As the daughter of a retired AFT member who taught reading at the elementary level, Rep. Christine Barber knows both the vital benefits endowed by public school teachers and also the challenges they face.
When asked why she feels so strongly about supporting public education, the Representative serving Somerville and Medford recalls the many contract disputes in which her mother was involved.
“She spent a lot of time on the picket line,” Barber says.
Education was always important in the Barber home, but it was also something that Barber loved.
“I remember when I was young a friend accused me of being someone who ‘loved school,’” she recalls, smiling, admitting that the assessment was accurate. For while many of her friends enjoyed the social aspects of school or the opportunity to participate in sports and the arts, Barber says, “I loved the learning part too.”
Growing up, Barber was involved in many social justice issues. After college, she became a community organizer working with low-income women. This prompted Barber to pursue an advanced degree in public policy. During her time in graduate school, Barber served as an intern for two state representatives, Anne Paulsen and Ellen Story.
“They were not like any politicians I had ever met,” Barber explains. “They were passionate about the issues I cared about, stood up for what was right, and were great mentors.”
After a few years with these inspirational mentors, Barber moved on to the MA Health Care Financing Committee. “There I got to be part of the team that drafted the landmark health care reform law that created near-universal coverage,” she recalls proudly. “Being a part of such a historic event showed me that good policy change is possible.”
Barber’s next stop was at the nonprofit health advocacy organization Community Catalyst where she served as a health policy analyst. “I worked with patients’ groups and advocates to make sure that they had a voice in improving the health system,” Barber explains, “and that benefits and costs met their needs.”
While working across the country, Barber also kept close political ties to her home community of Somerville. She served as a member of the Democratic City Committee and the Progressive Democrats of Somerville.
“I also have worked on bringing affordable fresh food, expanding public transportation, and creating more affordable housing in the area,” she notes.
In early 2014, Barber’s own representative stepped down, leaving a vacancy. After discussing the possibility with friends and neighbors in her community, Barber decided to run and is grateful for the support she received from AFT MA for both of her victories.
In addition to social justice and education, Barber is involved in a number of other areas of legislation as well. A member of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture and the Committee on Personnel and Administration, she is an ardent supporter of expanding affordable housing, and expanding the MBTA’s service to her constituents. She is also a champion of quality early childhood education and has been a leader in expanding vision screening for young children so that they can read and learn.
Recalling a recent elementary school book fair that she attended, Barber says she still gets excited when she is in a school and still looks for the students who, like her, are excited to learn as well.
“I had many great teachers who contributed to my interest and to my success,” she says. “My hope is that every kid finds even some part of school to love.”