Keith Bernard is a School Committee candidate for Ward 7.
These are Keith Bernard’s answers to questions that Malden Votes sent to all candidates. Keith’s responses have not been edited or abridged. This is the PDF version of these answers.
What motivates you to run for school committee?
There are at least 63 languages spoken by students in Malden High School, and over half of Malden’s population identifies as non-white. Yet we have a severe lack of black teachers and teachers of color in our faculty and administration. I want that to change and I want to make sure that the committee as a whole has diversity and equity in mind when making any policy decisions. I also have heard from several families about the lack of communication when their children are experiencing learning difficulties, emotional issues and/or bullying. No student should feel like school is an unsafe space and no parent should feel like they are getting cut out of the conversation. I want to advocate for these students and families who are frustrated due to a historical lack of communication and don’t know where to turn.
What experiences or skills have prepared you to serve on the school committee?
I’ve been working as an advocate and activist now for the last three years in supporting and uplifting immigrants, and other communities in need. I have specifically concentrated my efforts in Ward 7, whether canvassing for progressive candidates or defending accommodation rights for our transgender community. I’ve walked every street, had conversations with many and am working hard to serve the residents of my ward.
More than that, I’ve had the same struggle where I’ve had to make choices on whether to feed myself or buy formula for my son. I’ve worked multiple jobs with odd schedules and long commutes to keep a roof over my head and to pay my family’s bills. I know the frustration of working with a broken system while advocating for my family. I have a lifetime of experience in helping people, solving problems and running a business that lets me see all the perspectives and lets me be an effective advocate for our working families.
In the past two years, what School Committee actions did you support or oppose, and why?
Recently a Malden High School teacher, a woman of color, was let go without explanation. I feel that the public is owed a better explanation of her termination, especially given that we have such a lack of representation in our faculty. I also know that she was outspoken concerning Malden’s lack of diversity and it disappoints me that we as a community use our diverse school population to promote an appearance of inclusivity, yet are not making the effort to provide the support systems our student body needs or to explain in full the justifications for such an action.
What are the greatest strengths and challenges of our current school system?
We have a good school system and many of the students and alumnae to which I have spoken love their experience in the system. That MPS has an award winning robotics team and debate team speaks to the levels of which we are capable. We have a fantastic STEM school in the Linden. However, I am concerned because we have students who are getting left behind due to learning differences, and students of color I have spoken to have said they would like more teachers of color. I also want to make sure that we are being careful not to exclude families who are not native English speakers and that we are making every effort that we can to reach out to them.
What initiatives would you prioritize in our school system?
We need to prioritize hiring teachers of color. We also need to make sure our current faculty are being trained on how to be sensitive to other cultures. We need to institute a culture of trust between our students and our faculty. I’d also like to see a real effort on teaching a broader curriculum, inclusive of our various communities, including but not limited to black and Latinx historical figures.
Malden has a broad diversity of students. How would you address the unique needs of various student populations? Be specific.
We have such a diverse set of students that it is hard to be specific without knowing specific cases. What we can do is make sure our faculty is educated as to the needs of students, and how to appropriately sensitive to their communities. For example, making sure that communication to a student’s parent or guardians is done in a language that they understand. We can offer child care so that parents can attend afterschool meetings, school committee meetings and be able to be focused.
Do you have any priorities for the school budget? What are they, and why?
We need to be paying our teachers and staff a living wage for the Boston metro area with commensurate benefits. I’d like to see us find funding to get more programs and education for our English learning students.
What role should charter schools have in our public school system?
Charter schools should be what they were designed to be: a place where programs and best practices are developed and then integrated into the larger public school systems. However, they’ve become a way of privatizing education and we now have a separate program called Innovation schools that take that place. I think we need to make sure we have transparency in how our current charter schools are working, and fix our funding formula so that reimbursements to charter schools are not draining needed funds from our public school systems.
What is your stance on the PROMISE Act?
I support it fully. I fully encourage our current representatives in the House and State Senate to support it and get it to the Governor’s desk.
How can we increase parental and community engagement in school committee meetings?
I’d like us to provide child care for school committee meetings. I’d also like to see us offer translation services so that parents that are not comfortable with English can participate and understand the changes and lend their voices to the process. I also want to continually reach out to my community, and make sure they feel they have a voice in the process.
Everyone grows up holding personal biases. Please share an anecdote about a time that your own biases were confronted, and how you responded.
I used to drive a Metco run when I worked for my father’s school bus company. The kids I drove were smart, funny and engaging. They all lived in Mattapan and Roxbury. This was in the early 90’s when there was a lot of gang activity in the area and a lot of concern that the areas I drove in were dangerous. I was driving these kids home in a snowstorm, and the traffic was heavy. By the time I got to Blue Hill Avenue the roads were treacherous and I was already running late. I turned down a side street to try and make up some time and my vehicle went into a skid and slid into a snowbank and got stuck. I tried my best to get the car out, but the wheels just spun. I saw four large black men approach my car and I was nervous. I cautiously rolled down my window and they kindly asked me if I needed a push. They got me out of the snowbank and I thanked them. I felt guilty that I was nervous, and ridiculous. I always try and reflect on that moment when I hit other biases I have, so that I can take a person at face value and treat them as I would like to be treated.