Andre Green: I’m actually from Louisiana.
Q: Louisiana? You don’t have a Southern accent though!
AG: Well I’m from South Louisiana, so I’d have a Cajun accent, not a Southern one. But no, I never had one of those either. Though I didn’t realize it till I got to Somerville! My best guess is that as a the child of a single mother-a nurse who worked the graveyard shift- I spent a LOT of time reading books or watching TV so a lot of my English was learned in ways that didn’t have accents. Though I maintain it slips out on the occasional word.
Q: You mentioned being raised by a single mother. Tell us more about that.
AG: So I grew up just above the poverty line. My mom was an LPN who, like I said, worked the night shift most of my life growing up so she could get the $2/hr shift differential. That money allowed us to move from a trailer to a house when I was 8 years old. To the best of my knowledge, we were never on public assistance ourselves, but we certainly knew lots of people that were-and I absolutely remember buying people’s food stamps for cash to get through the month sometimes.
Anyway, I was fortunate to get a solid public school education thanks to some truly incredible teachers-some of whom I’m blessed to still be in touch with. And then like so many people do, I came to Massachusetts to attend college. I spent 4 years in the Berkshires attending Bard College at Simon’s Rock; becoming the first person in my family to complete a BA. After college I moved to East Somerville, with the vague notion that I wanted to do something related to education for a year or two before moving away for grad school. This, through a series of random circumstances including literally running into a priest on a street corner, lead me to teaching 5th grade at the old St. Benedict’s school. That was in 2001. At this point 14 years,a wife, child, and career later; it seems pretty clear I’m staying put.
Q: Back to the present. What do you do now?
AG: These days I work for YouthBuild USA. YouthBuild works to help disconnected young people transform their lives and their communities by working on their GED and/or High School Diploma while they build affordable housing in their communities. Put simply, my job is to work with programs to help protect and expand the federal appropriation for the model. I take immense pride in the fact that last year my colleagues and I managed to get a Republican House to appropriate more money for the Department of Labor YouthBuild program than the President requested. In the current political environment, that’s all but unheard of!
Q: So that’s the biography. Now tell us, why do you want to be on the School Committee?
AG: Well, to some degree it ties into biography, right? I’m the first person in my family to graduate college, but like many lower to lower-middle class extended families throughout the country, there were a number of cousins, neighbors, and family friends who weren’t as successful. Drugs, violence, dropping out of school-all the typical markers of cycles of poverty were all around me. What made the difference in my life, far more than anything I did, was being surrounded by a lot of teachers who gave of themselves to see me thrive. Though I can’t claim to have always been the most appreciative of students!
It makes sense that from teaching, to IT consulting, to non-profit advocacy, the constant thread in my career has been trying to connect young people to the educational resources they need. Education saved my life-I’ve spent my adult life trying to pay it forward. In serving on the School Committee, I’ll be able to work to make sure every student in Somerville; regardless of where they come from, who their parents are, or how much money they have; gets the quality education they need and deserve.
Q: Let’s be real though, no one runs for office calling for worse schools. What are some of the specific things you want to do on the School Committee?
AG: If we actually want to address the so-called “Achievement Gap” we’re going to have to address that students from low-income backgrounds on average get to kindergarten already behind. It’s not fair to those students, their classmates or the teacher to expect that ground to be made up solely during the school day. So I want to push for expanded early childhood education. The 3-year-old program at the Capuano is great, but it’s not sufficient. We need more options and more seats so as many children as possible get to kindergarten ready to learn with their peers.
I’ve also called for a paraprofessional in every classroom and access to a para for every child with an IEP. Not only does this increase the number of caring adults in a child’s life-something we know increases their chances of success in life, but it also provides teachers with another set of hands and eyes to assist with classroom management and free them to focus on what they were hired to do: teach.
Finally, in a school system where the majority of attendees come from homes where English isn’t the first language more has to be done on language access if we want parents and families to play the role in education we know they must. But language is an issue for all of us. We should set as a goal that every student who gets a Somerville education leaves functionally bilingual. Diversity is Somerville’s great strength and the education we provide should reflect that.
Q: One issue that we hear a lot about that you didn’t bring up is high stakes testing. Do you think they’re ultimately a good thing for Somerville?
AG: I think the key word is “high-stakes” right? I’m a data-driven guy professionally; I totally appreciate the need for assessment. But assessing a school on its test scores is like assessing a marriage on how much money you spent on the anniversary gift. Sure it’s nice to do well, but it doesn’t actually tell you anything about everything else that goes into it. And in both cases it’s much easier to do well if you’re rich!
Look, we know that standardized test scores correlate primarily with the socioeconomic status of the test takers, so giving schools “high-stakes” for that leads to a situation where, without intervention, teachers and schools are in effect punished for teaching poor kids. We shouldn’t be surprised that schools face a temptation to resort to “drill and kill.” To our credit, Somerville has worked to resist that temptation, yet we still find ourselves with teachers spending a good deal of time on test-prep. Which makes sense if you think the purpose of an education is to produce world-class multiple choice test takers. But I’ve never met anyone who thinks that. I think most people agree with me that the purpose of education is to produce well rounded adults. It’s far from clear that standardized tests accomplish that.
Q: One last question. Those of us who’ve seen you out and about in the community have also gotten used to seeing your adorable daughter. Is that a subtle campaign ploy?
AG:My wife and I joke that Maddy [his daughter] is the real candidate, and I’m just her ride. Obviously, I’m aware that being around cute kids helps any candidate for office, but I wish I could say dragging her around Somerville with me was motivated by politics. It’s just that Jess [his wife] and I both work full-time, Jess in shift work. While we’re lucky that all of Jess’s extended family lives in the area and have helped with childcare as have several friends of the family, the demands of a campaign, a career and a willful toddler are more than I can outsource. Not that I would want to-Maddy has been a trooper with Daddy’s campaign and anyone who doesn’t want to spend time with their children when they have the opportunity to do so should never be elected to anything!
Q: Thank you for time! It’s been enlightening.
AG: It’s also been fun! Thanks for listening!