By Andrew Firestone
The Boston Globe came under fire last week when Mayor Joseph Curtatone blasted a recent article, which he said levied unwarranted criticism to the Somerville Education System. “This was a prejudicial article,” he said at a School Committee meeting on May 16. “There were undertones to this article that would be offensive to anyone who has any decent set of values.”
The article, entitled “Should they stay or should they go?” was written by longtime Somerville correspondent Danielle Dreilinger, and released on May 5 in the Globe North, and told the story of three prospective families who had to contend with the Somerville school system and its negative perception when deciding on schools for their youth. The article included a family that moved to Belmont, and faced increased property taxes and a lack of community that Somerville provides, all due to their refusal to submit their children to the Somerville education system. Reasons included poor test MCAS scores and a high dropout rate.
“Somerville and Belmont, no offense to Belmont, they can’t hold a torch to us,” said Curtatone, saying that the comparison between suburb and city painted an incomplete picture of the situation. “We take on the challenges put before us, and we do a damn good job of it.”
“It is comparing apples to oranges if you’re trying to compare Somerville to Belmont,” said Vice-Chair Paul Bockelman.
Prompted by citizen outcry, Somerville officials, including Curtatone, Rebekah Gewirtz, President of the Board of Aldermen, Tony Pierantozzi, Superintendent, and Adam Sweeting, Chairman of the School Committee, sent a letter to the Globe in response, which was published May 15, outlining their protest to the story, and voicing disappointment in the perceived small scope of the article.
“Somerville does not have an easily categorized school system,” they wrote, calling the Globe article “an elitist stance” and criticizing it for not mentioning recent awards the system had won, such as Somerville High being named “Most Innovative School of the Year,” by Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation.
“That’s what has destroyed a lot of what has gone on in the school department over the years: those naysayers who have never set foot in the school department have led to what has gone on in that article,” said Teresa Cardoso, Ward 2 member. Others in the committee shared her view.
Gewirtz said that when she read the original article, “my heart sank. People believe that about the Somerville schools. They haven’t seen what we have to offer, a lot of people haven’t.”
Curtatone fumed about the perspective presented in the Globe, and declared that he would not take it lying down. “I refuse to deal with any member of the media who is going to put that type of trash in there, run away, and then say ‘we stand by our story,’” he said.
“Well I stand by our community. And we’re going to make sure that the truth gets disseminated the way it should be on a fair and equitable basis.”
Curtatone’s protests culminated in a meeting with a delegation from the Globe, including Dreilinger and Globe North Assistant Editor Marcia Dick on Thursday, May 19 at City Hall.
“We appreciated the chance to meet with Mayor Curtatone and Somerville school officials and we look forward to continuing to cover the city and its school system,” said Bob Powers, VP of Communication and Public Relations.
The School Committee praised Curtatone’s powerful language and called for a greater effort to push for future perspectives on the education system as a whole, that it would be more effective and positive. “We’re going to take action and we’re going to take deliberative action to make sure that everybody knows what the great things are that the Somerville schools have to offer,” said Gewirtz.
“Don’t leave because you hear these rumors that aren’t true about the Somerville schools,” she related telling her friends. “I want to send my kids to schools here.”