Patty Nolan

Patty Nolan
2005 Candidate for Cambridge School Committee

Home address:
184 Huron Ave.
Cambridge MA 02138

Contact information:
Tel: (617) 497-7230

Send contributions to:
Committee to Elect Patty Nolan
184 Huron Ave., Cambridge MA 02138

I was not lucky enough to be born in Cambridge. I chose it as a place to live since I love the city! I was born in Chicago, along with my parents and my five sisters. I attended Catholic school there until fifth grade, when we moved to Stamford, Connecticut, and my parents chose the public school system. My high school, Stamford High, was very much like CRLS in demographics. Lots of well-off families and lots of families struggling to make it financially and lots in between. Similar breakdown of racial and ethnic backgrounds, except fewer Latino students than CRLS.

I was the first in my family to ever apply to Harvard, where I went to college and first fell in love with Cambridge, and first volunteered in the schools. After a couple years of work in New York City for a politician (Brooklyn District Attorney Liz Holtzman), I went to graduate school, at the Yale School of Management, where I received an excellent education in management and strategic thinking. After several years in corporate consulting at a large international firm of McKinsey, and after paying off my school loans, I went into the non-profit and socially responsible business sector. I have run two small companies (an environmental firm and a telephone reseller).

For the last 7 years, I have been doing mostly project based work, self-employed. Iíve helped a legal staffing firm start, several enterprises that are worker-owned, including a model welfare-to-work home health aide company, worked on economic development in Boston, an environmental mutual fund and many other projects. One of the most exciting was leading a group that sought to open an International Baccalaureate Charter High School here in Cambridge. That effort did not make the final cut by the state, but it got me very involved in thinking about to better use our tremendous resources as a district.

My background in management, strategic thinking and analytical approach to solve problems is what I believe would be a terrific addition to the Cambridge School Committee.

Top Priorities:
Better Use of the $20,000 per student we are spending. We simply must use our dollars more effectively and efficiently. I have lots of ideas of new policies, to help kids who are struggling, and also to encourage kids who are excelling and chomping at the bit for MORE challenge. We have become a poster child for the notion that money canít fix public education. Itís our fault. I want us to be a poster child for the notion that urban school districts can excel!

Declining enrollment: We must stop ignoring, dismissing, or disparaging as elitist people who leave our district. Many of those who attend private schools would rather be in public schools. Many of those who move to surrounding communities would rather stay, but feel the schools donít give their kids an excellent education. So many things about our schools are terrific, which is why my kids are enrolled and I spend so much time. But, they can be even better.

Stop blaming our kids or our teachers. When people explain our relatively low district results as due to our ďdiversityĒ I emphatically reject that excuse. I donít buy what they are implying: that poor kids or kids of color donít or canít learn. Itís our own fault not to have provided them with the right school culture of respect, discipline and excitement about learning. And when they imply the problem lies with teachers, I emphatically reject that excuse. Of course there are some teachers who arenít effective. If they canít become effective by changing their instructional strategies, they need to be counseled out of teaching. But if a teacher hasnít gotten the proper evaluation and help, itís a management issue, not a teacher issue.

Roles of the School Committee, the Superintendent, Parents, and the Public:
The School Committee is elected, and accountable ultimately to the public, and their own conscience. They are the Board of Directors of our $124 million school system. They should set policies, oversee and monitor the budget, and hire and evaluate the Superintendent. I believe that my background as someone familiar with governance, management, oversight, strategic thinking, and deep financial knowledge, would be a terrific addition to the School Committee.

The Superintendent is the head of our district. He is responsible for overseeing the central administrative staff, which provides the critical support necessary to run the district. He also hires and evaluates every principal in the district, a crucial part of how schools work.

Parents in Cambridge are an amazing resource. Without letting them run the schools, I believe we can better channel the energy, creativity and commitment of parents across the city, from a range of backgrounds, to help our system reach an extremely lofty goal of excellence.

The Public funds our district, and deserves open, transparent reports on how we are doing. The institutions in Cambridge, from the two major universities, MIT and Harvard, to the large companies like Genzyme, to the small companies which pay most of the commercial taxes which pay most of our school bills, all deserve to be included in our broad discussions on how public education can meet our high standards. Everyone in our city should want a system that works; good public schools are essential for thriving cities and a competitive economy.

Elementary School Programs and Administration:
I support our elementary schools, which include a range of choices. I would like to see us take a look at programs across the different schools to see which ones merit replication in other schools. I believe that we need to do serious market research to better understand what families in Cambridge want, in order to ensure our enrollment not only stops going down, but starts going up. The same schools have been overchosen for 15 years now. It is time to address the need for a new program, so that 100% of Kindergarten parents get one of their top 3 choices. That is a very reachable goal.

High School Programs and Administration:
For too long, our one high school was chaotic, with massive changes happening every couple of years. The recent move to stability is welcome. But the job is not done. We need to reaffirm that CRLS is on track again, poised to be a great school.

We also need to understand how CRLS ever got on probation. People appear ready to put the entire reason for our only high school being put on academic probation as due to one person, the principal. That suggests a bury-our-head-in-the-sands approach, which is counterproductive. The reasons must have included several causes, and the more we understand, the more we will know how to avoid such an embarrassment in the future. Also, documenting how the staff pulled together to get off probation in record time should yield some lessons for how we can address other pressing problems.

