The City I Love: School choice thoughts, and more Rockwell



It would indeed be a pleasure if I could use this canvas to paint for you words that would help solve the riddle that is school choice. But I can’t.

The recent numbers revealed by school Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless were for sure shocking, and "sick" to look at, as School Committee member Dan Elias said at their recent meeting.

Good for Elias for using such strong language. While most would agree that a Pittsfield family should, if they choose, have the option to send their children to out-of-district or higher-performing schools, the fact that 531 students have opted out of our public schools this year compared to 82 knocking on our doors, reveals a final score that indicates we have taken a severe beating in this game.

So, what’s up? Not the number of incoming students, that’s for sure.

But wait. A look across the Pittsfield educational landscape reveals credible, if not quality, leadership both at the top and at all three levels of public schools. We also boast a diverse and creative student body that for better or worse can often be looked at as a microcosm of just what life will be like for our students in future days.

If school choice was implemented so that the bar in urban high school education would be raised, then it’s my belief that Pittsfield has done exactly that. If I’m a teacher in Pittsfield Public Schools, and I see those numbers, then I’m taking it all rather personal. Our teachers don’t deserve to have those figures thrown in their collective face because they are better than that. Our system is better than that.

You want a smaller school? You want a charter school? Fine, go ahead. But I’m not sold on either. Not yet, at least. I’ve had my head inside the walls of public school education for extended periods of time over the past 15 years, and I’ve seen dysfunctional classes of 12 and very competitive and instructive classes of 25.

It’s not always about the numbers.

Jake Eberwein III, the former school superintendent, sunk some cash into a campaign to promote city schools a number of years ago. I don’t think much came of it, but the idea was worth a try. At this point, I’d rather not go that route. It looks like we’ve got something to hide, and to be honest, we don’t.

So, the numbers aren’t in our favor. But I wonder how many families that opted for school choice have been totally happy with their decision? You don’t hear much on that front. Why would you? Who would choice out and admit it was either a mistake or something less than what they hoped? Not me, not you. Not many at all.

I wonder ...


I’ve got some loose threads hanging around from previous stories and now is a good time to share.

Getting a chance to interview former Red Sox pitcher Frank Sullivan while putting together the story of Norman Rockwell’s "The Rookie" was a wonderful experience. We talked by phone after Frank returned to his Hawaii home following a trip to Boston sponsored by Christie’s auction house in advance of the public sale of the painting.

When we were done with Rockwell-related stuff, I bugged him about general baseball stuff. Sullivan pitched for the Sox during the 1950s, when he was good and the team
wasn’t. Sullivan, now 84, was an intimidating 6 feet, 6 inches on the mound.

"I loved pitching at Fenway Park," said Sullivan, when asked about chucking in the shadow of that big green wall. "I’ll tell you why. The distance between home plate and the backstop was shorter than home plate to the mound. It made me feel as if I was right on top of the batter, and I pitched that way. I never gave any thought to the wall."

On Ted Williams: "A good guy. I spent Christmas with him one winter down in Florida. But he’d let those boo-birds get to him. He’d hear something that someone yelled from the stands and it might stay with him for a week. He had trouble letting go of any kind of criticism."

On Mickey Mantle: "I struck him out the first two times I faced him."

And the third? "He took me out of the park. But overall I did OK against the Yankees."

And, when Boston acquired Shane Victorino last year, the club gave him Sullivan’s No. 18. A nice touch, because both call Hawaii home.

Sullivan and former Pittsfield resident, Sherman Safford, are the only living members from "The Rookie," which was on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in March 1957. Rockwell had done the work that previous fall.

So, why isn’t Safford in the 1957 Pittsfield High School yearbook? After all, the PHS senior was found by Rockwell in the school cafeteria and would later pose as the rookie in the painting.

Some classmates of Safford’s put that question to me this past week. It’s a good one, and here’s the answer. Safford opted for early entry into the U.S. Army, a practice not uncommon in the day, and was called to duty in the spring of his senior year.

So, yes, a bit of literary license was used when I referred to Safford as a 1957 PHS graduate. He returned to garner his equivalency diploma and was in the Army Reserves for many years. The PHS yearbook staff, I guess, didn’t favor those who would serve.

Brian Sullivan can be reached at


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