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As a teacher and a recent graduate of the Cambridge Public Schools, I am excited to be running for Cambridge School Committee. I grew up in Porter Square and was educated in our schools-Agassiz (now Baldwin), Longfellow, and CRLS (Class of '98). Since graduating from the high school, I have taught in four different Cambridge Public Schools summer programs. I also worked as an assistant humanities teacher at King Open the year after it merged with Harrington. Currently, I teach GED classes in Roxbury. I know firsthand the promise of Cambridge's unique approach to meaningful, participatory education and, at the same time, am deeply disappointed at our system's continued failure to serve all students equally. On the school committee I will make sure our schools engage young people in active learning that demands the highest quality work from all students.
American schools are changing rapidly and classroom teachers are the first to feel the effects of new education policy. It is critical to have represented a classroom perspective such as mine; on a six-member school committee there should be space for at least one current teacher. I spend my days working hard to engage students of divergent needs and backgrounds in learning that is meaningful and respects their ability to do high quality work. The challenges of teaching will be ever-present in my mind as I make policy decisions on the school committee.
Composed of young adults educated in Cambridge Public Schools, my core campaign team experienced the first stages of the district's restructuring while students at the high school. My campaign manager, Laurance Kimbrough; my treasurer, Mekkin Lynch; my events coordinator, Matt Nelson; my web designer, Adam Seidel; and myself were all students at CLRS during the beginning of the district-wide restructuring in the late-nineties. We love our schools and want to participate directly in improving them!
Roles of the School Committee, the Superintendent, Parents, and the
Role of Parents and the Public: Cambridge schools are a critical part of the public trust. When successful, they produce creative problem solvers who contribute to all sectors of society. When they fail, they produce young people with minimal options who become dependent on city resources. In order to provide dynamic, successful schools we need the active participation of the entire city in making decisions. Here is my plan for engaging the community in our schools:
Elementary School Programs and Administration:
Cambridge has always had a two-tiered elementary school system where active parents work the system to their kids' advantage. Our elementary choice system makes it easier for active families to self-select the strongest elementary programs. As a School Committee member, I will find creative ways to engage all parents-such as providing weekly breakfasts for kindergarten parents and teachers at parents' rooms in each elementary school-and I will advocate for families who most often go unheard, not just those who make the loudest noise.
High School Programs and Administration:
The last five years at the high school have been marked by continual change and uncertainty. The vast inequalities across the previous five houses made this restructuring necessary. I know. I attended CRLS when the restructuring process first began during the late nineties. From houses to small learning communities to the impending block schedule, the high school has lacked a coherent vision for realizing the goal of excellent instruction in every classroom. In the past year or so some positive indicators have emerged as the drop out rate has decreased and the school has regained accreditation. The principal and her staff, as well as the superintendent, deserve some credit for these steps in the right direction.
Our work, however, is not done. It is my firm belief that we must now build on this school-wide balance. Learning at the high school must still be engaging and fun. The standardization of the SLCs has stripped the school of many of its most creative aspects. While each SLC must provide demanding curricula that reflect Cambridge's values, they should be encouraged to develop different personalities through annual plays, talent shows, art exhibits, etc. If these smaller communities don't make the high school feel smaller or more like a community, then CRLS will continue towards being a large and impersonal inner-city high school.
School Department Administration and the Budget:
In cutting the budget for central administration, I will prioritize funding additional support positions for our elementary schools, particularly the larger ones. I taught at King Open the year after it merged with Harrington and the new school was the largest elementary school in the district at over 400 students. The new King Open has manageable class sizes but not enough support positions to serve such a large student body. Additionally, one year after the merger, the School Committee cut most of the classroom assistants that had been allocated to the new, larger King Open. As a Committee member I will fund more critical support positions such as mental health specialists, guidance counselors, librarians, and one-on-one SPED aids.
Teacher Evaluations and Teachers Contract:
Teaching is about relationships between learners and adult role models. The School Committee can better promote quality teaching by going beyond the details of an evaluation form and focusing efforts on creating school environments that foster close relationships.
Here are the four keys to having good teachers:
State/Federal Role in Local Education:
This is a scary time for public schools. The Education Reform Act of 1993 and the more recent No Child Left Behind Act have had far reaching effects on local control over education. Cambridge has radically restructured its school system to accommodate this institutionalized push for standards that serves to produce cogs in a wheel, rather than creative problem solvers who can think independently. The Ed. Reform Act also invited charter schools into the educational marketplace. Not surprisingly, teachers and students have fiercely resisted this movement to dismantle our public schools. I will represent these silenced voices in the debate over public education's proper role in society.
Since the loss of rent control in 1994, Cambridge's changing demographics have had a far-reaching impact on our schools. Enrollment is declining not because there are fewer families with kids in Cambridge but perhaps because there are fewer middle class families with kids. As middle class families leave our city for more affordable housing, more affluent families will continue to arrive in their places. Many of these wealthy families do send their kids to our elementary schools-if they get into the "right" ones-but pull them out of the system for high school.
But we cannot pretend that Cambridge's changing demographics is the only cause of declining enrollment. There is a perception-one that is at least partially true-that CRLS is now a large, impersonal high school, where many students get lost. Race and class prejudices likely exacerbate the problem of declining enrollment with some Cambridge families feeling that their kids do not belong in a school district where 44% of the students live in public housing (although, obviously, this percentage would decrease if families stopped choosing private schools).
The changing quality of education in Cambridge is also a probable cause of declining enrollment. Cambridge was once perceived as an oasis of educational creativity. As Cambridge has restructured much of its curricula to accommodate MCAS, our schools are no longer seen this way. Some parents feel they must opt for charter or private schools in order for their kids to receive a dynamic, meaningful education.
Charter schools are a difficult issue for me because so many teachers I know and respect are involved in creating them. They are disgruntled with the state of public education and feel that they can more effectively reach children by running their own schools. It is problematic that many people now view private charter schools as the only option for creative education. The exodus of energetic young teachers to charter schools is both a cause and effect of the perception that public schools discourage creativity.
I, too, am disgruntled with the state of public education. That's why I'm running for school committee! Without the option of charter schools other creative teachers will have no option but to work for radical changes within the public system that needs them so desperately.
The "Achievement Gap":
MCAS/Standardized Testing and Meaningful standards:
Because MCAS is mandated statewide and the school committee is unable to ignore it, I will work to mitigate the effects of MCAS on the district's curricula while emphasizing a two-pronged approach for increasing achievement on MCAS. In the short term, we must continue to accept state money for MCAS prep courses during out of school time. In the long term, we need to dramatically improve our schools so that students pass MCAS in tenth grade without ever doing remedial test prep.
As a school committee member, I will explore the possibility of retrofitting existing buildings to be less dependent on fossil fuels. Green buildings will likely enable us to save money in the short term as oil costs continue to rise.
Additionally, green school buildings are becoming increasingly common. They are models for social responsibility and can be integrated well into science curricula.
Safe and Welcoming Schools:
Students at the CLC are often those who were most underserved by our public schools. They, more than anyone else, deserve the highest quality education. One immediate way the School Committee can help support the CLC is by advocating for a new building. The old police station is one possible location.
Additionally, the school department has much to learn from many of the CLC's innovative programs where, for example, evening classes are taught with parents and their kids learning side-by-side.
|Page last updated July 01, 2007||Cambridge Candidates|