Alexandra Oliver-Dávila is new School Committee chair
Alexandra Oliver-Dávila was voted chair of the Boston School Committee last week, taking over from former member Michael Loconto, who left the body after he was heard on a live mic mocking Chinese-sounding names during the Oct. 21 School Committee meeting.
Oliver-Dávila was appointed to the School Committee in February of 2017. Since 1999 she has served as executive director of Sociedad Latina — Boston’s oldest Latino youth serving nonprofit. She is a graduate of Emmanuel College, where she earned a B.A. in political science and Tufts University, where she earned a master’s degree in Public Policy.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Why did you decide to serve on the School Committee?
Oliver-Dávila: I was concerned about the underrepresentation of Latino teachers and leadership in BPS. It’s something we at Sociedad Latina had been talking about for years as part of our community organizing. I thought it was a good opportunity to challenge the district to do better by our students. I also have a daughter at the Boston Teachers Union Pilot School. I think families have a role to play in the success of our students.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing BPS?
I think one of the greatest challenges is institutional racism. There are many policies that have been instituted over the years and we need to unpack them. We can use the Oct. 21 meeting as a learning opportunity. We’re going to be working with [anti-racist scholar] Dr. Ibram Kendi, as well as with BPS Chief Equity and Strategy Officer Charles Grandson. We’re going to be looking at BPS policies and how we work as a board.
Another challenge is the district’s opportunity and achievement gap. We need to work with teachers and school leaders so that they have the same high expectations for all our students. We’ve also had decades of poor communication between the district and families. We have aging buildings. All of these pieces play into the challenges we’re facing.
What do you think of the district’s response to the current pandemic?
I think BPS has been better than it’s been given credit for. Across the country you’re seeing districts opening, then closing, opening, then closing again. Districts have had to shift quickly to a remote model, something they’ve never done before. In the spring, I’m not going to say it was great — but we’ve done a good job getting computers to students and getting internet access to families. I see how my daughter’s teachers have responded. I don’t think BPS has gotten credit for their quick turnaround.
In what areas do you think BPS could be doing a better job?
I think we need strategies to better engage and inform our stakeholders — families, parents, students — to give feedback beyond School Committee meetings. We could have more meetings outside of School Committee meetings. When we’re dealing with really controversial issues, we could provide more space for stakeholders to talk about the issues.
The one silver lining of the pandemic has been Zoom. I have seen greater participation. We need to keep finding ways to provide better access.
At our last School Committee meeting, we had interpretation in several languages for the whole meeting. My hope is that we keep on doing that. We’re also going to have two retreats. On Dec. 9, Dr. Kendi will be meeting with us. On Dec. 12, we’ll be working with a governance expert. What I really want the School Committee to do is focus on achievement — on what it is as a school committee we want to hold ourselves accountable for, and what measures we’ll use to hold ourselves accountable.