Luc Schuster

Luc Schuster
2005 Candidate for Cambridge School Committee

Home address:
65 Eustis St.
Cambridge, MA 02140

Contact information:
Tel: 617-276-5759

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Friends of Luc Schuster
65 Eustis St.
Cambridge, MA 02140

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!

Top Priorities:
Design Curricula that Reflect Cambridge's Values
Democratize our Schools
Educate All Students

Roles of the School Committee, the Superintendent, Parents, and the Public:
Relationship between the School Committee and the Superintendent: The School Committee, as a democratically elected body, is responsible for articulating the city's educational values. Because I am a lifelong Cambridge resident who went through the public schools, I have a good sense of what Cantabrigians want from their schools. The democratically accountable School Committee, not the superintendent, should set the district's goals. Without micromanaging the excellent work going on in individual classrooms, I will take a lead in reexamining the values that guide our district's curricula.

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:

  • Invite community members with area-specific expertise to serve as ad hoc members of sub-committees.
  • Require parent/neighborhood participation early in conversations about school restructuring and proposed building sales.
  • Communicate with the City Council on the impact of demographic changes on public schools.
  • Require all students to learn about the operation of city government during their years in our schools.
  • Empower students to have meaningful decision-making power at every level. Young people spend the bulk of their formative years in school-they, too, must have a voice in structuring their education! Empowering students to lead teaches them valuable lessons about the decision-making process and ultimately improves schools.

Elementary School Programs and Administration:
I commend the superintendent for getting us talking about Cambridge as one cohesive school district, rather than as a city with eleven independent elementary schools; however, I differ with the superintendent's means of unifying our system. It is important to have expectations for which broad content areas are taught in our elementary schools, but I do not support the emphasis on standardized assessment tests. For example, the new quarterly assessments, implemented by the superintendent, were terribly burdensome on our teaching when I was an assistant humanities teacher at King Open. In order to prepare students for the content on these tests, we would have had to radically restructure a unique curriculum designed for a multi-level 7/8 grade humanities classroom. Additionally, an emphasis on testing with young kids sends the wrong message about schooling's purpose and introduces an added element of pressure that looms over students all the way through high school.

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:
I took a range of fascinating courses when I attended CRLS in the mid-nineties. Our course catalog resembled that of a college or university! I remember a couple of these classes particularly well. As a freshman I took "Students' Rights and the Bill of Rights," a social studies course that explored constitutional law through the eyes of high school student protesters. It was creative, engaging, and totally original. As a senior I took "Future Shock," an interdisciplinary course team-taught by a social studies teacher, a science teacher, and an English teacher. Sadly, most courses like these no longer exist at the high school. The restructuring of course offerings at CRLS has sapped the creativity of students who need learning to be relevant to their lives and teachers who yearn to design new curricula.

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:
We must improve our schools by better spending our budget on direct classroom instruction. Cambridge schools have an oversized central administration that, often times, creates bureaucratic red tape that actually hinders the operation of our schools. Our elementary schools and our high school have all been radically restructured over the past six years. The one part of our system that has remained stable is central administration.

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:
The new teacher evaluation system, agreed upon by the teachers' union and the School Committee, is an improvement. The new, more detailed system is less punitive and focused on constructive criticism for teachers. This said, good teaching is about much more than evaluation procedures.

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:

  1. Pay well. Relative to other districts, Cambridge does this.
  2. Recruit aggressively and early. Cambridge has never done this well. This is why we've had such a hard time hiring strong science teachers and teachers of color. All districts are looking for these teachers and they get them to sign contracts earlier in the summer than we do.
  3. Once strong teachers are hired, we must retain them by providing adequate time for professional and program development and by giving them reasonable professional freedom. With the recent push for "accountability" and "standards" teachers have much less say over what they teach. This makes teaching less dynamic and enjoyable. This is why we are losing teachers to private and charter schools.
  4. We need a city in which teachers can afford to live. Teachers should be a part of the broader community. This encourages a deeper commitment to students and helps foster stronger teacher/student relationships.

State/Federal Role in Local Education:
State and federal governments do have a role to play in education. First, they must play a greater role in funding primary and secondary education. School budgets being too dependent on local property taxes has led to vast inequality of opportunity in this country. Second, state and federal governments must ensure that schools are each performing at a certain base level. Unfortunately, this oversight is now done in a low-budget, streamlined manner, mostly through the analysis of standardized test scores. Schools that do not perform well are threatened, rather than supported in constructive ways. Beyond these two roles, state and federal governments should leave local communities to run their schools.

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.

Declining Enrollment:
Arguments about the cause of Cambridge's declining enrollment are all speculative, based primarily on anecdotal evidence, because an in-depth study into the problem's causes has never been done. What I do know is that students are the lifeblood of our schools; if we cannot attract middle and upper class Cambridge families, our public schools will be further relegated to second-class status. We have the resources to right the ship. What we're lacking is the political will to analyze the problem and design a solution. This said, what follows is my speculation:

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:
Because charter school funding is based on a city's per pupil expenditures, Cambridge is an attractive breeding ground for charter schools. I am opposed to charter schools because they weaken public schools. They siphon money, students, and teachers from school systems that desperately need each of these.

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":
Cambridge schools have historically served certain groups of students better than others. Many students get caught in a vicious cycle where under-performance and low expectations feed off of each other. Other students achieve highly but are not pushed to go beyond minimum requirements and critically engage in learning. In order to better serve Cambridge's diverse student needs, Luc has a comprehensive Ten Point Plan for Educating all Students!
Here are a few highlights. Check out for the entire, more detailed plan!

  1. Re-envision the role schools play in our community. As Cambridge's elected school committee we must forge closer relationships between schools and all other youth serving agencies in the city.
  2. Create more challenging curricula.
  3. Integrate principles of popular education district-wide.
  4. Emphasize academics as the primary tool for dealing with behavior problems.
  5. Hire more teachers of color.

MCAS/Standardized Testing and Meaningful standards:
High standards are a good thing; but standardized tests like the MCAS do not promote high standards: they are minimum competency tests. As a teacher, I understand that drilling students day after day in test prep courses is an ineffective strategy for teaching essential life skills. Real learning does not happen in the anxiety-filled environment of high stakes testing. Students become proficient readers and develop critical thinking skills when they are engaged in projects, when they take a range of interesting high school courses, and when they are required to analyze critically the world in which they live.

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.

Green buildings:
Any discussion of new construction or remodeling must be done within a green framework. The problem of environmental degradation is not a question of available technology but of political will. Unfortunately, few elected politicians have demonstrated this will.

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:
Our schools must provide a safe place for students of all races, religions, and sexual orientations. I support Project 10 East, CRLS's Gay/Straight Alliance, and will ensure that all students and school staff feel safe to make their sexual orientation public. I will support training to help teachers recognize and interrupt homophobic, racist, and sexist behavior and all bullying. Cambridge prides itself on being a diverse community. Appreciation of diversity must be taught and instilled through the school curricula and demonstrated in every aspect of the school community. As people of Muslim faith feel increasingly threatened in our country, I will encourage our schools to be sure our Muslim students and staff also feel perfectly safe and welcome.

Adult Education:
As a GED teacher I am active in adult ed. circles. Fortunately, Cambridge has one of the country's strongest adult ed. programs in the Community Learning Center (CLC) based in Central Square on Brookline Street.

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