Send contributions to:
I'm running for School Committee to help make our schools places students want to attend, places faculty feel respected and supported, and places where parents and guardians are confident that their children's needs are being met.
I was first involved in the Cambridge School System as one of the parents who started the Cambridgeport School in 1990. I served four terms (1996 - 2003) on the School Committee, and then took a break to be home with my young son. My husband, Mitch Ryerson, and I have three children. Our daughters went to the Cambridgeport and King Open schools, and graduated from CRLS. Our son is in 5th grade at King Open.
During my break from politics I continued working for children and their families. I am an overseer on the board of the Boston Children's Museum and a board member of the Friends of the Community Learning Center (Cambridge's public adult education center), which helps parents of many CPS students improve their English language skills and work toward high school diplomas. I also serve on the Healthy Playgrounds Task Force for the City of Cambridge, working to create a variety of playgrounds throughout the city to challenge and engage all ages and abilities.
I have worked with the Public Heath Department on a range of children's health issues including producing two public forums on healthy/risky teen behaviors and on childhood obesity. I introduced Chef Vin Connelly to our school system and worked with him to make our school cafeteria food healthier and more appealing by adding new cooked-from-scratch recipes and more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Before becoming involved in local politics I taught woodworking in public, private and after-school settings for preschool through college level students. I have a Bachelor's of Applied Arts degree from Boston University in Woodworking and Furniture Design and received my Massachusetts certification as a kindergarten through 12th grade teacher of both Art and Industrial Arts at Boston University. I've worked in cabinet shops, as a theatrical carpenter and have sold furniture I designed and constructed through galleries and by private commission.
I am eager to work full time for Cambridge students and their families. With a new superintendent in Cambridge and a new administration in Washington, there are a number of opportunities for Cambridge to take advantage of and build on our past successes. My experience and ability to work towards consensus will be helpful in shaping policies that will positively affect Cambridge student achievement in the years to come.
Achieving Success for All Students
Create a Healthy Learning Atmosphere
School Department Administration and Superintendent:
I believe the Superintendent will be most effective and successful doing what he truly believes in and what the School Committee whole-heartedly supports. I will work with the Superintendent and School Committee to create policies that support shared goals. It is the Superintendent's job to mold the administration into a structure that will best support moving the school system towards that shared vision. This can require restructuring the role of departments, changing their leadership and changing staffing patterns. I believe reducing central administration and moving more of the school department funding into the control of individual schools will allow schools to better serve students.
One of the Superintendent's most important jobs is hiring and evaluating principals. Just as principals should support teachers, the Superintendent's role includes being a resource for both experienced and new principals; inspiring them to grow and to improve their practice. If we move to more funding decisions made at the school level, the strength of each principal is key to using those resources to the maximum benefit for all students.
School Department Budget:
One goal is to move more control of funding to the school level. At the school level principals, school staff, teachers, and parents/guardians can work together to create the best learning environments for their student population. Knowing students well and understanding their needs can lead to spending funds in ways that directly and positively impact student learning. This approach must be paired with high expectations for students in all schools and a high level of accountability from principals to the Superintendent of Schools.
My other goal is to make the school budget more comprehensible to
parents/guardians, the general public and school staff. A more clearly
written budget, with better analysis and summaries would help to answer
some of the persistent questions raised in Cambridge:
CRLS Renovations and the Disposition of Surplus Buildings:
Cambridge now has two surplus school buildings, the Longfellow building on Broadway and the Webster (recently Graham and Parks) building on Upton Street. I think the school system should continue to maintain these buildings. It is much less expensive to use city owned buildings than to find and rent buildings on an as needed basis. History has shown that surplus buildings are often needed. We are currently considering middle school options, and have several elementary schools that are in need of renovations. It would be unwise to sell these buildings now.
Controlled Choice and Student Assignment Policies:
The Controlled Choice Plan was developed to integrate schools as children enter a school in kindergarten or in a later grade. It is an imperfect plan because it neither deals with the fact that many families will not send their child to a mandatory assignment, nor does it deal with families leaving schools. To improve the balance of students in our schools through choice and not through mandatory assignments, the school system must become more responsive to parent/guardian desires. We must be more flexible about opening the types of programs families are interested in. A good example of this would be the dramatic increase in families choosing the Tobin School after it was changed to a Montessori school.
Each school that is not well balanced should be asked to develop a plan to attract a student population that more closely matches the diversity of students represented in the whole school system. This plan would require schools to look hard at how they present themselves to the public. What are they doing and what message does it send to different populations? To be a welcoming, desirable school for the families that do not live nearby a school requires that extra something that makes getting on a bus worthwhile. Our goal should be to make all families in Cambridge feel like the public schools are their first choice and that when entering the Cambridge School Lottery a family is guaranteed to "win" because all our schools are welcoming, high achieving schools one would be happy to send one's child to.
The gap will only close if we approach it from many angles at once and utilize highly regarded research to inform our policies. We know from longitudinal studies that strong pre-school opportunities can dramatically affect long term outcomes; to that end the school district should partner with the city to create more and better educational opportunities prior to Kindergarten.
