Robert Peterkin reviews school desegregation in Boston
1:00:02: Visual: Meg Vaillancourt interviews Robert Peterkin (Superintendent, Cambridge Public Schools) about school desegregation in Boston. Vaillancourt asks Peterkin to review desegregation in Boston. Peterkin says that school desegregation has given minority students access to better school programs; that school desegregation opened up the Boston Public School System. Peterkin talks about partnerships between the school system and businesses and universities in the community. Peterkin mentions the cooperation between the school system and human services agencies. Peterkin says that school desegregation exposed the educational shortcomings of the system. Peterkin says that school desegregation is still a difficult issue in Boston; that white and middle-class students have abandoned the school system; that the population of the Boston schools is overwhelmingly minority. Peterkin says that the desegregation effort needs to focus on educational programs; that Robert Spillane (Superintendent, Boston Public Schools) is focusing more on educational reform; that parents support the renewed focus on educational programs. Vaillancourt asks Peterkin if improvements in education are possible with a minority student population and an overwhelmingly white city government. Peterkin says that he resents the implication that educational innovation and quality are not possible in a minority school system. Peterkin notes that the school system must spend their resources wisely; that the quality of education will determine whether or not students will attend; that quality education will desegregate schools more effectively than a court order.
1:05:00: V: Vaillancourt asks Peterkin's opinion on the "freedom of choice" proposal. Peterkin says that the "freedom of choice" plan will not work until the quality of education improves in all schools across the city; that there is varying quality among the schools in Boston; that each neighborhood school needs to offer strong educational programs. Peterkin says that it will be difficult to switch from a "numerical desegregation" plan to a "freedom of choice" plan; that the "freedom of choice" plan will require an enormous leap of faith for the minority community and the court. Peterkin mentions that the Cambridge Public School System desegregated its schools through a "freedom of choice" plan. Vaillancourt asks Peterkin if busing was necessary for desegregation in Boston. Peterkin says that busing was necessary at the time; that the city had been given opportunities to explore other desegregation models; that the resistance to busing was very strong. Peterkin says that Arthur Garrity (federal judge) made efforts to improve the schools through magnet programs and partnerships with businesses; that parents are more willing to bus their children to a school with strong educational programs. Vaillancourt asks Peterkin if all schools should be follow the magnet school model. Peterkin says that there must be an effort to institute valuable educational programs in every school; that parents will send there children to schools with sound educational programs; that it is not necessary to make every school a magnet school. Vaillancourt asks about the problems with the court-ordered desegregation plan in Boston. Peterkin says that the schools were ignored recently by city officials and the community in the late 1970s and early 1980s; that many residents and city officials did not pay attention to the schools because of a fiscal crisis and low attendance; that a declining school system can adversely affect the whole city. Peterkin says that a reduced student population was a negative result of school desegregation; that the positive result of equal access to the schools far outweighs the negative result.
1:11:24: V: Vaillancourt asks Peterkin if students will return to the schools. Peterkin says that there has been a renewed commitment to the schools in the past few years; that improvements in the educational programs will prompt younger parents to consider sending their children to the Boston Public Schools. Peterkin notes that the decline in attendance has leveled off. Vaillancourt asks Peterkin if Garrity should end his supervision of the schools. Peterkin says that Garrity should end his supervision; that the Boston School Department is able to assume the responsibility of continued desegregation of the schools. Peterkin says that there need to be some safeguards in the system to prevent a return to discriminatory practices. Peterkin says that flexible guidelines must be established to guarantee the percentages of children in neighborhood schools; that educational standards must be guaranteed. Vaillancourt asks Peterkin what Martin Luther King would have thought about school desegregation in Boston. Peterkin says that King would have been disheartened by the violence and turmoil resulting from school desegregation; that King would have been encouraged by the positive changes in the system and in the city. The crew takes cutaway shots of Vaillancourt and Peterkin. Peterkin and Vaillancourt speak informally about the state of schools in Boston.