school enrollment has been due mostly to white flight. Its schools today are 50 percent black, 27 percent white, and 23 percent other minorities, mostly Hispanic.

``I'm in favor of dumping age-old traditions if that means a better future for Boston students,'' says Wilson, who became Boston's first black school superintendent two years ago. ``Our high school graduates should qualify [for] jobs in industry or score well enough on entrance exams to be accepted ... in college.''

Not only has Wilson recommended improved textbooks, but he seeks uniform texts throughout the system. ``Boston students change schools frequently,'' he says. ``With great mobility among both students and teachers, it is time that all schools and teachers use the same textbooks and materials in their teaching to bring consistency to the classrooms.

He also seeks expanded extracurricular activity, mostly after class.

``Every high school and every middle school needs after-school projects that broaden the students' interests,'' Wilson says, sitting in shirtsleeves at his desk. ``I'm not talking about varsity spectator sports. I'm thinking of school bands, both concert and marching; school choruses; and student interest groups such as engineering club, French club, science club, honor societies, debating teams....

``Sure, we want to close the intellectual gaps among our students. But our children have so many other talents and interests beyond book knowledge. We can develop the whole child.''

The superintendent assumes a soap box stance as he talks about school improvements. ``These reforms cost,'' he says, ``and we'll have to pay if we want to give a first-class education so they can compete on a par with graduates from schools around the nation.''

Wilson plans to begin implementation of his plan in September, for the opening of the 1987-88 school year. Three of the 16 task force reports have yet to be released; they are to be submitted by June 1, he says.

John Nucci, president of the Boston School Board, supports most of Wilson's goals. The board has suggested only minor changes. Mayor Raymond Flynn, running for reelection, and some members of the City Council are skeptical about costs but seem willing to compromise.

Still pending is the issue of bilingual education. Wilson and Hispanic leaders have clashed on this topic.

A master plan for Boston schools

Boston school superintendent Laval Wilson offers these recommendations:

Set classroom and test requirements for graduation and promotion.

Provide family study, including sex education for older students. Permanent panels would counsel and provide crisis intervention in each school. A health clinic would serve one school.

Require two years of kindergarten and after-school day care.

Provide remedial programs and special counseling to keep marginal students from dropping out. Provide better counseling for all students.

Reduce weapons brought to schools. Involve parents in rules of discipline as well as curriculum planning.

Give parents more choices to select schools for children while maintaining desegregation.

Offer intensive training to teachers and administrators. Make them accountable for pupil performances.

A computer error caused an information box on Boston school reform yesterday to appear in fragments. A corrected version appears on Page 4 of today's paper.

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