Chris Conroy, 31, an at-large Boston City Council candidate, of Roxbury, spoke with Patch editor David Ertischek about his candidacy. Conroy is "not married, yet" and has two stepsons, who are METCO students attending a school in Bedford.
Patch: Where did you grow up?
Conroy: I grew up in Dorchester. My mother’s family is from Dorchester and they made their home in Savin Hill. My mom is one of 13 so we were concentrated over there. I attended BC High.
Patch: What's your profession? How will that help on the council?
Conroy: I am a teacher, also and an advocate for working families, particularly young working families in Boston. Mainly focusing on work force development and education in the inner areas of Boston.
I started my career at the Galvin (Middle School) in South Boston as a teacher fellow, and then the bulk of my career at Codman Academy in Dorchester as a special education teacher. For children one of the best learning environments is out of the classroom. Children with exceptional learning needs might have trouble in a regular classroom. We built a classroom for six to eight students for those kids at the Codman to be specifically designed for them to have a good high experience... We also wanted to make sure our students were ready for transition into post-secondary instead of college. We need to start in the Commonwealth, and in Boston, to talk about what comes after high school. It involves a mix of college, and a mix of jobs, and career development in addition to creating a pathway to college because not every student is going to live that four-year residential experience in collge. We have to make sure there are pathways that lead to success and lead to strong communities.
When I was at the Codman, for special needs students, the end of high school is a high stakes time. It’s needing to be able to pass MCAS and get over the hurdle of MCAS. In Boston there are a lot of special needs students who make up the dropout population, also kids who leave charter schools. But at the Codman we wanted to make the focus of the classroom to develop, not just achievement in academics. But getting young people in the classroom as ready to go out after the classroom in high school with employment or part-time internships. It was really individualized and I got to see students grow and be successful after high school.
I’m full-time in the race (after taking a leave of absence). I also worked in an advocacy role with the State House and city hall to change policies around workforce development for young people in Boston.
Patch: Why are you running at-large and not district?
Conroy: I see the at-large postion as being the best community organizing position in the city of Boston. I think that we are going through a significant era of change in education. The evidence is with the main conversation of mayoral candidates. We also have a (record) citywide youth unemployment rate, we've never had more unemployed or disconnected youth - and practically out of the game. I want to raise up that issue to make sure there are more opportunities. If we take on that challenge we can do a lot to stabilize our city and make it a more vibrant community economically and socially... I think we’re on the right path, I want to make sure there is a voice of students, parents, teachers, people on the ground to have a voice on the council. I think there’s no better person to do that than someone who was a teacher and worked with parents to push reforms. We talk about broader issues but improving a school is doing it one classroom at a time, one school at a time.
Patch: What do you think of current school assignment plan?
Conroy: Part of me believes we are headed in the right direction. We’re headed in right direction in focusing on quality. Like many others I think one of the mistakes we made, that could’ve better reflected, is school quality in the formula we created... You have to talk about how many open seats that are in high quality schools. If you’re not doing that you’re not taking into account of the wait list and how difficult it is to break through the wait list problem in Boston Public Schools. It’s still built around quality schools in your area… We’re still going to see a disparity in the outcome for our students when it comes to a high quality school. I think the formula could’ve been improved more if we included how many open seats are in a high quality school, and areas that have lower amounts of seats in high quality schools. That would've been a more equitable formula. That’s a little controversial because you’re talking about creating a scenario where people are getting more access than others, but we need to be serious about that. Boston Latin School has removed affirmative action from their enlistment process and you see a disparity right away. I think that’s a danger in not eliminating the uncertainty of the wait list in the assignment plan. In addition to that, the assignment plan moves in the direction at looking at school quality, but I think the assignment plan is the wrong conversation to be having. What I appreciated is the assignment plan conversation is there was at least an effort of the BPS to engage families and community in what the assignment plan should look like, and that is very similar to what they’d doing with the superintendent search now. They’re holding a meeting and determining what the superintendent's job should be. I think we should be doing the same thing about school quality and holding these conversations in our schools and the areas of the city where there is a dearth of quality school seats. Just labeling a school as underperforming is not doing much on how to improve that school. We have to know what those school is like from the inside down to the principal and teachers. We should have community conversations about what makes a quality school and get school equality across the city.
Patch: What about liftng the charter cap?
Conroy: I do not believe we should lift the charter cap right now. I think there’s a couple reasons we shouldn’t do it now and have a move forward plan that Boston should adopt with charter schools and the relationships we have. Right now, the conversation is going back to school quality right now in the city and the majority of our schools have been categorized as Level 3 or 4 schools, underperforming…
We need to reinvest and use existing means through innovation schools within the public school system and get resources they need. That’s happening at the Roger Clap in Dorchester. It was struggling for a long time up until it was granted innovation school status... They retooled the school, hired a new principal, they had teachers and staff reapply, and got behind a comprehensive vision with teachers, parents, residents, and created a really strong start-up school. They created flexibility in scheduling curriculum.. in the first year they totally turned around test scores and turned around the culture of the school… We need to reinvest in schools that are Tier 3 and 4 (schools marked as underperforming), reinvest in creating a leadership pipeline to make sure teachers have a pathway to become principals.
Patch: What are your sign colors and why?
Conroy: My sign colors are red, white, and blue,.. I’m a pretty rabid Sox and Patriots fans. And the Pats in recent years have thrown silver in there. I’m an old school Boston sports fan. And I think of government as a team concept. The U.S. and democracy is about being better together, and I want my campaign to represent what my passion is, and that ensures that everyone has a voice.
Patch: What has been your experience in West Roxbury?
Conroy: I have family in West Roxbury, so it was a major gathering place during the holidays. My main experience is a family-based one so I see that community as a very close knit residential community. Family is an institution - that’s why I love Westie. For me, my childhood memories are being with my cousins in that place and getting a broader sense of community.
Patch: Anything else?
Conroy: For me the most important thing is that I can communicate about my desires to be a representative for the city on the city council. It’s gotten cliché, but this is a very, very critical point in our history as a city. I have roots here, I feel rooted here, I think we have an opportunity to connect our neighborhoods than we ever have and connect perspectives to solve our most complex challenges around educaton and unemployment. But we have the resources to take those problems on and consistently improve them. I strongly believe we have to engage in the 60% of folks who won't vote in this election… If you’re not engaging in your community then you leave the decisions to those engagned who don’t hear your perspective. I want to engage folks who haven’t been engaged before. The mom who hasn’t utilized the school system because there’s a language barrier. The young man who hasn’t registered to vote, but has dreams of wanting to pursue a career but doesn’t know how to get there... I think if we can engage that population our city can come up with some really creative ways to solve some of the difficult issues. It’s about bringing folks together and that’s what I would like to serve on the city council.
I’m personally calling for extending city council terms to four years. If you want to get out of the pattern of eternal campaigning and worrying about engagement, we need to give time for councilors to build authentic relationships and also give citizens time to see what councilors are really about and if they’re not doing their jobs.