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Boston School Committee's Newest Member Is An Advocate For Children With Disabilities04:30
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Regina Robinson is the newest member of the Boston School Committee. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Regina Robinson is the newest member of the Boston School Committee. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
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When the Boston School Committee meets Wednesday to vote on Mayor Marty Walsh's plan to extend the school day at 60 schools, there will be two new faces casting votes.

The newest member, Regina Robinson, is also the third public school parent on the board.

Robinson, a Hyde Park resident who is dean of student affairs at Cambridge College, was sworn in onto the board by Walsh almost a year to the day of his own swearing-in ceremony.

While taking her oath, Robinson said she admits that seven years ago, joining the Boston School Committee "was not on [her] trajectory."

As she told the audience gathered for her swearing-in ceremony, she and her family had moved to Boston from Virginia when they received life-altering news about the impending birth of her second child.

"We found out that he was going to have Down's syndrome, and my life changed," she said. "That is not in the parenting handbook of life. My husband and I really grappled with, 'What do we do with this new normal?' "

'Our Eyes And Our Hearts Were Opened' To Parents Needing To Be Heard

This new normal meant a world of advocacy — but being an involved parent was not new to Robinson. She says she comes from a background of strong parental activism, starting with her own parents. Her sister, who attended the swearing-in ceremony with their parents, is also member of the school board in her hometown in Tennessee.

"I realized that there was a new path set out for our family. And my world opened up to the world of disability, to a vulnerable population that many times is undervalued and invisible," Robinson said. "And our eyes and our hearts were opened to a community of parents who really need to be heard."

Robinson quickly became involved with early intervention and other readiness programs even before her son, Josiah, was old enough for school.

It was through her advocacy that she met Mayor Martin Walsh.

"... My world opened up to the world of disability, to a vulnerable population that many times is undervalued and invisible... "

Regina Robinson

"Over the last year, we're making a lot of changes and working on making our school system the best school system in the country," Walsh said.

Walsh said he came to know Robinson through her work with the Boston Public Schools Special Education Parents Advisory Council [SPED-PAC].

"That's a group of parents and activists that were very vocal in the mayor's race and very active and concerned about young people that need help and services," he said.

"From the time that Josiah was first born, I listened. I absorbed the information given to me, given to my husband," she said adding that she began to seek guidance from a number of support systems for parents like her. "There are so many support systems whether you ask for them or not. Our city is set up well to really support families."

Josiah is enrolled at the Franklin Roosevelt School in Hyde Park — a full inclusion public school in Boston, where students with disabilities are in classrooms with students without disabilities.

Robinson and her husband now have four children. The youngest, Jeremiah, is two and a-half years old.

"I can't wait until next year to put Jeremiah in the lottery and get him to the Roosevelt," she said. "I think with the teachers that Josiah had in kindergarten, I have many, many fond memories of their support that they provided, because it was a pretty fearful process, and they opened their arms to our family."

A key task for Robinson as a member of the school committee is selection of a new superintendent of schools. Robinson notes that there are other challenges ahead, too.

"I know we have budgetary challenges. I know we have large populations of children who really need services," she said. "I also want to recognize the possibilities. And I want to recognize the potential that we have if we work together, if we listen to one another, for the great success that we can have as a district."

As for what she looks forward to most, there's a long list. It includes stronger parent-teacher partnerships and IEPs, or individual education plans, for children with special needs.

"I look forward to seeing our children — all of our children — but especially those with disabilities have a voice at the table, especially those who are of age to sit in an IEP meeting and to really advocate for themselves," she said. "There's no greater joy than seeing a child advocate for themselves."

Her appointment means that half of the current six members of the school committee are parents of students in Boston Public Schools.

As previously reported, there is still a vacancy on the Boston School Committee. The school department is accepting applications for that position until Tuesday, Jan. 20.

Correction: Due to an editing error, our initial post said that Robinson did not have plans to move to Boston seven years ago. It is simply that Robinson did not have plans to join the Boston School Committee seven years ago. We regret the error.

This segment aired on January 14, 2015.

Delores Handy Twitter Reporter
Delores Handy was formerly a host and reporter at WBUR.

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