Joe Grassi

Joseph Grassi
2007 Candidate for Cambridge School Committee

Home address:
393 Cambridge Street
Cambridge MA 02141

Contact information:
Tel: 617-491-5240
Web site: 

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Committee to Re-Elect Joe Grassi
393 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02141

14 years of proven School Committee accomplishments, leadership and improvements in academic achievement.

14 years of direct service experience working with children for the Department of Human Services at the Frisoli and Gately Youth Centers.

23 years of community activism successfully advocating for the creation and renovation of youth recreation facilities, open space and the creation of youth sports leagues.

Small business owner of a real estate appraisal company, specializing in residential valuations.

Volunteered time to the following organizations as well as successfully advocating for improved recreational facilities and opportunities for children throughout Cambridge.

Frisoli Youth Center, Founder
Frisoli Youth Center Design Committee, Member
Cambridge Girls Softball League, Founding Member, Past Board Member
Cambridge Pop Warner Football, Founding Member, Advisory Board, Coach
East Cambridge Little League, Coach
Cambridge Girls Softball T-Ball League, Founder, Coach
Cambridge Youth Sports Commission, Member
Green Ribbon Open Space Committee, Member
Donnelly Field Renovation Committee, Member
Russell Field Renovation Committee, Member
Successfully advocated for construction of the track at Danehy Park
Successfully lobbied to completely renovate the Gately Youth Center

Married, wife Dawn, two children enrolled at the Morse Elementary School
Graduate, Northeastern University, B.S. Public Administration
4th generation Cantabrigian, graduate of the Cambridge Public Schools
Cambridge Public Safety Committee, Member
United States Army, Veteran Persian Gulf War

Top Priorities:
  1) Settling the Superintendent's contract
  2) Continual improvement to student achievement
  3) Review and improve the middle schools

School Department Administration:
During the time I have been on the School Committee, I have made the reallocation of funds within the School Department budget a priority. This has allowed the School Department to fund additional programs to assist with academic achievement and help retain small student-teacher ratios as well as small schools.

I am proud to be a member of the School Committees that eliminated 83 administrative positions and cut more than $2 million from administration. The School Committee created a debt stabilization fund totaling more than $11 million for CPS to lessen impact of future deficits and capital projects. This has allowed the CPS to assist in the funding of the renovation project at CRLS.

I have made the budget process more transparent and advocated for an analysis of spending differences between Cambridge school budget and surrounding communities. Supported efforts over the past decade to evaluate and discontinue programs not meeting the needs of students. Increased the amount of funding spent directly in schools by directing funds to school improvement funds. I have worked to consistently align the budget with academic goals.

I hear concerns from parents that the way the budget is presented is not the clearest or the easiest to understand. The City Council has a highly regard budget document that clearly outlines expenditures with departmental goals. I would like to explore a budget process that may be similar to the City Council. The School Committee can highlight all non-teaching positions in separate section of the budget. This will assist with clarifying costs of administrative functions as well as assist in identifying any possible areas for future savings.

Superintendent Thomas Fowler-Finn's Contract - Based on what you know today, would you support an extension of this contract and, if so, for what term and under what conditions?:
I have not made a final decision on this matter and I am open to a discussion regarding contract extension. I am cautious about politicizing a decision on such an important matter. The School Committee must handle the issue in a professional manner. This process is one of the initial steps in recruiting a highly qualified Superintendent in the event that the School Committee decides not to extend the contract. I will have a conversation with the Superintendent and my colleagues before I make a decision. I have been through the contract extension process several times, I have hired two Superintendents of Schools and I have also informed two Superintendents that I was not going to extend their contract. I know the importance of the decision, I understand what is involved in a search process and I endured the impacts of the decision on the CPS. This is a decision that will take a lot of thoughtful discussion as I decide if Dr. Fowler-Finn is the leader that Cambridge needs at this time.

Controlled Choice, Student Assignment Policies, and the "Achievement Gap":
The issue of controlled choice is an extremely complex issue. Any small changes that are made to the policy has the tendency to create an unintended consequence somewhere else in the school system. I believe it is time to have an outside review of the Controlled Choice Policy. I feel that changes to the Controlled Choice Policy needs to be done comprehensively. There are several desegregation plans in schools across the country that approach assignment policies in very different ways and I believe it will be worth taking a look at the merits of some of these plans. There are also several communities that use a student assignment policy based on districts within the City. We also need a comprehensive look at how our school age population has changed as well as changes in demographics under the age of 5.

The Cambridge Public Schools has for far too long revolved around the Controlled Choice Policy rather than the policy supporting the educational goals of the district. The centerpiece of the issue with questions on why the Controlled Choice Policy is not working properly is the fact that some schools are under chosen by families. The issue must focus on why aren't those schools as highly chosen as others and what is being done to correct the situation. This is an issue that will require thorough research and extensive discussion.

The achievement gap is a serious issue that communities across the State struggle with. The Cambridge School Committee has included it as one of our goals during this term.

