At-Large City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George presented updates and goals for her third term on the Boston City Council at the February North End/Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA) meeting.
Essaibi George is a former Boston Public Schools (BPS) teacher having taught for thirteen years at East Boston High School before joining the City Council. In addition, Essaibi George is a BPS parent and graduate, so much of her work is focused on education.
This year, the Councilor is calling for a mid-school year report on spending to better predict how much school transportation is costing and how to restrain some of that spending to reallocate that money directly to the schools. BPS has $126 million budget for school transportation that is overrun by millions of dollars every year.
Through last year’s budget cycle, Essaibi George advocated for full-time nurses in all Boston Public Schools. Forty-four of the 125 BPS did not have full-time nurses before last year. As of earlier this month, that number has dropped to only five.
Councilor Essaibi George also talked about food insecurity and homelessness, particular in schools. Of the approximately 5,000 BPS students, about 10% experience homelessness. She emphasized the importance of having support services such as mental health professionals and social workers in schools to help students who are experiencing difficult issues at home.
The Councilor previously chaired the committee on homelessness, mental health, and recovery. She talked about the importance of lobbying at the state level to do a better job in our homeless shelters. 65% of individuals in the Boston shelter system are not from the City of Boston. Part of the reason for this is that many shelters are centrally located in Boston and not available in surrounding areas. Essaibi George is continuing to advocate for services in outside communities.
Questions from the audience begin at 8:15 in the video.
One individual asked if there are ongoing efforts to decrease the number of high school dropouts. Councilor Essaibi George said the Council and BPS are always working to lower the drop out rate as well as to maintain a high attendance rate. District-wide, BPS has an 80-85% attendance rate. She emphasized that strong curriculum in every grade is important, but that fourth and fifth grade are the key grades to predict a student’s future success. She also said it is very important to focus on children ages 0-5, which is why the Mayor’s office is so focused on pre-kindergarten systems.
(12:10) Another attendee asked about food insecurity in schools. Essaibi George said this is something school nurses deal with a lot. Children get about 60% of their daily calories at school. The Councilor emphasized the importance of kids having access to fresh and healthy foods, but also having access to food, period. She is advocating for extended lunch periods and an opportunity for recess. This is so students don’t spend their whole lunch time waiting on line for food, as well as have time to get some energy out so they can focus in the classroom.
The schools also work with food pantries to hand out food bags for students to bring home over the weekends, as well as provide options for individuals 18 and under to get meals during the summer.
(15:50) A third attendee asked about the reform efforts on the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). Essaibi-George said City Councilor Lydia Edwards has filed a hearing for February 25th at 4:00 p.m. to discuss the ZBA so the Council will soon sit down and really look at it. The audience member spoke about the frustrations experienced by residents who take time of from work to attend hearings and then the item is postponed, which happened recently with the 97 Salem St. proposal. Essaibi-George responded in agreement that this is frustrating when they are always trying to improve and increase community engagement.
(19:30) One attendee commented that the Eliot School is a great school and asked how this can be mirrored at other schools. Essaibi George said that $100 million investment is being made in the next three years that will really be focused on the thirty schools or so in the district that are not up to par.