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I am running for re-election to the School Committee because the Cambridge Public Schools need leaders who are committed to public school education and understand the role of the School Committee. I believe I am uniquely qualified because I have worked on the School Committee and I have worked in the classroom.
My husband, Tony, and I live in Cambridge with our two sons, Isaac and Jonah, because we value its vibrancy and diversity. We send our children to public schools because we believe they are one of the best places where people can learn to work together. All children must have the chance to be educated and learn to be caring citizens prepared for future success – their own and their communities’.
I grew up in Connecticut, earned a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis and a M.A. in Teaching from Simmons College, after which I spent twelve years teaching middle school social studies in the Newton Public Schools. Throughout my teaching career, I developed many courses and units of study: African American History, Literature and the Blues, American Women in American History, Community Service Projects In and Out of School, and Knitting. I was on the Teacher Advisory Board of Facing History and Ourselves, an internationally recognized curriculum for teaching tolerance; a Team Leader and Department Chair at Day Junior High School and Bigelow Middle School, where I helped developed benchmarks for middle school social studies; and a mentor for new teachers and student teachers. Since my own children have been in school, I have been an active volunteer in their preschools and elementary schools. I was the Co-Chair of the Graham and Parks Steering Committee (School Council) for four years.
On November 6, 2007, I was elected to the Cambridge School Committee, and I believe I bring the same dedication and commitment to my role on the School Committee as I brought to my classroom. There is much on the School Committee’s agenda to improve our public schools, and I am committed and excited to continue my service to the wonderful children and families that make up our schools.
As Chair of the Goals Committee and the Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Committee, I advocated for a focus to move beyond test scores and emphasize skills that will best prepare our students for a successful future. Such skills include having students demonstrate critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, global awareness and communication.
In order to achieve these ambitious goals, we must insist that all CPS principals, teachers and staff have the support and supervision necessary to achieve their own professional best, as well as to be accountable for improvement in the areas of teaching, learning, and fiscal management.
Middle Grades (our 6th, 7th and 8th
This task is difficult because we are dealing with a complex age group. Young adolescents desire a sense of belonging, influence, independence, competency and security. When presented with an opportunity to study a topic in depth and connect it to their world, their potential for learning is limitless. This age group is capable of so much; therefore, we must have the highest expectations of them.
I have heard many complain that the current K-8 model does not provide our pre-teens with an appropriate social network and not enough opportunities for challenges and enrichment. These are legitimate concerns, especially at some of our schools with low enrollment in the 6th, 7th and 8th grades. At the same time, many see the positive aspects of the K-8 model. Older students have opportunities to interact with younger ones. In these schools, the pressure to grow up quickly is not as intense since young adolescents are in smaller schools with younger students. It also gives 6th, 7th and 8th graders a chance to take a strong leadership role before going on to high school.
If changes are going to occur in the next few years, I believe we need a person on the School Committee with middle school experience, an understanding of Cambridge, the issues, the challenges and the opportunities, as well as the ability to collaborate. The process must be comprehensive with input from all stakeholders in the schools and the community. We cannot dismantle programs that are successful, but we must help our under-enrolled schools and make sure all children have a robust social network, rigorous and relevant curriculum, and the best teachers.
The budget has grown by less than 3% over the past 5 years; however, expenses have gone up by more than 3%. Combined with the economic downturn, we are facing a potential budget crisis.
First, we need to make sure our budget is aligned with our goals and current programs. Then we need to formally evaluate our programs to determine their continued funding. Cambridge is rich in resources, but we need to make sure the resources we are utilizing are high quality and equally accessible. We also need to study our services and resources and verify whether there are any gaps or overlaps. We have anecdotal evidence that there are programs that are undersubscribed. We have anecdotal evidence that some programs are successful while others are not. It is vital that we ensure we are spending the money we have wisely and where it counts the most – improving the quality of our children’s education.
School Department Administration-Superintendent-Role of the School
It is the responsibility of the School Committee to hire and supervise the Superintendent, and after an extensive nation-wide search we hired Dr. Jeff Young. His fresh understanding of our issues and problems, his experience in other districts, and his desire to take CPS from "good to great" is a wonderful opportunity for the Cambridge Public Schools. We must emphasize excellence in our school system, in individual students, teachers, staff, and administrators. The School Committee holds the Superintendent accountable for achieving these ambitious, yet necessary goals. The role of the School Committee is to achieve real school improvement by developing a clear and compelling vision with the administration, which must be clearly communicated so that everyone understands the expectations and criteria for evaluation. The School Committee is then responsible for holding the Superintendent accountable for making sure the vision becomes a reality, as well as adopting a budget and supporting policies that ensure we reach our goals. Divisive politics, micromanaging and personality conflicts have no place in an effective school system.
The leadership of any organization sets the tone that makes the organization successful. For sustained progress in the schools, the School Committee must be a positive force for change, develop shared priorities, and work collaboratively to ensure an excellent education for all.
When Vice Mayor Sam Seidel and I were appointed the co-Chairs of a commission focused on youth services, we decided to focus our work on the middle school youth of Cambridge. The Mayor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Middle School Youth-comprised of school department staff, human service providers, community partners, police, elected officials and families-completed a comprehensive strategic planning process over the winter and spring of 2009. As a result of this process, the Commission developed the Shared Youth, Shared Strategies strategic plan that seeks to unite city agencies, schools and community partners to greatly enhance out-of-school-time opportunities for middle school youth and families across the city.
The Shared Youth, Shared Strategies plan begins with and builds from a single citywide strategic goal:
To ensure broad participation of Cambridge middle school youth in quality out-of-school-time experiences that fosters both their present and future learning and life success.