Graduations rates have increased during the past several years. The CRLS graduation rate in 2004 was 78% and has improved to 97% in 2007. 99% of the Class of 2007 has passed all State graduation requirements. The Class of 2010 will be the first class required to pass a science test. 80% of these students have passed a science exam at this time. These results are excellent. Cambridge has made some great strides in reducing the achievement gap and has seen improvements outpacing the State. During the 2007 school year, African-American and Hispanic students have seen substantial increases in Math and English/Language Arts MCAS results when compared to 2005 school year.

I served on the Achievement Gap Sub-Committee that sponsored several parent and student forums to create a dialogue on the issue. We have supported a number of measures including the youngest kindergarten age in the State as well as a two-year kindergarten opportunity for many children. The School Committee has supported early childhood education, an age 3 entrance age for the Tobin Montessori Program, the existence of five Special Start classrooms, and some of the smallest student-teacher ratios in the State. This is an area where the School Committee needs to keep as a focus and keep as one of our goals.

Enrichment Programs:
I would separate these issues. I have been a supporter of honors and AP classes at CRLS. I feel we can do a better job at challenging our gifted and talented students. The high school has responded to the needs of this segment of our student population with honors and AP classes. We need to explore ways to do this in our elementary schools. This term as part of the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Middle Schools, I would like to explore honors and AP classes in grades 6-8. The ISP program is a successful program, but is only located in two of the eleven middle schools. We need to continue the successful model, but figure out ways to meet the needs of all our schools.

During the budget for 2007-2008, the School Department along with the Department of Human Services created a program at the Gately Youth Center and Peabody School to increase participation of middle school students. Collaboration such as this can be expanded in other parts of the City. The School Department already supports a middle school athletic program for grades 7 and 8. After school activities for students is an area that is mostly programmed by DHSP through the Community Schools, Childcare and Youth Center Programs.

Enrollment and the Marketing of Public Schools vs. Charter Schools and Private Schools:
Kindergarten enrollment has increased this school year. I would like to see several years of this trend. The marketing study of the Cambridge Public Schools concluded several issues that are concerns. The two top issues that parents expressed were quality of teachers as well as student behavior.

I feel that the best way to compete with Charter and Private Schools is to continue to be a professionally managed school system that continues to improve in achievement. This will inspire confidence in the community and will be our most powerful marketing tool.

Elementary Schools and Curriculum:
I feel the biggest issue facing CPS is the current state of the middle schools. It is a topic that concerns many parents. The Cambridge Public Schools are currently going through a review of strengths and weaknesses of our current middle schools and to suggest areas for improvement. By strengthening the middle schools, we can provide a seamless academic link between elementary grades and CRLS. There is room for improvement in academics, staffing ratios, and the consistency of curriculum as well as increased opportunities for accelerated classes, electives and extra-curricular activities. These grades are a critical bridge where we must provide an outstanding experience.

Several schools are struggling to meet Adequately Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind. These schools need additional support. Several schools created a Saturday academic program resulting in success. I would like to ensure that these programs are funded and are available. I would also like to review the effectiveness of the Jump Start Program and create a more extensive elementary summer school with greater participation

High School Programs and Curriculum:
There are a number of issues at CRLS that need attention during the next term. The mission of the CRLS Summer Academy needs to be changed to include additional students who are not achieving at grade level.

I would also like to develop a protocol and reorganize resources to increase the numbers of CRLS seniors applying to college, applying for financial aid, choosing the right college, completing college or putting together a career plan with steps to achieve short and long-term goals. These programs may not necessarily need to be funded with additional budget resources, but may be able to be implemented with existing staffing levels.

There are a number of improvements that can be made for Special Education students at CRLS. I think the School Committee can take a role in expanding internship opportunities for students. I feel we need to review the Venture Program to see if it continues to meet the needs of our students. I also feel there needs to be a review of the inclusion classrooms at CRLS.

School Department Budget and Capital Needs (including CRLS renovations), and the Disposition of Surplus Buildings:
CRLS has been planning a systems renovation of CRLS for several years. The original scope of the renovation was to include new roof, heating, ventilation, air-conditioning as well as new windows. The total cost of this original project was $55 million dollars with $30 million being reimbursed through the State's School Building Assistance Program.

As a Member of the Buildings and Grounds Sub-Committee, I have been working with my colleagues on a proposal to review the physical needs of the building as well as the academic needs of space and existing equipment. Working under a tight timeline to keep the original project timeline on schedule we have an initial proposal for an expanded renovation at a cost of $95 million. 30% of this is reimbursable from the state and the School Committee is prepared to make a significant contribution from our debt stabilization fund which is currently in excess of $11 million. There will be ample opportunity for input from the school council, parent body of CRLS, students as well as middle school parents.

If the City Council approves funding, construction will take place between 2009 and 2011. This project will require the use of the vacant old Graham and Parks and Longfellow Schools for displaced CRLS students. At the conclusion of construction, the School Committee must review current needs of the CPS. My intention is to declare the buildings as surplus if there is no need and the City Council will have the authority to decide on the future use of the space. The planned use of vacant buildings avoids the added costs of renting space.

