Candidate for one of the four Boston at-large city councilor positions, Jeff Ross, 44, of the South End/Lower Roxbury, spoke with West Roxbury Patch editor David Ertischek about Boston Public Schools, being a gay man, and
Patch: Where'd you grow up?
Ross: I grew up on the west coast and came to Boston for law school and went to Northeastern University in 1994.
Patch: Are you married? Do you have children?
Ross: I have two children, 17 and 15, who live with their mom. (They attend public schools and were born in Boston, but live outside of Boston.)
Patch: What is your profession? How would your profession help you as a city councilor?
Ross: I practice law. I work with unaccompanied minors – they have no parents so what we do is get them into the custody of a family member or the state. We get them evaluated for ESL, trauma and violence, learning disabilities, and then get them wraparound services and we see them improve in schools and doing better on tests and believe they can succeed. So I support state legislation that would evaluate kids in Boston Public shools early on; There is a piece of legislation pending now supported by teachers, Children's Hospital, educators, health care service (providers). So I would like to see that in our Boston schools. I met with the administration across Boston, and (for example the) Kennedy School students need help but don’t get evaluated for three or four years so they lose time and resources, which are given to kids that are dong well.
I think that the work I’ve done gives me insight into some aspects of how students perform and what we need to improve education and access opportunities for students.
Patch: Why are you running at-large and not district?
Ross: Because I have friends across the city and support across the city who encouraged me to run. I’ve done a lot of work on campaigns across the city for the last seven election cycles. I love the city of Boston. Some neighborhoods are more dependent on government. I think we need a fresh perspective at city hall. New energy, new ideas, will bring new results to each of the neighborhoods. I think a city council works best when their is diversity on the council to bring new ideas and I would bring diversity I’m a consensus builder and I think we need to be a consensus on the council. I would work to build consensus on the council... I’m not knocking the current council.
Patch: What do you think of the current school assignment plan?
Ross: I would like to see in the district where there are lowest testing 20% of schools, I would like them to be Horace Mann charter schools as part of Boston Public School system to not take away money from the system, but give more autonomy from the state-mandated curriculum so it gives more flexibility.
I have two kids and when they started in the fourth grade it was difficult for them to stay focused because of the repetition of teaching for the MCAS tests. I don’t think the tests are indicative of kids' opportunities for success after they graduate high school. It’s not a measure of success of the kids.
Patch: What about lifting the charter cap?
Ross: I think the charter schools are interesting models and we get lots of great ideas out of them. There are two models of charter schools – private, and not part of BPS; and in-district Horace Mann charter schools. (Ross supports not lifting the charter cap.)
I want universal pre-K for parents who want it, with meals in the morning. On the school assignment plan I’d like to see a place online where parents can see the order on the wait list so they can plan better. A lot of parents who I talked to in West Roxbury - it’s hard for them to know where they are on the lists they want to be in. If we had a way to interface with parents technologically, so if we publish the list for them to see... And the reality of it is parents who are really involved with their children, the children do very well. But when there isn’t parent involvement and they're struggling they don’t get wraparound services they need… part of my struggle with my kids was to have them stay invested in school from fifth to ninth grade. It was a struggle to keep them interested in learning and get the support system for the social adjustment process. That’s why I like afterschool programs like art and music, where they can build a support network that helps them feel safe and engaged in the education process.
Patch: What’s the #1 issue in Boston?
Ross: I think the number one issue in this election is safety… I hear a lot about safety and education as I’m out door-knocking and talking to people in the city. They’re concerned about safety and the city continuing to improve safety. We’ve made a lot of progress in the last 20 years and I've seen my neighborhoods become safer in getting residents to build neighborhood watch groups. At city hall I’d advocate for a neighborhood watch coordinator at the city level.
Patch: You identify yourself as a gay man, and unlike many candidates in the past, you are highlighting your sexual preference in a campaign – why is that important?
Ross: We need to continue to break down barriers across the city. We’ve never elected an open gay member of the city council in the history of the council. I think that the barriers are coming down in the city of Boston in between neighborhoods and the city is becoming more passionate and inclusive.
Patch: You’re a big animal supporter?
Ross: Dogs and cats. My cat was abandoned last summer during moving time in August and September and he was out on the street homelss and starving. I found him and adopted him and started taking care of him. A couple days later he became sick. I took him to the vet and discovered he had a microchip and had been adopted. They sent a letter to the previous owners and I visited him every day and when he was out of quarantine I adopted him. Piccolino. It came from "Under the Tuscan Sun." There was a stray cat found on the beach and it means 'little one' in Italian.
Patch: What color are your signs and why?
Ross: My signs are blue because I’m a Democrat and the green stripe because of my Irish heritage.
Patch: What has been your experience with West Roxbury?
Ross: I love West Roxbury. I have lots of friends in West Roxbury. And I met folks at the Emerald Society 5K Run and I've been shaking hands across the trail from West Roxbury and shaking hands with them and they said they’re supporting with me.
At a BBQ in JP, I met a woman from West Roxbury who said she liked my advocacy work on expanding Article 89, which is urban agriculture and my positions on buying local and encouraging more community gardening, like teaching kids about food and healthy food.
Patch: Anything else?
Ross: I’ve lived in my neighborhood for 19 years and we've built a neighborhood around communit neighborhood watch groups. We have the same officers in the neighborhoods and they get familiar with the community. I think improving public safety works better when we have policing community models across the city. And one other thing I’d like to see is a collaboration with local, state, and federal governments to institute an emergency pin code for ATMs where folks are using ATMs that they feel their safety is in jeopardy. Emergency pin numbers they can type in the number and alert local law.