UPDATE: Friday, June 11, 2010
Back home in Seattle after a whirlwind, three-day visit to Boston. As I wrote earlier, I spent the majority of my time on transportation and education issues. Others in our delegation focused on economic growth, homelessness, and promotion of the music and arts.
I drew three overarching conclusions from this trip.
- The importance of clear, measurable objectives. The Big Dig tunnel project exceeded budget by billions of dollars (from $6 billion to almost $15 billion!) and was finished six years late. The Boston Harbor cleanup was finished on time in 2000 and within its $6 billion budget. Boston Public Schools have specific goals for their district and each individual school. They focus on evidence-based best practices to improve student academic achievement. Setting clear, measurable objectives matters.
- The value of grand vision. For the Big Dig, civic leaders focused on "a better city." This vision pulled them through some very tough periods when the tunnel project was floundering. They defined "a better city" as improved traffic flow, less congestion, opening up the waterfront by removing the elevated freeway, more open space, including meeting zones and parks. School leadership casts a vision and believes that "every student can soar and achieve academic success."
- The necessity of consistent management. One of the major contributors to delay and cost overruns with the Big Dig was a complete management switch during the middle of the project. Management continuity was lost. With the public schools, Boston gained the ability to appoint (not elect) school board members in the early 1990s. The Mayor of Boston appoints the seven member school board, they choose the superintendent. This system removes competitive politics from the mix and assures consistency of management, but it also reduces some degree of accountability.
UPDATE: Thursday, June 10, 2010
Today was packed full and topped off with a wonderful NBA finals game between the Celtics and Lakers observed from a hotel sports bar downtown. It was crazy.
We spent the morning listening to presentations on the Big Dig, the multi-billion dollar tunnel that connects downtown with Logan Airport. Schedule to be completed in 2000 at a cost of $6 billion, the project wasn't finally completed until 2006 at a cost of nearly $15 billion. But, another project to clean up Boston Harbor was also scheduled to be finished in 2000 at a cost of $6 billion—it was! The difference? The harbor project had consistent management from beginning to end; the tunnel project switched management mid-project, had materials problems and was plagued with corruption. But the best part of our tour was observing the Boston waterfront where an elevated freeway once stood. Sound familiar?
The Rose Kennedy Greenway was beautiful, a 1.3 mile stretch of public spaces, water features, and vast meeting spaces lighted at night with tall towers that serve as a reminder of what used to dominate this place. Here are some photos, including one that shows Fred Salvucci, former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation, and Nancy Brennan, executive director of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy. Brennan is briefing our group in the first photo and explaining problem associated with the parking garage in the background which was built when the elevated freeway was still standing.
The highlight of the day for me, however, was a panel discussion on public education. Holly Miller of Seattle's Office of Education, led the discussion. Boston has a very targeted and aggressive dropout recovery program—outreach workers find dropouts, persuade them to return to school, place them in re-entry transition centers, and monitor their progress. Two outreach workers brought back 855 dropouts this school year! It is a proactive program based on the belief that no student should be overlooked or allowed to drift away from school. More specifics later . . .
UPDATE: Wednesday, June 9, 2010
We toured Fenway Park this morning. Lots of rich history; I'd love to see a baseball game here someday. The owners have spent about $200 million in upgrades and maintenance in recent years; no public funds at all.
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw and I posed for a quick photo with the Green Monster in the background.
After a less than one-hour tour of Fenway, we went to the Boston Latin School Association, a public exam high school. Founded in 1635, Boston Latin is the oldest school in the United States—this old and first stuff is getting to be a theme around here. The school has 2,400 students; 91% of the graduating class has been accepted into four year colleges or universities. There are three "exam" schools that are part of Boston Public Schools. Students must test into the schools; half of their admission score is based on this test, the other half on the students grades in elementary and middle school. About 30% of the students at Boston Latin qualify for the federal school lunch subsidy and a majority are students of color. Main takeaway from Boston Latin: all students can learn and even soar academically; set high expectations.
Mayor Thomas Menino spent nearly an hour with us at the welcoming reception tonight. Menino was elected to a fifth consecutive term as Mayor of Boston this past November. He's a take charge, act decisively kind of guy. Public education is a major focus of his administration.Tuesday, June 8, 2010
I just arrived in Boston as part of a city study mission. It's co-sponsored by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. These visits have been going on since the early 1990s and usually involve one international and one domestic city each year. (Note: I paid all of my expenses myself, no city funds were used.)
There are about 100 individuals—government officials, business people, and nonprofit organization representatives—in our delegation and our focus is going to be education, economic growth, and transportation. Yes, we'll visit the Big Dig. We'll even throw in a short visit to Fenway Park; no game, just a quick tour.
We're staying in the heart of downtown. It's clean, alive, and bustling with people during the evening rush hour. The Mayor of Boston is hosting a reception for us at the historic Boston Public Library, the first such facility in the United States.