To achieve this goal, the plan calls on city agencies, schools, and community partners to collaborate to pursue the following core objectives:
This report will provide Dr. Young, the School Committee and the CPS administration and teachers with valuable information that will help us further understand the strengths and challenges of our current K-8 system, as well as help us figure out how to improve CPS programming for this age group. We need to be creative with our structure and develop innovative models to help our young people acquire the necessary skills to succeed.
No system can do it alone, and it is important that the School Committee and City Council continue to collaborate and communicate with each other. I am extremely proud of the work Sam and I have done to foster this relationship between the elected officials of Cambridge. This initiative is unprecedented – where a School Committee member and City Councilor have worked so collaboratively with the goal of looking at the full day experience for our middle grade students. However, the Shared Youth, Shared Strategies plan is only a start, and if re-elected, I promise to continue leading the effort to accomplish our goal and put the plan into action.
Curriculum-Elementary Programs - High School Programs - Special
My twelve years of teaching convinced me that people do not go into education to follow a script or administer a series of tests. It is my experience and observation that students will learn much more if they are engaged, challenged, and invested in the curriculum with a strong and well-supported teacher. Our administrators need to make sure our teachers have the time and support to incorporate creativity, alternatives, and enrichment into their classroom curriculum, where our children participate in dynamic learning environment and thus a higher quality education. The School Committee must establish the policies and adopt a budget that reflects this vision, as well as hold the Superintendent accountable for achieving these collective goals.
When nearly 20 percent of our children are on an Individual Education Program (IEP), we must make the Office of Special Education a priority. A 5 year strategic plan for educating students was created in 2000. We know so much more than we did 9 years ago. For example, medical and educational professionals have of a greater understanding of autism and dyslexia. It is time to develop with a new strategic plan that is aligned with this knowledge.
The success of the Inclusion model—special needs kids integrated whenever possible into regular classrooms—relies on informed and responsive classroom teachers and specialists. Classroom teachers and specialists must communicate and collaborate to best meet the needs of any given individual student. They must also be trained, evaluated and know exactly what services their students need, along with the requirements on every single IEP. We need to make sure families, teachers, and administrators are working as a team to help students achieve their full potential. The quality of our services must be proactive instead of defensive and reactive.
Teacher Evaluations and Performance Measures:
Excellent teachers love teaching, have high expectations, and believe all kids can achieve academic success. They build safe and respectful classroom communities, and work well with students, parents, administrators, and other colleagues. This is a challenging task, which is why our teachers deserve expert supervision and support. Teachers need to know their strengths and work with other professionals to grow and improve. Administrators must understand what constitutes superior teaching practices, and they need the time to complete their evaluations and have the support to make tough decisions when necessary.
All over Massachusetts, including Cambridge, teachers are retiring and leaving the profession. Especially now, the Cambridge Public Schools need to be proactive in retaining teachers and hiring excellent new teachers from diverse backgrounds. The best way to keep new teachers is to provide them with helpful and supportive mentors. Teaching can be isolating; therefore, we must provide our new teachers with the time and resources they need to succeed. We need to continue striving for a structure that provides time for teachers to collaborate and learn from each other.
School Safety and Student Behavior:
Research shows that safe schools help students achieve more academically and have better social skills, teachers are more effective and offer higher quality instruction, and all children feel part of a community and more positive about school. Over the past couple of years, more and more teachers have been trained in Developmental Design and Responsive Classroom (Professional development that offers a variety of strategies designed to keep students safe, connected, responsible, and engaged in learning.) These programs have received positive feedback, and we need to continue monitoring and evaluating their effectiveness. We also need to continue to identify places in the required curriculum where social and emotional skills can be taught. It is hard work, but it needs to be done.
As the School Committee representative to the city’s Healthy Children Task Force, a coalition devoted to promoting children’s health in Cambridge, I have seen how this task force uses prevention strategies and existing community resources to enhance and link programs in areas such as mental health, physical health, and violence prevention. In these extremely difficult economic times, I will continue to advocate for strengthening the partnership between the schools and the work of the Healthy Children Task Force, as well as continue to support prevention and intervention programs that help our students stay or get healthy (mentally and physically). If you come to school sick, scared, tired, abused, hungry, or depressed, you will not be able to succeed. The community needs to support the "whole child and family" both in and out of school.
Family Involvement and School Councils:
Controlled Choice and Student Assignment Policies:
However, we are faced with many challenges because of our Controlled Choice Policy. We are a community that values both diversity and choice. Yet we often face a dilemma because when families are given a choice as to what school they want their children to attend, the results are all too often schools that are not diverse. We have to address these very important and sensitive issues. Here are just a few:
During the 2008-9 school year, the School Committee had a public forum and two other meetings devoted to addressing the Controlled Choice Policy, and it is important that the next School Committee continue tackling these complicated issues. Our system of choice is challenging, complicated and messy, but we do have to address these very important and sensitive issues and focus on high quality economically integrated schools. Without choice there would be no Project-Based Learning, Montessori, Extended Learning Day, Dual Immersion, Core Knowledge, etc…
It is now time to aggressively start planning for future renovations to our elementary school buildings. The King/Amigos, King Open, Tobin and Graham and Parks buildings are all in need of serious renovations. We need to be prepared and proactive so these projects can begin as soon as possible.
MCAS and Measuring Student Achievement:
Enrollment and the Marketing of Public Schools vs. Charter Schools and
|Page last updated September 24, 2009||Cambridge Candidates|