My husband and I moved to Massachusetts and to Brookline specifically in 1999. Long before I became a parent, I became an activist. Armed with graduate degrees in both History and Communications, my community service in Brookline began with the fight to preserve and rescue places of historical significance from the clutches of what seemed like (and still seem like) reckless developers in North Brookline. In the context of this involvement, I became aware of a troubling by-product of these large-scale housing developments: the overcrowding of our schools. I then began attending School Committee meetings, followed by B-SPACE meetings. I became increasingly troubled by what I heard and genuinely alarmed by the lack of leadership and decisive action in response to overcrowding in the schools.
In 2008, we became the proud parents of a son, and my commitment to children and education deepened, as I now brought a new parental perspective to my activism. In part from my concern for the future of Brookine Schools, I successfully ran for Town Meeting Member from Precinct 8 in 2013 and was re-elected to this office in 2016. In 2015 and alongside my activism and community service work, I began a new chapter of my professional life as the director of the district's largest after school program. This position has given me a unique lens onto the important and complex relationships between teachers, students, parents, and administrators.
Our son is now entering second grade at the Devotion School. Thus far, my husband and I feel that he is getting an excellent education largely because of the tremendous dedication of his teachers and in spite of the many problems in our school district: frustrated and overloaded teachers, escalating dependence on standardized teaching and testing, overcrowded schools, and possibly a contested philosophy at the heart of our school governance. I deeply desire to see my child's and every child's education flourish precisely because of our community's educational philosophy and practices and not in spite of them.
I've joined and helped found the BPO because I care passionately about how we educate our children and about our commitment to Brookline's long-standing child-centered philosophy of learning that seems to be eroding. Our teachers seek the ability and time to teach to the unique needs of each child. However, our current reliance on copious amounts of testing and assessing forces teachers to "teach to the test" instead and prevents creative and personalized teaching and learning--attributes that made Brookline Public Schools top-notch and enviable for so long. The BPO seeks to engage parents in a thoughtful and inclusive conversation on these and other issues and to bring parents' voices into the larger discussion of how best to educate our children.
My wife (Sacha Uljon) and I came to Brookline when we were still planning to have a child, because the schools had such excellent reputations. As active citizens, we became aware of the teacher contract dispute, and the steadily increasing time dedicated to standardized testing/evaluations rather than teacher-designed curricula. My own educational pathway has involved a fair amount of standardized tests, and I do not doubt that they have some value as a tool that schools and teachers can use to assess learning. My K-12 education was in a nationally recognized district of excellence that utilized Regents and AP testing for its secondary school offerings, after which I attended college at Yale, obtained an MD and PhD from NYU School of Medicine, and did my psychiatry residency at MGH and McLean Hospitals. However, standardized tests are just one educational tool, and their use to the exclusion of other pedagogical aids and strategies appears to distort the work of shaping our childrens’ minds.
As a psychiatrist on a university health service, I increasingly see the effects of maximizing testing and relying on concrete feedback like “data walls”: students who cannot easily collaborate with others on group projects that are more akin to modern academic/professional work. They often have difficulty maintaining consistent effort without constant scalar feedback as to how they compare with their peers. We want our children to mature into young adults driven by interests and knowledge, with an internalized sense of themselves and their potential lifepaths, not merely choosing actions based on whether someone is there to state that it is right or wrong (or moral vs. immoral).
I consider myself a moderate on educational issues, not necessarily joining with parents who wish to opt-out of testing altogether. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that our educational system should be flexible enough to accommodate such parents and still provide adequate teaching and feedback to them as to how their children are developing. I do not believe that following popular trends in education that ironically seem to lack empirically-derived data to validate their efficacy is a prudent path. It threatens to make Brookline schools into just another cluster of adequate data-driven charters, rather than continuing to build on the tradition of excellence that past generations of parents have given this town.
My family and I moved to Brookline in 2009 and our three youngest members have reached the age of fourth, third, and first grades at Devotion (two of their grandparents grew up in Brookline in the middle of the last century). I have been a full-time stay-at-home parent for ten years and have tried to understand how not to obstruct my children's growth, development and learning. I have tried to open my mind to ideas from books, other parents, and life experience. Mostly, though, I have become aware that children themselves are their own curriculum. They live, they explore, they discover, they learn of their own volition. In my opinion, adults and their institutions should seek to provide time and space for kids' natural growth and learning. Meanwhile, concerns raised by teachers in Brookline over the past year have highlighted educational administration philosophies and practices that are hobbling our children's freedom to learn. Most parents, like me, have been unaware of how our children's schooling is crafted and managed. For some reason Brookline is in the grip of intense corporate education reform practices. This is hard to fathom because it is clear that standardization through data-driven accountability measures does not level the playing field in Brookline or across Massachusetts, nor does it encourage an individual child's best learning and growth. I hope that the BPO will bring parents together to learn about the issues and act for the benefit of our children and our society.
