Gail Lemily Wiggins

Gail Lemily Wiggins
2007 Candidate for Cambridge School Committee

Home address:
23 Hollis St.
Cambridge, MA 02140

Contact information:
Tel: 617-547-3873

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Committee to Elect Gail Lemily Wiggins
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I attended public school through community college and earned my Bachelor's degree from Boston College. I have a Master of Education degree from Harvard University and a Master of Business Administration from Boston University. I have professional experience in both fields, including 12 years experience in hiring, training and human resource management in large and small non-profit organizations and companies. I have lived on Hollis Street in North Cambridge for the past 20 years with my husband, Michael Wiggins. We have two sons, Nicholas and Benjamin. I have been a parent and volunteer in the Cambridge Public Schools for 14 years, including 5 years at the high school. My sons have attended the Fitzgerald School (now Peabody), Tobin, Graham and Parks and Cambridge Rindge and Latin Schools. I have taught classes at Emmanuel College and also worked as an assistant teacher at the Graham and Parks middle school. I currently work for TERI (formerly known as The Education Resources Institute), a non-profit organization that focuses on helping low-income and first-generation students attend college.

My dual background in business and education well qualifies me for service on the School Committee.

Top Priorities:
Teaching. Quality teaching is key to raising student achievement for all and closing the achievement gap. I would put primary emphasis on support, development and evaluation of teaching staff K-12, and on the effective hiring of new teachers.

High standards, with the support to reach them. Cambridge Public Schools need to assure that all students are achieving to the highest level possible, and that each student is individually challenged and provided with the right tools to develop the critical thinking skills and breadth of knowledge that is essential to their own future and the future of our communities.

Continuity and Positive Change. We need to provide positive reinforcement for the significant advances that the School Department has made over the last few years, while at the same time addressing the gaps and collaborating with the administration to fill them.

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?:
Before stating how I would vote on extension, I would like to address two major issues related to this question.

(1) Beside policy and budget responsibility, the School Committee has the major task of hiring and evaluating the Superintendent. The current School Committee's extension of Thomas Fowler-Finn's contract to January has made it so that one of the very first decisions of the newly elected School Committee will have to be to whether to renew the contract. I believe strongly and know personally from my work in organizational development and large system change that newly constituted leadership groups need time to forge collaborative working relationships. And no matter who is elected the makeup of the School Committee will be different than it has ever been. The priority of this group should be to form bonds to work together for the best interest of the entire school system. Current committee members, in spite of the fact that they have been evaluating the Superintendent for two years, have been officially non-committal about their intentions come January, but some have strongly implied they will vote not to keep the Superintendent. If so, we are looking at a potentially very divisive situation for our school system. With over 12 years in hiring and human resource management I know that high level searches take a lot of energy and involve a lot of time for those who will be hiring (the School Committee), including trips to districts of potential candidates. This process would demand primary attention from the Human Resources (a redirection of their efforts from teacher hiring) and a fair amount of expense. School committees serve for two years - we need to understand if we move to remove the Superintendent then we are agreeing that a primary focus of the School Committee for the first year will be directed toward this search.

(2) I have been involved in the schools for 14 years and have seen a great deal of tumultuous change. In recent years, during the time that Thomas Fowler Finn has been superintendent, I have seen some very positive change. Among the positive changes -the high school has regained its accreditation and has been receiving very good reviews from many quarters, performance indicators throughout the system are improving (though we still have a long way to go to reduce the achievement gap), the Tobin school has been revitalized after many years of decline, and principals are sharing and collaborating in a way that has never happened in my 14 year history with the school system. Yes, I have heard some things about Supt. Fowler-Finn that make me want to know more about his leadership. If elected, I would spend November, December and early January gathering more input from parents, teachers to enable me to make a fully informed decision in January.

If the vote had to be taken tomorrow, based on what I know today I see that the Superintendent deserves a lot of the credit for the positive improvements in the overall school system, and I would vote to renew his contract so that CPS can continue to focus on improvement. At the same time I would work with other members of the school committee to address identified areas in need of improvement and take ownership to develop Committee-level policy changes that are needed in order to reach system-wide goals. Much of the policy setting function rests with the School Committee and not with the Superintendent, although goals are set together, so one presumes and the policy work to reach the goals can be done together.

Enrollment and the Marketing of Public Schools vs. Charter Schools and Private Schools:
I believe all parents need to make personal decisions about what is best for their children. I do also feel, however, that parents should be able to make informed decisions. Many parents of middle schoolers may disregard the value of an education at CRLS due to preconceived notions about the rumored negative aspects of an urban high school. They might never discover all the resources that CRLS offers to its students, don't realize that 92% of its graduates go on to 2 or 4 year colleges, many of them in the top 100 colleges in the U.S., and miss the inherent advantages that successful graduates of this large, ethnically diverse school have in competing for admission to college.

We can do a much better job of educating parents, long BEFORE their children finish middle school, as to the many advantages of a CRLS education, by doing the following:

  1. Produce a high quality video, freely available and well advertised to all parents, that describes the many fine academic and extra-curricular activities that CRLS affords.
  2. Enlist recent graduates of CRLS and their parents to speak, both in person and on camera, about what the CRLS experience has meant to them and how it has prepared them to succeed both in postsecondary education and in the global economy.
  3. Engage all parents in the beginning of 7th grade year, in our public schools and in the local private and charter schools, to emphasize how important the next two years will be in preparing their children to take full advantage of the many programs and opportunities available at the high school. Getting the word out that the administration expects to elicit high performance from its middle school students will help convince parents that there is a progressive path from now on through high school for each kid to reach her/his highest potential.
  4. Highlight a wide range of students and their achievements throughout the year on the CPS website, honoring a broad spectrum of interests and skills.

Parents need to hear more about the range of available choices in our K-8 elementary schools. Too many hear only about shortcomings and not enough about the strong programs that have emerged in recent years, and therefore opt out of the system without ever realizing the advantages that a system that offers choice can provide and the innovations (such as the public Montessori program at the Tobin School) that are sparking significant improvements in critical thinking skills and performance. We can use many of the above strategies for the elementary level.

Parent Involvement and School Councils:
I am a strong supporter of parent involvement and of school councils. I have been a member of two elementary School Improvement Councils, the Tobin School and the Fitzgerald School (now the Peabody) and a member of a subcommittee (Hiring) of the CRLS School Improvement Council. I was a co-chair of the Fitzgerald School Council. I was a founding parent Board member of the Center for Families of North Cambridge. I have also been a facilitator for The Right Question Project, a parent empowerment program that had been part of the Cambridge Public Schools. I will continue to advocate for ways to make is easier for parents to participate in their children's education and in their school community.

This candidate has not yet responded to the following topics:
3) School Department Administration:
5) Controlled Choice, Student Assignment Policies, and the "Achievement Gap":
6) Enrichment Programs:
8) Elementary Schools and Curriculum:
9) High School Programs and Curriculum:
10) School Department Budget and Capital Needs (including CRLS renovations), and the Disposition of Surplus Buildings:
11) MCAS and Measuring Student Achievement:
12) School Safety and Student Behavior:

Page last updated November 03, 2007 Cambridge Candidates