The Dichotomy of Newton

“Saying something over and over again doesn’t make it true.”

This is a phrase that I am confident most of us are familiar with, especially those of our readers who are parents.

This past summer, in an attempt to learn more about the City of Newton’s government, I decided to help Jess Barton run for the Board of Aldermen (now City Council). Undoubtedly, although the experience was short in duration, it was large in value as I learned many important lessons that I will put to good use.

Given that I could probably devote an entire book to what I learned, for this blog post, I want to put a spotlight on poverty in Newton. During my time helping Jess with her campaign, I continuously heard many individuals say time and again that Newton is only an enclave for the rich. As someone who grew up poor in Newton, because I know firsthand that such an assertion has no basis in fact, I learned many important truths as a result of conversations with individuals who are part of Newton’s political establishment.

Unrealized by many is the reality that Newton is home to a lot of poor people. In fact, according to the Newton Housing Authority, the City of Newton provides at least 354 units of public housing within nine public housing “properties.” Consequently, that means that there are likely more than 1,000 Newton residents who live in housing provided by the City. Notably, because I cannot find a database of Section 8 accepted apartments, these numbers do not include all government subsidized housing in Newton. Accordingly, there could be thousands of additional Newton residents living in poverty. (Full disclosure: because this information is not readily available, these numbers may be off.)

Of Newton’s nine public housing “properties,” I personally have lived at two of them. For this blog post, I won’t go into too much detail in regard to what it was like growing up in Newton public housing. That being said, key memories include: often not having heat in the winter, so to stay warm, we would heat our unit by turning the stove on high and saran wrapping the windows to trap the heat; the fridge was often empty; we would get furniture, such as beds, from nearby trash; there was frequent violence as a result of consistent drug deals; and the majority of my friends were frequently abused and did not even graduate from high school. In Newton public housing, I also watched DSS (now DCF) physically tear apart my family, and I watched my mom lose control of her own life so badly that she was sentenced to nearly three years in prison when I was still a teenager.

My purpose in posting about this is not for commiseration. Rather, I am posting this because I believe that if Newton’s leadership is serious about legitimately solving the problems that are caused by poverty, the time is now to prove it. However, to do so requires access to data. For example, we need to measure the outcomes of those who grow up or live in Newton public housing in regard to, among other things and in no particular order:

High school graduation rates
College admittance rates
College graduation rates
Employment rates
Incarceration rates
Achievement gap
Special education rates
General involvement with the criminal justice system

I have long been a believer that Newton could and should be a national leader on the issue of solving many of the problems caused by poverty as this community is in a unique position to address it.

If you are interested in the premise of working together to produce results, I look forward to hearing your thoughts in regard to how we can obtain the data and build the team needed to move Newton’s poverty outcomes in the right direction.

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Matt YospinTom DavisMargaret Albright Recent comment authors
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Margaret Albright
Margaret Albright

Tom, I am so glad you are posting this information.

School districts do have to count and report many of the things you outlined above. But let me start by saying approximately 12% of our students qualify for federal subsidized lunch – that’s over 1,500 school-aged children.

On the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website you will find that Newton reports and DESE publishes data on high school graduation rates, AP test taking rates, average SAT scores, achievement gap and special education. In fact, DESE tracks how much progress school districts make each year toward closing achievement gaps. Schools are assigned a level based on that progress and districts are assigned the level of their lowest performing school. Newton’s schools are Level II on the Progress and Performance Index (PPI) of DESE. For more information on the levels and the PPI, check the DESE website. http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/state_report/accountability.aspx#

In my time on school council at Newton North I did learn that NN subscribes to a data base which tracks not only what colleges their students are admitted to, but how many actually enroll and how many complete college in 6 years.

One of the system wide goals of the Newton Schools is to narrow achievement gaps.

Matt Yospin

Tom, thanks for sharing this. I look forward to hearing more, and discussing this. While it may be easy to believe that Newton is only an enclave for the wealthy if you socialize only with the wealthy, or are an elected official who only cares for the opinions of the relatively well-off among us, Newton has a large range of housing stock and people with a matching range of incomes and assets.
I understand the privacy concerns, but I’d think the schools and the city would benefit from use and analysis of anonymized data on student outcomes and achievement, with tracking of, say, years lived in public housing, and household income brackets.