RADIO: A Progressive Conversation, with Andrea Miller

Dan was invited for an 60-minute interview by the Progressive Democrats of America to talk about his candidacy for Somerville School Committee and about the Truman National Security Project, of which Dan is a Truman Security Fellow. For length purposes, only the portions relevant to Somerville School Committee are included below in this abbreviated transcript.

Terrence Dicks: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. This is Terrence Dicks, your cohost for A Progressive Conversation. But most importantly, I just want everybody to know, I always have to say this, do not worry, your regular host is in fact here. Andrea Miller please say hello and put our guests at ease, please.

Andrea Miller: Good afternoon, Terrence. Yes, I am here. As always we are in Terrence’s wonderful and capable hands for our show this afternoon.

TD: Well, I just want to say that our good friend is a PDA guy. Dan Futrell is a veteran of the US Army. He was an Infantry officer, an officer for five years in which his distinguished service ended in 2010. And with that ladies and gentlemen, I want to bring on our guest for this day. Dan Futrell. Welcome, Dan.

Dan Futrell: Thank you very much. Thank you Terrence and thank you Andrea for inviting me on the show.

I live in Somerville, Massachusetts, and there is a great opportunity in Somerville to make an impact through our school system. Our school system is one that is not unlike a lot of school systems in the country. There are over 50% of our students who are going home to families who don’t speak English at home. There are over 65% of our families are living in poverty. You can find communities like this all across the country.

When we talk about national issues like immigration, we feel that here in Somerville. A lot of the students in Somerville are the children of immigrants who’ve come to Somerville looking for opportunity just like our families did generations ago. And so when we talk about how we make an impact, one of the things a fellow is asked to do is to seek out their role, seek out their opportunity to make an impact.

For me, that means running for School Committee. Our School Committee here in Somerville is made up of seven folks plus our President of the Board of Alderman and our Mayor, Joe Curtatone. Through the school system, the School Committee rather, is charged with setting policies for the school district, is charged with recommending a budget to the mayor, and is charged with hiring a superintendent. And these things when put together have an incredible impact on 4,900 students and 4,900 families within Somerville.

Taking them from birth, from Pre-K, to an 18 year old adult, sending them, putting them in the right position to either go to college or join the workforce and be successful, and live the lives they want to live and hit their potential. That’s something that I’m really excited about. I’m excited about the School Committee here in Somerville, and just seeing the way that education impacts people’s lives.

You won’t walk around, I would argue, in most cities in the country you won’t walk around and you’re not thinking about things happening in the Middle East every day. But what is going on is families are driving their kids to school in the morning, and picking up their kids from school at night and taking them to soccer practice. And how that happens, and the things that are happening in that school during the day in the classroom with the teachers, that’s how you take somebody from where they’re at to their potential.

For me, when I was younger, I lived for a while in foster care in the state of Florida. And I had a couple individuals who really reached out and volunteered their time, and volunteered their hearts quite honestly, and made a huge difference for me and took me from a place I might have gone to where I’m at now. That has been incredibly impactful on my life and I’m eager to do this for somebody else.

TD: Well, I want to tell you, Dan, that’s a really inspiring story and I just want to let you know that I just really wish you well on that but I do have to ask a follow up question. And that is, do you think that you would have been, were you interested in politics before, I mean like in high school or when you entered the military or whatever, early on in your young adult life, considered it?

DF: You know, this has not been a lifelong dream for me. Quite honestly, I’ve seen recently a lot of the ways that politics make a difference in people’s lives. I work for an organization, I work for a non-profit that helps young adults, 18-24, go from a high school GED or diploma to a good paying job in either IT or finance, and it’s a year-long development program that teaches them the hard technical skills of the job they’re about to do as well as the soft professional skills that they don’t have a role model for in their lives to give them.

And as I’m learning more about this problem, as I’m meeting a 19 year old with a 4 year old son who’s trying to progress in her life, I see the impact of local government, I see the impact of school boards and school committees that have underserved certain populations over time and that need a lot more help.

So no, politics is not something that I’ve been thinking about my whole life but over the last couple years it has become clear to me that this is how you make a difference, this is how you make a difference so that you don’t have young adults who feel trapped in a minimum wage job, trying to pay the bills, and have no prospect or no hope for a life-long career. This is more of a recent thing for me. I’m really excited to make a difference here in Somerville because I think that’s the best thing I can do, and I’m pretty excited about it.