MCAS and Measuring Student Achievement:
Let's be clear what has plagued Cambridge test scores in comparison to surrounding cities and towns. Education Reform was passed in 1993 and Cambridge soon became the flashpoint for demonstrations against the state required examination. During the next eight years the Cambridge School Committee voted three times not to support MCAS as a graduation requirement. I voted against the measure all three times. Goals of the School Committee were never articulated because of opposition to performance measures outlined in the Education Reform Law of 1993. Interventions were not developed or funded and each school was allowed to develop and teach its own curriculum. The politicizing of this academic issue resulted in 78% graduation rate of the CRLS Class of 2004. In response to this embarrassment, I supported a motion reversing prior votes by the School Committee to support MCAS as a graduation requirement. This vote coupled with an action plan, development and agreement of goals, budget resources and a renewed focus by the Administration, principals and teachers around achievement resulting in a graduation rate for the Class of 2007 of 97%. This percentage just doesn't represent MCAS results, but also includes CRLS graduation requirements.

There are several changes that I feel would improve MCAS scores. Principals need to dedicate more time in classrooms observing teaching and learning. This is essential to ensure that teachers are dedicating the appropriate time on task, ensuring that the curriculum is being taught and that it is happening at the appropriate sequence. Parents are essential partners in improving achievement. I proposed several motions this past term that created curriculum guides for parents, subscription to EdLine; a computer-based communication for parents and brought organization to report cards and progress reports. The successful implementation of these systems will make parents partners.

There are downsides to the MCAS as well as NCLB. Cambridge has always been a School System that has never and will never completely prevent the innovation and diversity of curriculum that has always been the hallmark of our schools. This is true in other communities. The graduation requirements at CRLS are not just MCAS based, but include the passing of our own extensive graduation requirements. Cambridge has a multitude of classes in art, music, foreign languages and a number of electives that is unparallel in any community in Massachusetts. Several elementary schools include the development and presentation of portfolios as a requirement for graduation.

12) School Safety and Student Behavior:
No other candidate has done more for school safety. Since I have been on the School Committee I have always focused on this area as a foundation for improving our schools. It has taken me several years to ensure that our schools zones are safe to include proper signage, pavement stencils, crosswalks, flashing school zone signs, and support for a clothing allowance for school crossing guards. I will continue to lobby the City to fund design changes to pedestrian walkways and traffic calming measures around the CRLS campus.

My experience of working with children helped identify the issue of class cuts. This was a safety issue that had severe academic impacts on students not being in class. I authored the class attendance policy that included consequences for class cuts as well as daily notification to parents. I led the charge for a security/safety analysis by a consultant resulting in a comprehensive review of the CPS. I will ensure that the recommendations are implemented.

13) Parent Involvement and School Councils:
Parent involvement is critical to the success of our schools and school councils. I encouraged the Superintendent to hold city-wide school council meetings to get feedback from a district-wide perspective as well as hearing the concerns of individual schools.

I have always supported the family liaisons to encourage family involvement in all aspects of school improvement. School Councils provide a key factor and we need to develop additional ways to seek input. During this next term I would love to explore ways for middle school students and high school students to have direct dialogue with the School Committee.

This past term the School Committee supported several of my motions to improve communication with parents. I proposed the implementation of Ed-Line, a web-based communication tool connecting schools, teachers and parents. This program will be running at CRLS in January of 2008 and will eventually be in all of our elementary schools. I also proposed the development and distribution of curriculum guides to inform parents about what is being taught in the classroom. I challenged and changed the educationally unsound practice of multiple elementary report cards, progress reports and advocated for unified reporting schedule throughout CPS.

Other issues/Statement:
The Cambridge Public Schools have greatly improved during my service on the School Committee. I take great pride in my ability to work with my colleagues on the Committee as well as former Superintendents and the present Superintendent. I have also been critical when needed. I have not only challenged practices that are not educationally sound but have changed them.

We have a school system today where students are achieving at a higher rate, the system is professionally managed, the budget reflects our educational priorities, the School Committee has established goals and the agenda has been depoliticized.

All candidates will tell you what they plan to do if elected. I have clearly stated my vision, but I am asking you to look at my accomplishments and improvements that have been made to our schools.

During the past 14 years, I have made many difficult decisions to change the direction of CPS. There are items of courage and integrity that do not come out in a stump speech, literature or a web site. These qualities can only be proven by action. During my first term, I stated publicly that I would not support a contract extension of a sitting Superintendent and then made the deciding vote to hire a Superintendent from outside the school system. The CPS was not meeting the needs of students and I was proud to change the cycle of politics. I voted to change the separate and unequal system of choice at CRLS in 2001 where students were segregated by race, income and language. This was the foundation for change toward the success of CRLS. I also voted to close two elementary schools that were struggling to meet the needs of students and voted to merge two schools that had extremely low enrollment.

I have a track record of putting the needs of students ahead of political ambitions because doing what is right has always come easy to me.

It has been an honor and a privilege to serve you on the Cambridge School Committee. I am asking for your #1 vote on Tuesday, November 6th.

Candidate's 2005 responses

Page last updated May 10, 2009 Cambridge Candidates