When I was headmaster of Boston Arts Academy (BAA) I used to say to my graduating seniors that the success of our school would be measured by the number of BAA alumni that took their place in positions of influence  in our community.  That has come true. BAA alumni are working as musicians, actors, dancers, artists of all kinds. They are making new work and developing new art forms every day. Alumni are also working in health fields, as inventors and designers and as educators and activists. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to work with BAA alum Jay Cottle at MassVOTE where he runs a civic leadership program for high school students.

These young advocates-in-training come from high schools around Boston, charter, district, exam as well as METCO and parochial schools.  They spend time learning about civics, the importance of political engagement, how to work with people with differing opinions and, most important, how to identify and pursue their passions. I was one of their last guest speakers of the summer.

For about an hour they fired questions at me (and they listened carefully to the answers).. They were curious about whether I had imagined what my future would look when I first started in education. They also wanted to know  why I started writing books.  We discussed how I felt institutional racism has affected education and whether I felt my work was political. They asked about alternative assessment and how I dealt with failure as a leader. They wanted to define school reform with me in a way that made sense to their realities. The depth and specificity of their questions was both intriguing and inspiring.  At one point I asked how they had generated such thoughtful questions and the young people all looked at Jay. He is their inspiring leader. And that made me so proud.

Then, the students shared their passions with me. They are working on projects related to gentrification, homelessness, gang violence and immigration—all issues that have affected them and their community in profound and often negative ways.  These young people give me enormous faith that our city can solve some of the most intractable problems facing it. I left so proud of the education that BAA has given its students. Jay, like so many others, is leading the way! I hope to visit MassVOTE again in the future and I hope I can see these young people in action in their schools.

Thank you to Jay Cottle and MassVote for this wonderful opportunity to get to know your students.