AM: Dan, you’re running for all the right reasons. And so that is really, really wonderful. I think when people come into politics, where it isn’t necessarily a lifelong dream of power but you arrive at politics because you realize this does give you the platform to basically serve then I think that is excellent and that really is the definition of a person who is a public servant where they’re not looking for personal power but rather they are seeking to empower the individual members of their community. So Dan, I commend you on that. Terrence, go ahead.

TD: I was going to basically say was, first of all, it makes me feel good because, just having heard him just those few minutes, I now know why he has PDA support. But clearly the values that you are expressing, though I don’t see them as Democrat, I don’t see them as Republican, they are clearly forward looking, you are clearly looking at innovation and yet you’re also holding hands with the past. And I just see that as just so incredibly important. And I’m just so glad to hear you say, “it was never my goal to go into politics.” Yeah, that’s good, there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t have a problem with people who, whether you’re, how old are you, Dan? If you don’t mind my asking?

DF: I’m thirty years old.

TD: Oh my God you’re just a...

AM: Wonderful. Oh, I’m feeling Congressional candidate in a few years.

TD: Let me go ahead and make my point, the reason why I was asking. At thirty years old, I don’t care if you’re in your twenties, in your thirties, your forties, your fifties like me, you know the fact that you’re getting up for those reasons and saying, “you know what, I can do this. I can take this on. I may not have all the answers but maybe all of us together, we can do this thing.” So I just really want to take my hat off to you for doing this and going down this line because I just think it’s so terribly important.

And you know, I don’t know about you Andrea but I just don’t hear what he said every day, I don’t hear that every day. He’s not doing sound bites, he’s saying what’s in his heart. That’s really important, especially to our listeners. So I just want to go ahead and say that. Andrea.

AM: Well Dan, when is your election? When is the race?

DF: My election is November, the election is November 5th, November 5th here in Somerville. Running for Ward 2, Ward 2 School Committee in Somerville here.

AM: Alright, and Dan has a Facebook page so you can go to Facebook, or either go to Google and then just google Dan Futrell, F-U-T-R-E-L-L, and then you’ll see the Dan Futrell for School Committee, Ward 2.

DF: Yeah, and we also have a website, just danfutrell.com, that’s our campaign’s website. And if I could, I might, since we’re talking about larger, national issues here, some of the things that I’m really excited to work on here in Somerville. As we talk about progressive values in national security and really progressive values in domestic issues and issues like education, if I can I’d like to share a little about the things I’m excited to work on within the School Committee. Is that ok?

AM: That is just fine. I was going to ask you but go ahead.

DF: Alright, well thank you. There are three main points. A lot of folks have asked me, “Why are you running for School Committee?” and some have asked me, “what is your interest here in the School Committee?”

As I’ve been walking around, knocking on doors and meeting parents, there is definitely a strong need to increase the communication with parents, to make parents feel more a part of the process with their school, with their teachers, with the administration, with their School Committee. So one of the things I really want to work on is increasing those communications between all those different parties with the parents.

They say that parental engagement is the number one indicator for student success, and when our education system as a country is not where it should be - you know, when you look at college enrollment from American citizens from 55-64, we’re third in the world. But when you look at college enrollment for 25 year olds to 34 year olds, we’re 13th in the [world], we’re falling back.

Our preschool enrollment, in the US is 69%, it’s 81% in the world. So we’re not moving in the right direction in our educational systems and our school districts, and part of that is making parents feel a part of the process, and not just a passive participant but rather a part of the decision-making process within their school districts.

So that’s the first thing. The second thing is really tapping into our local communities to benefit the students, and to benefit the families. Here in Somerville there are several world-class universities that we can increase our relationships with and other organizations, non-profits and those who care that our students are doing well, that we can really build those relationships with so that we can increase the number of tutors for students, so that we can increase the number of individualized attention, differentiated instruction, and so that we can provide additional professional development opportunities for teachers.

Here in Somerville, just like a lot of communities around the country, teacher morale is not the highest that it’s been, and figuring a way to support those teachers to do a job that is not an easy job, should be at the top of our list. Tapping into those local resources for students, for families and teachers, is pretty important.

The last thing is, here in Somerville we’ve got ten schools, we’ve got 4,900 students, I’ve told you a little about them already. There are a lot of different programs amongst our schools that have done incredible things.

We’ve got a world-class music program where every student can, if they want, have any stringed instrument, violin or any other, and we’ve got an awesome director of that program who is teaching students on those instruments from a young age on. And that’s free. That is free for the students, and there’s not many places that you can find that.

And there have been so many studies done that connect this character development and this, character development and arts thinking, tapping into their musical abilities, that has an awesome impact on their academics, their intellect, that we’re not measuring through standardized tests like the MCAS.