I am a parent, resident, and business owner in Brookline. I teach people how to move their bodies and minds, I am always trying to connect people, and I do my best to make great things happen. I am a part of the BPO because I believe in the primacy of the student-teacher relationship and the incredible things that can happen in a nurturing, positive, and open learning environment where every student is valued, listened to, and given the opportunity to lead. I also believe that by working together we can create the community that we all desire.
In 1993, aging towards the outer bounds of fertility, my wife and I decided to start a family. But first we needed a home. We were told that Belmont, Brookline, and Newton had excellent schools, but with no familiarity with any of these towns, it was by chance alone that we landed a dilapidated Victorian in Brookline. In fairly short order we realized our luck: Brookline and its public school system were ideal. Over the years, we’ve happily delivered three kids to Devotion and two (so far) to the high school. But sadly, in recent years, some of our favorite teachers have left and others have decried the intensification of standardized testing and evaluation that have come at the expense of creative teaching and learning. We wondered why our very successful school system was being compromised by outside aims and forces, and we began exploring these issues with other interested parents. What I was learning compelled me to join the BPO Steering Committee, buoyed by the belief that the education of parents is the best means for preserving (even raising) the quality of our wonderful public schools.
I am a proud Brookline Schools Parent. I have been lucky enough to spend the last 25+ years working to create thought-provoking teaching and learning materials for the K-12 market, Higher Ed, Vocational, Consumer Health and Patient Education. This has helped give me perspective on what works and what doesn't. I understand that it's important to be able to quantify and measure achievements and gaps, but not at the expense of fostering a positive and motivating teaching and learning environment that is child-centered.
Like many families in Brookline, we moved here precisely to avoid the commodization and rampant and unnecessary standardization of education that has happened both nationally and locally. We wanted our daughter to go to schools where teachers and administration were aligned in the pursuit of the highest quality education for ALL students, and where teachers were treated with respect and allowed to implement innovative approaches to teaching and learning that resulted in instilling a passion for life-long learning within the student population. I helped found the Brookline Parents Organization because I believe that most Brookline Parents agree with this vision. I want to promote honest and transparent conversations about how we can all work together to ensure amazing outcomes in our school system AND create thoughtful, critical thinkers that change the world. Utopian? Possibly. Necessary? Absolutely!
Long before we thought of moving to Brookline, my wife Katherine spoke with happy pride about her years as a student at Runkle and BHS. So when we arrived four years ago—in part to help care for Katherine’s mother—the public schools were at the top of the list of attractions. We now have a fourth grader in Runkle and an anxious freshman in the High School. Over the past two years, however, a number of issues at our schools began to trouble me. I’ve been very impressed with the dedication and talent of our teachers, and I take very seriously their complaints that they are not getting the professional respect they deserve. I’ve also found myself wondering why Brookline, of all places, should be pushing ahead with some of the least desirable aspects of national education fads—like applying the dead hand of standardization to the creative process of learning. I’m committed to participating in the BPO because I want to learn more about our schools, and because I’m convinced that enlightened parents are the best safeguard of good education.
In between drop-offs, pick-ups, and cooking (my family niche), I am a writer of non-fiction books, mostly in the history of ideas. I have a DPhil in Philosophy from Oxford University and an AB from Princeton. I was once a founding partner of a management consulting firm and am currently Chair of the Sachs Scholarship program at Princeton. You can learn more about my work here.
My wife and I moved to Brookline four years ago with our two toddlers. I had been seeing the escalation of outcome-based education in my professional life (I teach at Wellesley College) and reading about the progress of the Common Core Standards and Curriculum in America’s public schools. The lightning-fast, un-debated implementation of the Core struck me as an anti-democratic, utopian scheme. When our children began attending Runkle School, I was dismayed to see the extent to which data collection and standardized testing had already taken hold even in Brookline’s traditionally outstanding schools. Forced to spend more and more time collecting data and “teaching to the test,” the teachers were demoralized and working without a contract. Three School Committee members were connected to an NGO that promoted corporate education reform. Parents had been effectively removed from the equation and could only watch as the situation deteriorated. This is when I joined together with other concerned parents to found the BPO.