Two new members of the Boston School Committee were sworn in at City Hall on July 22, where remarks were also given by Acting Mayor Kim Janey.
Lorena Lopera and Rafaela Polanco Garcia were appointed to the School Committee following last month’s resignation of Alexandra Oliver-Davila and Lorna Rivera after a text message scandal.
“The sudden departure of these two members created a void in representative leadership with more than 40 percent of BPS students identifying as Latino and 10 percent residing in public housing,” Janey said. “I know how important it is to have our children and their families represented in leadership.”
Janey said that the School Committee search panel “attracted 23 well-qualified applicants” that were narrowed down to six finalists.
“Ms. Lopera and Ms. Polanco Garcia offer the depth of knowledge and relevant experience to serve the children and families of the Boston Public Schools (BPS),” Janey said. “There is nothing more important right now than the education of our children.”
Janey said that Lopera has done a lot of work on “expanding educationzl access for Latino youth and students of color,” working with organizations like Sociedad Latina, City Year, and the Posse Foundation, as well as serving as the Executive Director of Latinos For Education New England. She is also the parent of a Boston Public Schools student.
Janey said that Polanco Garcia is “an immigrant who lives in public housing in South Boston,” and has experience in law and bilingual advocacy. She worked on the “No on 2” campaign in 2016, as well as contributed to passing a resolution for sanctuary schools.
Since 2015, Polanco Garcia has been the Director of Parent Engagement and Organizing at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs in the South End. She, too, is the parent of a BPS student, and her primary language is Spanish, Janey said. “This is a first for the Boston School Committee.”
She continued, “this means that we will have to work very hard to meet her needs, and in doing so, move our school district and our city forward. It sets the stage for us to improve our ability to serve ESL learners and their parents as they seek to engage our school community.”
Lopera said that she moved to the United States from Colombia at the age of four. “I was undocumented and unaware of what my family was risking or sacrificing,” she said. She added, “I’ve spent my entire professional career working to improve access to quality educational opportunities for children and families…my own educational experience, as well as my experience as a parent with a child in BPS who wants to see him and his peers thrive is what will guide my decisions on the Boston School Committee.”
Via a translator, Polanco Garcia said that “when I moved to Boston from the Dominican Republic in January 2015, my first contact with BPS was with my sons’s school, which was the Blackstone Elementary School.”
She said that getting used to the new school “required our family to embrace the myriad of cultures and languages spoken at his school.”
Polanco said that “it wasn’t easy. I was a single immigrant mom; homeless at first.” She said she wanted to get involved in her son’s school, so she started going to parent council meetings, volunteering in the classroom, and working at the St. Stephen’s after school program.
“I know my story is not unique,” she said. “To my fellow parents, I want to say something. I am not here to fight for you, I am here to fight beside you; to make changes we want. I firmly believe that public schools should be a second home for students and families.”