Newton Parents urges school accountability

By Daniel E. Black/ Staff Writer
The Newton Tab at TownOnline.Com
Wednesday, February 8, 2006

(Original article)

While one newly formed education group, Stand for Children, fights its image as a pro-tax organization, its mirror group, Newton Parents, is trying to dispel its public perception as leaning to the right.

"We're concerned about the same thing" as Stand for Parents, said Newton Parents founder and former Alderman candidate Greer Tan Swiston. "We want the best education we can have for our children. Where we start to differ is how we go about getting it."

The Newton chapter of Stand for Children, a national organization, has repeatedly said they're not a pro-override group, although their criticism of the current education system largely centers on what they call under-funded schools. are really afraid all they're going to do is try to get more money."

Swiston said the main focus of the group, which was formed last year, is disseminating solid information to the public.

"If you can't point us at the study, then it's almost no better than hearsay," Swiston said. "That's why we try to pass on reports or we try to cite where we found the information."

Lucia Dolan, a member of Newton Parents and former candidate for School Committee, has been one of the people trying to collect and distribute such reports. But doing so hasn't been easy, she said.

"For the math report, I had to call, e-mail and appeal twice to the attorney general's office before they [the School Department] gave me any of that," Dolan said.

Swiston thinks that the School Department needs to be more trusting. o handle it in an educated form."

In ad hoc meetings and electronic communication, Newton Parents members detail their personal challenges in dealing with the school administrations, either at each individual schools or system-wide.

"We had one woman share her experience in trying to get the right special education services for her child - to hire or not to hire an advocate," Swiston said. "What are the ... strengths and weaknesses of Newton's really great SPED program?"

Newton Parents, according to Swiston, addresses any topic of interest to its more than 100 members. Dolan, for her part, has honed in on what the students are being taught.

"The main reason I joined is because I didn't see any other area within the school community that was discussing curriculum," said Dolan, a School Council and PTO member at Brown Middle School.

Dolan's biggest complaint about the school system currently is its "lack of transparency."

"I see Newton Parents as trying to open up the system a bit and trying to get some information out there to parents," Dolan said.

While the system may have room for improvement, Dolan also sees what outsiders think of Newton Parents, but tries not to let it bother her.

"Basically, you get lumped in as a supporter of the schools or someone who is complaining about the schools," Dolan said. "Me and Geoff Epstein [a former candidate for School Committee] aren't creationists. We just want to have a good math program.

"If you question the established whatever, you get thrown in with the Republicans, no matter. It's something we [Newton Parents] are very aware of, but you can't fight, you can't decide your label," she said.

The group's main goal is on increasing accountability.

"Try and get accountability from the system, what's happening in the curriculum and spending - that's neither a right or a left issue," Dolan said.

Newton Parents may not want the label of "right-wing," but they're more than eager to march in support of fiscal conservatism and responsibility.

"Nobody wants to be caught saying, 'We don't care about the kids,' but we can't have our buildings and roads falling apart," Swiston said. " Swiston said. "Maybe buying more expensive detergent [would work], but it's a balance. If you're always for spending more money, you might not look at a different, financially different, solution that requires creative thinking."

Daniel E. Black can be reached at or at 781-433-8216.

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