The recent change to block scheduling might be terrific. Letís make sure we have clear ways to measure its effectiveness, so we know whether the huge disruption was worthwhile. It would help us learn how to make future changes work well.

School Department Administration and the Budget:
We have many excellent administrators in our district. WE are lucky to be so well financed that we attract excellent people. However, study after study has documented that CPS is not efficiently staffed in central administration. We need to address that issue, so more resources can be put to work in our classrooms. Last year the adopted budget was $122 million (for about 6300 students). Spending was only $115.9 million. I asked that at least some of this $6.1 million surplus be directed into the classroom. Foremost on my minds was the half a million dollars it would have taken to restore all 19 elementary aides cut from our schools. Instead, the Supt and School Committee put $4.5 million into a building fund. Buildings are important. I know, my children attend a school in need of serious repair. But people arenít leaving our district due to our buildings, and achievement levels and chosen schools have no relation to building status.

If anyone says we have shifted dollars from central administration into our classrooms, ask for their numbers. The claim is simply not true. Half of the administrative and operations cuts came from IN our schools, e.g. principals or custodians from closed elementary schools. While some central administration dollars were cut, the combination of new positions added and salary raises has meant that we are now spending MORE dollars on central administration this year than pre-consolidation. Our children should have more resources spent IN their classrooms. I know how to oversee consultant reports; I was one for many years. I know what questions to ask in the job of oversight and governance since that is what my training is. That is why I need to serve on School Committee.

Teacher Evaluations and Teachers Contract:
Education comes down to supporting teachers in the classroom. For too long, we didnít give teachers the type of feedback they deserved and needed in order to teach as effectively as possible. The new teacher evaluation system is a terrific step in the direction of supporting teachers and identifying their professional development needs. If it is the wrong fit, the teacher shouldnít be in the classroom. If the teacher needs help, they should be given it. And if principals are not doing their job of properly evaluating teachers, their job ratings should suffer.

I would hope that the teachers contract continue to evolve as the districtís needs change, to ensure that we can deliver on our promise of excellent instruction in every classroom.

State/Federal Role in Local Education:
The state and federal role in local education is sometimes helpful and sometimes problematic. One thing I like about standardized testing is that districts can no longer be satisfied if on average they are doing well. Often that means that middle class and/or white students are doing well, and students from poor families or students of color were not doing as well. Now, with the breakdown by group, districts must focus on all groups. The key challenge is how to raise the bar for all, instead of lowering it at all.

Declining Enrollment:
For many years I have been advocating a serious business approach to understanding, documenting, and developing a strategic plan to reverse our enrollment decline. The numbers simply donít point to inevitability. The 2000 US census counted 469 more 5-17 year olds in Cambridge than in 1990, yet CPS enrollment declined in those 10 years by 543. That proves that during that time period, it wasnít the city losing kids; it was CPS. And, from 1993-2003, an analysis I did of 14 nearby districts, show high priced communities like Lexington, Acton and Belmont GAINING. And lower priced communities like Somerville and Watertown declining, but LESS than Cambridge. Our decline was THE LARGEST. That says to me that we could have done something about at least SOME of the families who left. Had we been providing an education families felt met their needs, many of those who left would have stayed. And, remember, for every family that moves out, why isnít a family moving in? Cambridge should be a city people move to BECAUSE of our schools, not DESPITE them.

Charter Schools:
This issue is clear: if you are sympathetic at all to charter schools, which are public schools, I am the only candidate you should consider giving your # 1 vote. Every other candidate is on record as opposing them. I not only support them, I was leader of a group that sought to open one. I support charter schools for three reasons: First, I donít want only people who can afford private school to have a choice if our system has failed them.

Secondly, charter schools do not get started in districts where the schools serve kids well. Only districts like Cambridge, where parents and the community feel their children have not gotten the education they could, even have charter applications. I support the idea that districts that have failed families need to face that fact, and families be given a chance to form an alternative.

Third, they are based on exactly the same impulse that started three of CPS most chosen schools. Cambridgeport, King Open, and Graham & Parks all started from parent desire to create an alternative to existing public schools to better meet their educational desires. That is the same promise of charter schools.

I say letís learn from charter schools, and work with them, not against them. And as Cambridge makes good on its promise of excellent education for all, I fully expect us to earn back many students now in charter schools, private schools, and seeking housing in the area.

We need to talk about how to encourage and pump up the students who are in need of extra challenge. There are many programs that manage to help children go beyond the classroom work. Some programs, like Science Club for Girls, happen in our schools. Some, like The Math Circle, happen outside our schools. I would like to see more attention paid to a more comprehensive approach, an explicit program to stretch those students who already excel. It is our job to help each student reach their max, wherever that is. For some children, it will be an achievement to reach grade level. For others, it would be a disservice to accept grade level work. Cambridge is lucky enough to have the resources and energy to do more in this area. I donít want those enrichment opportunities available only to those with parents in the know or with the $dough.

Environmental leadership:
Our schools can and should be at the forefront of environmental education, building, and programs. Our city has made a commitment to being a city supportive of environmental sustainability. But we have not done enough to have a culture of environmental responsibility. From use of recycled paper to saving paper to cafeteria programs to sourcing sustainable products to using eco-friendly building materials in every project, CPS has a long way to go. Kids are natural enthusiasts; our schools can and should build on that energy to provide models for other districts. We do not yet live the ideal of incorporating sustainability into our practices as a district. We can and we should.

Page last updated July 01, 2007 Cambridge Candidates