Somerville is doing a great job at those programs. How do we increase the successes of those programs and increase the number of those programs? I really want to focus on that, find those programs within a school and exporting them to the other schools in the district.

So, three things I’m pretty excited about: increasing communication with parents, tapping into our local resources for students and teachers, and finding the successes within our school system and growing them across our school district.

It’s pretty important to me. Fortunately we’re seeing, we’re finding a lot of parents who are telling us that this message is resonating, this is something that they’ve been hungry for and are stepping up, raising their hand asking how they can volunteer and how they can support us. So, pretty excited about it, there’s a lot of opportunity here in Somerville. Again, I would say, if you want to learn more, I’d point you to our website at danfutrell.com.

AM: Dan, thank you very much. Yes, I did pop over and I took a look at the website. I don’t know that you know this but I was a teacher for 35 years. I actually taught at the college level but my degrees are all in early childhood education, go figure how that worked out.

DF: I did not know that. That’s great.

AM: So, anyway, the thing that’s very exciting...

TD: Dan, that’s why she can deal with me every Friday.

AM: So anyway, I was going to say that the thing that I found very, very, very exciting in what you were talking about, were again a lot of these are the same ideas that I believed in as a spouse, when I was a teacher, but more importantly you’re talking about involvement in education, you’re talking about duplicating success, and you’re talking about expansion of education as opposed to what we hear so much now, cutting and contracting. Meaning, nope, the music program has got to go, the physical ed program has got to go, art program, get away from me, don’t even bring that up. You know, it’s got to be reading, it’s got to be writing, and it’s got to be arithmetic and other than that that’s about all we can almost do.

So to hear you talk about bringing education where we are educating the whole person because we realize that we are not in schools just trying to teach rote skills but this is where our students really get that responsibility. They have an opportunity to get that, “oh, if I really work on something now I’m beginning to see the success.” And in so many conversations about education that’s all been removed.

DF: I think you’re 100% right. I think part of the missing conversation here is character development. How are we developing the character of our young adults, our students, our children, to make them successful adults, to make them, to enable them, empower them to reach their potential?

Think about a job interview. Have you ever been to a job interview where you filled out a 200 question test and you marked A, B, C, or D in each one and got the job or not? No, that’s not how we look at successful adults. People who get jobs are the ones, even less so focused on the technical skill, that’s the minimum, but when you’re looking across five different candidates for a job you’re picking the one who’s going to have the grit, who’s going to have the character, who’s going to be a good teammate, who’s going to communicate well, and pretty awesome if they have these outside of work skills that make them a whole person.

We would never use this standardized testing model to hire somebody. It does not measure the successes that we have in Somerville, and it doesn’t measure the successes that any of our students have in this state or in this country. We need to focus, this is a larger conversation, but we need to find a way to measure this character development in a way that is more helpful for everybody.

AM: And again, critical point that you brought up, when we are talking about building people for careers. McDonald’s, WalMart, yes, those organizations are looking for widgets where they want people where they can pigeonhole them, pay them nothing, and this will not be a career.

But when you’re building people for careers, you want them to have been encouraged to think outside the box. You want them to have been encouraged to discover how high and how good they can be at something on their own, utilizing their own talent and creativity, and that is just so important.

We’re raising our children to be adults, not dependent children.

DF: That’s right. And giving them so many opportunities to succeed, but also being ok to give them an opportunity when they fail, and make that be ok, let them experiment and fail a little bit. That’s how character is developed. That’s ok.

TD: I know we’re at the top of the hour, folks, and so that’s why I really want to go ahead and say to Dan, first of all I’m really glad to hear you didn’t phone in any of what you said. Though you’re on the phone, you didn’t phone it in, you spoke from the heart and it was really great and the people of your hometown in Massachusetts should be proud of you for all you’ve done and all you’re going to do, and as a son of a proud Vietnam veteran I just want to thank you and all of your comrades, those that made it home and those that didn’t, we appreciate it.

And Andrea, I want to thank you for allowing me, again, to kinda take the hosting duties. I’ll let you take it from here.

AM: Dan, I want to echo again what Terrence said, I want to thank you for your past service in the military. And I know Terrence and I, we are both looking forward to your future service in the realm of politics which is where we live. So I’d like to thank our guest, Dan Futrell, for joining us. Thank you to Terrence for being a more than able co-host in taking on hosting duties today, and I’d like to thank our listening audience for joining us for as yet another Progressive Conversation. So good afternoon everybody. And Dan wants to say thank you one more time.

DF: Thank you very much to Terrence and Andrea.

AM: Take care everybody. Bye, bye.

TD: Take care, have a good weekend everybody.

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