Other initiatives that will aid in closing the achievement gap are:
Honors Classes, Gifted Students, Intensive Studies Program, Tracking:
Cambridge Public School Department has no clear, consistent philosophy about meeting the needs of students who are high achieving academically. In our elementary schools access to advanced curriculum appears to vary school to school, and classroom to classroom. At the sixth grade level some students are invited to go to a program just for "motivated students" (ISP), while some high achievers remain in untracked classrooms in their K-8 schools. The High School offers classes at different levels including honors and advanced placement, which often serve an unbalanced (by race and class) set of students. This model does not encourage all students to meet their highest potential.
I believe our schools would do a better job of meeting the needs of all students in integrated, untracked classrooms if we acknowledged the needs of high achieving students as genuine. I support continuing professional development for all teachers in all curriculum areas so they can improve their teaching and take advantage of best practices that enable teaching at a variety of learning levels in a classroom. Teachers need a support structure to help them find appropriate curriculum; curriculum which allows students to engage in the same themes and topics as their classmates at different levels, allowing each student access to the important content in any subject and challenging each student appropriately.
Our current K-8th grade model allows for the continuity of relationships between students and faculty and between families and school personnel. This is particularly true for families with more than one child, who experience fewer years with siblings in different schools. The K- 8 structure also facilitates relationships between students in the middle school years and younger students that happen both casually and in programs such as 'Reading Buddies'. In a K-8th grade school pressure to 'grow up too soon' is reduced. I believe our current structure is good for students and their families.
Some of Cambridge's elementary schools have very small student populations in their upper grades (and the Haggerty School has no room in its building for upper grade students). Fewer students means less resources, and many people feel that a small teaching staff and a limited peer group does not create the best opportunities socially or academically for the students at those schools. I believe we can resolve the issues for those schools with small numbers of students in the upper grades without disrupting all of our schools. If some of those school communities felt it was in the best interests of their students, they could choose to pool resources and merge their upper grade students into a junior high or middle school. It is critical that this be the upper grade solution for participating schools and not a citywide magnet. A magnet middle school open to students across the city could increase the problem it seeks to remedy by depleting the number of students in schools that choose to remain K-8s.
For schools that choose to remain kindergarten through eighth grade the system needs to supply the resources, supports and professional development necessary to help those schools fully meet the needs of students in this age range.
In addition to the wide selection of course options during the school day, CRLS offers a rich array of after school clubs, teams and activities. These offerings that extend the school day experience must be supported because they are a critical part of a high quality, successful high school education. I will work with the School Committee to assure that the proper resources are in place for CRLS to continue its growth, and to maintain its position as one of the top urban public schools in the Commonwealth.
MCAS and Measuring Student Achievement:
Student achievement should be measured in a variety of ways such as the quality of portfolios and demonstrations of student work. Standardized tests such as MCAS can be a useful tool in giving an overview of how whole school or grade level populations are achieving on a narrow set of goals. I will continue to monitor the Mass. State frameworks and participate in the state discussions that take place around the MCAS tests. I want to work to assure that the tests are meaningful, and that our students benefit from the MCAS system. The MCAS results easily let large schools (small schools often do not have enough students in any given sub-group to receive sub-group results) look at sub-group achievement, forcing schools to pay attention to groups such as English language learners, special education students and children of different racial backgrounds. Cambridge has learned some things from the tests, but while they have focused attention on some areas of the curriculum, the drive to increase test scores has diverted time and attention from other equally important parts of the curriculum and school day. I believe Cambridge can use the information from the testing to help, not hinder our students, if the broad needs of students are kept in perspective.
Teacher Evaluations and Performance Measures:
Teacher Recruitment, Retention and Diversity:
Schools must use two approaches in dealing with bullying. One is to use anti-bullying curriculum, or other classroom management techniques to set classroom and school expectations for behavior. Good curriculum makes the students aware of the power they have to change a situation for the better.
The other approach is to deal with both the bully's and the victim's mental health needs. Often a bully does not feel good about his/herself and uses making another child uncomfortable or scared as a way to build their feelings of power and self-worth. This cannot be remedied easily with a set of rules or expectations and consequences and is better dealt with by helping the bully build internal resources. Likewise the victim may need help in feeling confident enough to not present him/herself as a target. Teachers must have access to mental health professionals who can help children find their way out of the roles of bully or victim.
Communication between home and school is the foundation of family involvement. Student-to-student and family-to-family connections and communication also strengthen school communities. The school system should make facilitating connections a priority and find a safe way to facilitate student directories for every school.
This collaborative form of school governance can lead to positive change in schools. During my tenure on School Committee I advocated successfully for including School Improvement Funds in the budget. These funds are available to each school to spend to move the priorities of their School Improvement Council forward. I will continue to advocate for more control of the Cambridge Public School Budget at the school level, where those closest to our children can decide how most efficiently to use resources for supporting student learning and well being.
Note: Alice Turkel was previously elected in 1995, 1997, 1999, and 2001 and served on the Cambridge School Committee from 1996 to 2003.
|Page last updated October 15, 2009||Cambridge Candidates|