At-Large Boston City Council candidate Annissa Essaibi-George, born and raised in Dorchester, answered questions from West Roxbury Patch editor David Ertischek
Patch: Where are you from? What neighborhood?
Essaibi-George: I’m from Dorchester, I guess St. Margaret’s Parish. It’s not quite Savin Hill, and it’s not quite the Polish Triangle, which is kind of a new designation.
Patch: How old are you? Married? Do you have children?
Essaibi-George: I'm 39, married, with four children including triplets.
Patch: Not to be a jerk, but you’ve got four children, three young triplets, how could you be a full-time city councilor with all those little ones?
Essaibi-George: The triplets are seven and my other guy is eight, all boys. Have you asked the male candidates those questions.
Essaibi-George: There are male candidates with young children... I understand... but I also know that question is not being asked ot male candidates.
Patch: You make a good point.
Essaibi-George: I think I’d be a good city councilor because I’m a mother, and because I’m promoting the idea of mothers making good city councilors, as good legislators, and good governors – because we’re mothers. That makes that question credible. One of the things I joke about on the stump is that if I can have a family of four, including triplets, and I can manage that, I can manage city government. I think mothers especially know how to be effective, efficient, and know how to get the job done. Because we are very accustomed to managing the fine details and grasping the big picture at once. It’s a finely oiled machine being a mom.
Patch: What schools do your children attend?
Essaibi-George: We registered and didn’t get a seat for my kids... and we started at a catholic school. As much as you'd like to be in public schools, once they start at a particular place it’s challenging for parents to pull (children) out. We have not reentered the lottery system because of that reason. I have developed relationships with principals and teachers. The boys have made relationships with their classmates. Playing with them with the lottery system is not something I want to do. We will be trying again this year because my older boy is in the third grade and he’ll take the AWC (Advanced Work Class test) and see what happens there and his brothers will hopefully get sibing preference... First and foremost I’m a parent and do best for my children. All four kids have different personalities and academic needs. My triplets were born premature and had some special needs when they were much younger, and we were able to navigate the system to make sure they got services they required... the other story behind our school placement is I went to the same grammar school as our kids, and there’s an extra special connection to it.
Patch: Why are you running at-large and not district?
Essaibi-George: I’m running for at-large because the issues I’m most interested in and specialize in, and one being education, is that they cross over neighborhood boundaries. I teach at East Boston High School so I feel like I know high schools and that’s not specific to just my neighborhood. That’s something the entire city is concerned about. I took a leave of absence for the fall for the campaign – I can’t see a good teacher and a good candidate at the same time. That's not fair to my students, my school. I didn’t have to. I’m planning on winning so I’d have to leave, too.
I’m active in East Boston where I teach. That’s going to be my second neighborhood to me. I feel my profile as a teacher and mother and owning a small business is a good connection to the city as a whole. I’m also friends with Frank Baker, who’s my district councilor.
Patch: What would you bring to the council?
Essaibi-George: As the only mother and only Boston school teacher running for city council citywide - first and foremost I bring that perspective to the table. And additionally my extensive work experience and community experiences as a teacher for 12 years. I was the first director for Fields Corner Main Street. I would advocate for the Main Streets program to continue to grow. I think (Main Streets programs) are an incredible tool to help our business districts interact with neighborhoods. I think that experience adds value to my candidacy, as well as my community history as a civic association president. I have been on task forces, most recently the Columbia Point Master Plan Task Force. I’ve been here. I’m active on my parade committee, and I run the Little Miss Dorchester Contest that we’ve been doing for decades.
Patch: You own a business? Tell us about it.
Essaaibi-George: The Stitch House – like a sewing machine. We knit and we sew. We sell knitting products like needles, and we teach a lot of knitting and sewing classes. We're 50% retail and 50% teaching knitting, crocheting and like-crafts. I’ve had it for six years in a couple in Dorchester.
Patch: You’re a teacher?
Essaibi-George: I am a social studies teacher, but I teach the electives. We have an economic class, an entrepeneurship program, and also have a health careers pathways for kids going into health careers. It’s certainly exciting for me to teach those classes. I enjoy it.
Patch: What’s the #1 issue in Boston?
Essaibi-George: The number one issue in Boston is public safety. As much as we talk about education, and as much as I do as a school teacher. If we’re not safe in our homes, in schools, safe on streets , then we don’t have a safe city... My home has been broken into. I found the guy, it was years ago. He was burglarizing my house. I chased him and caught him, we had some physical contact, and he ended up getting arrested. We talk a lot about gun violence. We just had a student shot dead. Gun violence is sort of the hot topic, and it needs to be because it’s life and death. But quality of life, when it comes to the general public, we're talking small crimes, mostly considered petty crimes. It’s incredible across the city because those affect everyone in a very direct way. The quality of life issues is what keeps someone from not wanting to live in the city, or keep their business in the city.
Patch: What is your familiarity with West Roxbury?
Essaibi-George: Being raised in the city I always had friends across the city... from a campaigning perspective it's very important. They have a number of mayoral candiates that will be drawing out the West Roxbury voters. We’ve been door-knocking and at the commuter rail or local coffee shops trying to meet as many voters as possible.
Patch: What do you think of the current school assignment plan?
Essaibi-George: The one coming next year is a move in the right direction. But there are still so many neighborhoods that don’t have quality schools that I don’t know how we can tell families you need to walk to your neighborhood crappy school. That’s a lot to ask families. What defines a quality school? What measurement are we using? That’s a serious conversation that’s not happening. Is it MCAS data? Is it apparent involvement from community? Is it teacher stratification data? We’ve got to collect all this info and decide what’s the most important pieces to make a quality school. Everyone uses the word 'quality', but not defining what that quality means. And not every neighborhood has schools. I appreciate it has created a tremendous amount of concentration... But we're not focusing any energy on high schools. I think that’s a miss by current elected officials just trying to appease parents on school assignment - but what about the high schools? What are all the families doing when they get to high schools? There’s a dropoff. If you don’t get into an elite high school they walk away from the city. Our high schools need to be a quality alternative for families. One of the biggest flaws for BPS is we don’t promte what we do well. And charter schools do a really good job at that. We need to promote what is going well in our high schools and sing it from the top of the rooftops, but recognize there are a lot of failings in the high school to keep people invested in the schools and the city.
Patch: What about lifting the charter cap?
Essaibi-George: I support the cap. Do not lift the cap. We have got to focus on BPS schools... We’ve got to teach every kid. We desperately need to stop that drain of kids leaving. When they leave our schools they're not just taking that per pupil dollar amount, they're taking their families and resources. Schools aren’t just about teachers and kids, they're also about parent and the community at-large.
Patch: What colors are your signs and why?
Essaibi-George: My colors are pink and black because I like the colors and didn’t want to go with basic red, white, and blue, or kelly green. Those are my business colors, too.
Patch: Anything else?
Essaibi-George: I’m an overall proud Boston girl and looking forward to being a city councilor.