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I was first involved in the Cambridge School System as a parent organizer of the parents who started the Cambridgeport School in 1990. I am currently serving my fifth term on the School Committee. My husband, Mitch Ryerson, and I have three children. Our daughters went all the way through the Cambridge Public Schools K-12th grade. They attended the Cambridgeport and King Open schools, and graduated from CRLS. Our son is now in 7th grade at King Open.
I bring to this job my experience as:
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 I 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 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. Chef Vin is now the head of the kitchen at CRLS. The Principal of CRLS has said that the improved food has lead to more students eating in the cafeteria, which is building community in a new and positive way.
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 served 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 work full time for Cambridge students and their families. My experience and ability to work collaboratively is helpful in shaping policies that will positively affect the achievement of Cambridge's students in the years to come.
Achieving Success for All Students
Implementing the new Upper and JK-5th Grade Schools
The Innovation Agenda (IA) has made promises to the community that must be kept. I will work to ensure that the best of what Cambridge Schools have been doing is incorporated with new best practices. We need to make sure that students in each school receive an education that prepares them with the knowledge and the skills they need for success. In addition to academics the Upper Schools must provide a rich array of art and enrichment courses during the school day. It is also critical that afterschool options that appeal to the many interests of middle school age students be available. Improvements in the upper schools should not be at the expense of the JK-5th grade students.
I will work to make sure that parents/guardians and faculty are able to actively participate in this planning year and in the implementation of the IA.
Early Childhood Education
Create a Healthy Learning Atmosphere
School Department Administration and Superintendent
It is the Superintendent's job to mold the administration into a structure that will best support moving the school system towards a shared set of goals. 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 should support 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 and Capital Needs
Another 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: "Why don't all children succeed at higher levels, given how much we spend?" "Why do funding decisions seem unfair from school to school?"
This past Spring as budget co-chair I asked for a comparison of Cambridge's budget with the school budget for Newton in the last year (2009) that Superintendent Young was Superintendent in Newton. This can be viewed on line here. It is a document that shows how the approximately $10,000 additional funding per pupil in Cambridge is spent.
Capital Needs, Renovations and Surplus Buildings
The city is now planning to renovate three (one was recently renovated) of the four elementary schools that will soon house Upper Schools and JK-5th grade schools in the same building. These renovations will be necessary to make the physical facilities function smoothly with a large population of students and two different schools sharing the space.
While the City pays for these major renovations the school department's budget must include funding for the many needs the schools in these buildings have pending renovation. Equally important is preparing the Amigos School's new home on Upton Street. It is also important to have funds for the repairs and maintenance all the school buildings need.
Cambridge now has two surplus school buildings, the Longfellow building on Broadway and the Webster (formerly 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. It would be unwise to sell these buildings now.
Next fall the building on Upton Street will become the Amigos School and the building on Broadway will house the Extension High School and a year later it will give the system a place to house students as elementary schools are renovated.
The Innovation Agenda
The vote was a 6 to 1 vote and now it is my job to work to make this plan the best it can be. My hope is that Cambridge will have wonderful schools in this new configuration.
My hopes for the IA include:
I will work hard to support the IA:
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 deals neither with the fact that many families will not send their child to a mandatory assignment, nor that families are 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 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 from 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 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 skills and take advantage of 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.
Teacher Recruitment, Retention and Diversity
Enrollment and the Marketing of Public Schools vs. Charter Schools and Private Schools
Elementary Schools and Curriculum
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 look at sub-group achievement (small schools often do not have enough students in any given sub-group to receive sub-group results), 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
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.
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