Friday, March 1, 2013

Strengthening educational opportunities for city’s youth is superintendent’s goal


BELIEVE THE DREAM: From left, Pham; Chen; Dianne Austin, workplace diversity program manager; Johnson, holding a gift from the MGH, a framed photograph of the MGH Bicentennial Scholars; Hawkins; and Peter L. Slavin, MD, MGH presid

Dr. Carol Johnson knows a bit about obstacles to obtaining a high-quality education. The daughter of a schoolteacher who made a lower salary than her white counterparts, Johnson learned to read using outdated textbooks that were hand-me-downs from the white schools in her town.

Perhaps that is why today, as superintendent of Boston Public Schools, she is such a believer in the American dream and what an education can do to improve the quality of life for the city’s youth. Johnson spoke Feb. 15 at the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration hosted by Partners HealthCare and the MGH.

Johnson outlined the challenges she has faced during the five years she has been in office – a tenure that has seen the graduation rate increase 6 percent and the dropout rate decrease by 4 percent. “The education of the next generation is the most important work we do in America today,” she said. “It’s no longer a world where it’s acceptable for only a few to make it.”

To improve the chances of student success, Johnson said she embarked on a 2011 plan to close or merge the low-performing, low-enrollment schools in the city, allowing district resources to be used in ways that could better the chances of student success. While it wasn’t a popular choice, she said, it has strengthened the district’s education system and buoyed student success. “Without changes, we would have had to make deep cuts,” she said.

Johnson’s speech came after an inspiring vocal performance by Fred Hawkins, RN, BSN, MHR, CIC, an infection control practitioner in the MGH Infection Control Unit. Hawkins sang “If I Could Help Somebody,” which he said he selected after considering some of the more inspired sayings of Dr. King.

The annual celebration also was a chance to honor the 2013 YMCA Achievers, which included three MGH employees: Kaftun Ahmed, a medical interpreter at the MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center; Tammy Pham, image service representative in Imaging; and Dee Dee Chen, manager of Professional Staff Benefits. The award honors exemplary multicultural employees from diverse backgrounds for both their professional achievements as well as their dedication to community service. 

Ahmed was recognized for her advocacy work with Somali-speaking patients, connecting Somali and Arab women to mammography screenings to decrease disparities in breast cancer screening rates among female refugees. Ahmed also works to increase health literacy through various health education workshops and outreach events.

Pham was acknowledged for her ability to foster teamwork, create a supportive atmosphere for her co-workers, and for her active volunteerism at her church and as a Boy Scouts of America scoutmaster.

Chen was lauded for her positive impact at the hospital and within the community through many volunteer activities. At the MGH, she is the executive board chair of the Association of Multicultural Members of Partners and serves as a mentor for young careerists with the American College of Healthcare Executives, a supervisor for the MGH Jobs for Youth Program, and science fair project mentor for Timilty Middle School. 

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