Healing Should be Hard

4 min readFeb 6, 2024

Despite the hugs and high fives that will be captured through camera phones by gleeful parents and caregivers this week, it is important to be mindful that the last two weeks will have a residual effect on the perception, image, and moral standing of Newton, Massachusetts as a city; its Mayor, Ruthanne Fuller, as an executive; The School Committee Chair, Christopher Brezski, as a negotiator; and The Schools’ Superintendent, Dr. Anne Nolin, as a leader.

As a native of The Commonwealth, one of Newton’s most attractive features has always been its schools and the strength of the community because of its collective commitment to supporting an educational environment that positioned its students to compete in the global economy. The strike, like the scourge of 2020 — more commonly known as the COVID-19 pandemic, exposed a bevy of systemic and structural flaws within our schools.

Those deficiencies range from poorly scaffolding intervention strategies to differentiate learning, fractured district and school alignment around areas such as literacy and numeracy, and purely cosmetic approaches to intentionally address race, class, and equity within its schools. Newton, like a cadre of towns and cities of means, has blindly operated in a vacuum of entitlement for decades and has been spared the scrutiny that it will rightly receive because of The Teacher Strike.

For more than two weeks, I’ve had to talk to my child about the harsh fact that I had no idea when he would return to school, all while also engaging in discourse with my partner who is a Newton Public Schools educator. As a partner, she needed support and strategy to ensure the maintenance of her mental and physical energy on the front lines. Quite frankly my son did too.

In this peculiar dichotomy of philosophy, policy, and compensation, I could only think that this would never end well. I am hopeful more work will need to be done to rebuild trust and goodwill after this is “over”. The residual effects will either show us the commitment that the leaders and the remaining body have for families and the educators who serve them, or highlight their hypocrisy.

While I unapologetically stood with the educators, I am now more concerned with how Superintendent Nolan will use progressive thinking and sincere action to bolster community buy-in and trust her vision. The school-to-home communication was grossly vapid, and the student support so woefully inadequate, how can parents believe their students’ well being is a priority?

The daily emails were not only divisive, they were often tone-deaf to the emerging needs and anxieties that families experienced and painted our educators as villains. It is hard to entrust in a system that speaks ill of its colleagues and it is equally concerning watching leaders disparage their pursuit of professional deference, fair compensation and a promise of additional resources to support the holistic development and success of students in and out of the classroom.

Public Education has been under attack and leaders are too distanced and distracted to understand the daily experiences of their school communities. In talking to fellow Newtown families, many felt as though school leaders missed the opportunity to rally their communities through tough times. They followed the lead of the district and stuck to an antiquated script out of the 1990s, while failing to incorporate the various mediums of communication at their disposal.

Dialogue and reassurance could have shrunk the distance and alleviated some of the warts that festered as a result of this fight. The void of demonstrated local leadership also called into question the ability of the district head to lean on her team, particularly during her first year on the job. The failure to have uniformed language in tough times can lead to an acrimonious situation.

The mayor must step out of her shell; show up at schools and greet families, demonstrating the competency and connection that is critical to effective leadership. The committee should amend its format and public comment constraints. It’s time to make the city feel more like a village and open the tent to the voices and concerns of those who are owed the utmost consideration.

The advertised values and ethos of Newton as an exemplar of public education excellence has been compromised. It will require a “roll-up your sleeves” Nonantum (Newton) grit to get the rails back on track. We must believe that we can transcend into our best selves and channel our inner 2008 Kevin Garnett, to work with purpose because Anything is Possible.

Listening sessions must be deep learning sessions and rooted in the opportunity to rebuild, and careful not to devolve into catered venting sessions. In the words of Jay-Z, You Can’t Heal What You Don’t Reveal. The City can’t just call for healing circles, but do the work to retain its reputation and balm its fresh wounds.

This can start with listening to voices that are not the easiest to digest, understanding that those voices, the ones roused and raised, are the citizens pushing us to study who we are and work arduously to become better.

Tony Clark is a Professor of African-American Studies, Co-President & Co-Founder of My Brother’s Keeper Cambridge Task Force, and Principal of The T.Clark Consulting Group




Serial reader and social justice warrior committed to the emancipation of those on the margins.