The State of Latino Education: Town Halls with Jeff Riley

By Amy Jiravisitcul

State of Latino Education Town Hall
Image courtesy of Latinos for Education


“It is imperative that Latino voice guides practice for Latino students,” declared Amanda Fernandes, CEO of Latinos for Education. Latinos for Education, in partnership with the Greater Boston Latino Network, hosted forums this month for critical dialogue among the Massachusetts education community.

Newly appointed Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeff Riley kicked off the month of October with a series of town halls in Boston, Holyoke, and Somerville. I attended the Boston Public Schools (BPS) meeting hosted within the heart of Roxbury, one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods.

As majority-minority district with about 42 percent of students identifying as Latinx, Boston Public Schools educators, leaders, students, and families discussed how to best support our Latinx communities, posing thoughtful questions for the Commissioner. The forum was an interesting move with the potential to develop the Family & Community Partnerships sphere of the RIDES System Improvement Map, by bringing together a variety of stakeholders.

Commissioner Riley expressed goals to promote acceptance of diverse backgrounds through linguistic and culturally sustaining practices. These practices align with the RIDES principles of Belonging and Diversity, in efforts to connect across cultures in the classroom. Riley cited how BPS has worked to support immigrant students with the college process, Know Your Rights info sessions, and efforts to recruit and retain teachers of color.

Bilingual educators at the Town Hall discussed the importance of valuing students who enter BPS classrooms as predominantly Spanish speakers. Some further inquired about how we can value growth in English language proficiency without diminishing the assets of cultural competence and linguistic skills that students inherently bring into their classrooms from their home lives. 

Riley supported the dual language and bilingual opportunities with Massachusetts’s Language Opportunity for Our Kids (LOOK) Bill that would afford flexibility for districts to ensure greater parental input to determine programs that best suit needs of English language learners (ELLs). The Massachusetts Legislature Education Committee offered reforms to English teaching practices and establishes paths for dual-language program teachers to grow capacity and develop Language Acquisition Programs.

When addressing the topic of undocumented students and mixed-status families, Riley cited his experience as superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools, where more than 90 percent of students in the district identify as Latino. He emphasized the importance of taking care of families and creating safe systems and structures amidst a culture of fear pervasive among immigrant communities in the wake of ongoing ICE raids.

Despite the trend of inadequate funding for districts whose undocumented constituents are deterred from completing the Census, Riley expressed optimism for schools to be institutions that could earn the trust of families.

He mentioned Chelsea and Lawrence as examples where institutions maneuvered work-arounds to count their WIC recipients when allocating public funding. Furthermore, Commissioner Riley praised BPS and other districts’ Family Resource Centers for being able to connect communities with information and needed resources. This approach aligns with the RIDES System Improvement Map, in terms of applying Systems & Structures to influence school culture and foster trust among the school community.

Additionally, Riley and community members exchanged perspectives on achievement accountability measures and how schools can effectively prepare students for post-secondary endeavors through rigorous academic standards. Riley hopes to see teacher input through public comment to shape frameworks and standards around curricular issues.

He also envisions a greater statewide movement to rethink the traditional high school experience. Riley expanded on the value of offering more internships, work-based learning, extracurricular activities, and other experiential opportunities. Thus, students who are under pressure to work and contribute to supporting their families could encounter flexible boundaries on the traditional school day, in terms of hours and classroom structure.

Other topics discussed in this forum included college readiness and support, special education services, and high expectations for students of Latinx communities. The RIDES Practices Team continuously to update the resources that we offer the public, including white papers, cases, and academic articles on issues impacting Latinx students, as well as students within all racial identities.