Transcript of Cambridge School Committee Budget Hearing for CPS Teachers December 9, 2014
Below is a transcript of an audiotape of a Cambridge School Committee budget hearing. The School Committee specifically invited CPS teachers and other educators to voice their budget requests, priorities, and recommendations. The audio is available at:
A pdf of this document is at: Transcript of Cambridge School Committee Budget Hearing for CPS Teachers
This transcript is more or less word- for-word, with occasional paraphrase and simplification. Teachers who spoke at the hearing are identified only by their school affiliation. The comments of one administrator and the one parent who spoke are not included.
The Cambridge School Committee Budget Subcommittee consists of all members of the School Committee. The two budget co-chairs this year are School Committee members Richard Harding and Mervan Osborne, who conduct all hearings. In fall of 2014 and winter of 2015, the School Committee, the Superintendent, and other administrators will draft a preliminary budget school department budget, which will be presented in early or mid-March to the public and School Committee as the Proposed FY16 Budget. After hearing public and School Committee comment, the administration will revise the budget and present it for a final School Committee vote in early April. If approved by majority vote, the budget then goes to the City Council for more hearings and discussion, and must be approved by the City Council by majority vote as part of the citywide budget. For the upcoming schedule of more School Committee budget hearings and meetings, go to: http://www.cpsd.us/school_committee/school_committee_meetings
Speakers from the following schools spoke at the hearing: Graham and Parks, Peabody, Haggerty, Tobin, Cambridgeport, Amigos, CSUS, CRLS
Summary of Teacher Budget Requests/Recommended Priorities
- To prioritize socioemotional learning in the budget
- Additional social worker in every school and a district wide crisis team
- More intervention staff for students who struggle and students working at advanced levels
- Smaller SEI class sizes capped at 18 students
- New technology, furniture, and upgrades to the Graham and Parks building
- Restore Instructional Coaches and Professional Development teachers at CRLS
- Provide in-district professional development on cultural competency
- High school class sizes of 20 or fewer students
- More professional development on inclusion and instruction for special education students
- More professional development on teaching SEI/ELL students
- More school based direct service staffing for middle schools (counselors, teachers, aides, specialists)
- A paraprofessional for every middle school grade and school (i.e 3 per school * 5 schools = 15 paraprofessionals)
- Lower firm limits on caseloads for special education teachers
- Special educators not split between schools
- “More people in the building”
- Include Kodaly in the budget
- Slow down the pace of new initiatives; there is “persistent initiative fatigue”
- Consult teachers more rather than making top-down decisions
- Budget for professional development for Math in Focus implementation, and related teacher-led curriculum support/reflection groups
- Untrack 9th grade English, embed honors, cap classes at 20 students (not 24 as currently), provide special educators, and work on strategies that close achievement gaps
- Expand restorative justice and conflict mediation models (parent suggestion)
- Consistent funding for Pre-K and Reading Recovery
- Intervention staffing for 2nd-5th grades
- Full-time art, music, and technology teachers in all schools
- A district wide recommended minimum per student book budget, ideally $11 or more per pupil
- A mandatory minimum per student for art materials
- Creating a district program to provide used computers to students without computers at home but who require computers for homework
- A district wide staff who can provide support for teachers working with lower achieving students not on IEPs, particularly SIFE students (Students with Interrupted Formal Education)
- Consistent afterschool educational programming, tutoring, and homework help for struggling students
- A summer program for students who struggle
- More inclusion support staff
- Smaller subseparate special education classes and/or a co-teaching model in these classrooms
- Restore clerk positions at CRLS that were cut last year
- More computers at the high school for students and teachers
- More professional development related to: evaluation, data collection and analysis, restorative justice, maintaining students who are not meeting behavioral standards in the classroom, bullying prevention, etc., and mentoring for all new staff
- Investments in I-Pads may not be wise given that they cannot be upgraded and will become obsolete
Richard Harding: I’m so happy you are here tonight, the educators we put our children’s future in the hands of, to share priorities as you see fit to share those with the SC tonight. So I’m very, very happy that we have good attendance. I’ll turn it over to Mr. Osborne now.
Mervan Osborne: I didn’t want to say very much. I just wanted to share with you how happy I am that we could do this this year. This was personally very important to me. I don’t know how many of you know this, but in my other life I’m also a teacher. I’m in the classroom every day just like you are. I’ve been in the classroom since 1990.
I said something the other day at a subcommittee meeting about community. We often talk about what the soul of a community is. We look at church, spirituality, commerce, real estate, and development. But I think we would all agree that really, when you think about it, everyone has to go to school. I think the soul of the community can truly be seen it its schools, and the health of the community is about the schools. It doesn’t make sense to me that we go further in the budget process without hearing from teachers. Many of you have spoken to me off line have lots of thoughts and priorities. And that’s what we want to bring that out into the open: What’s important to you, as we engage with the Superintendent and our subcommittee to talk about priorities moving forward? We just wanted you, as educators, to know that your voice really matters to us. We don’t want you to think that we are proceeding without you in mind. So that’s why we’ve gathered you here today.
Two Graham & Parks Teachers: We are from Graham and Parks, and we represent the entire faculty of G&P. Between us we have more than 40 years teaching experience, over 30 in the City of Cambridge. Thank you for inviting us. It’s a big deal to be invited to talk about the budget. We know the process is complicated, and we know that we all want the same thing for our students: An environment that allows children to reach their highest potential, no matter their background. And we know that this is no easy task, and we could use your support.
Graham and Parks faces many of the same challenges as other schools in Cambridge, but we also face certain challenges that are unique to our student population and building. Like other schools, we’ve noticed the increase in the number of students who come to us needing intense social, emotional, and behavioral supports. We are doing the best we can with the resources we have, but we need some help; these children need your help. We are going to ask you, urge you, to make social and emotional learning and support a priority in next year’s budget, at both the district and building level. An additional social worker in each building perhaps, a district crisis team, and additional training for school personnel would be costly, we know that. But we also know that our students need this level of support, and so we are asking for that.
Just as the number of students who need social and emotional support has increased, so has the number of children requiring additional academic support, across the entire city. In response, the district has put in place a Response to Intervention (RTI) model that requires providing children with academic interventions outside of Special Education. We agree with this model. While we endorse this model quite a bit and work hard to meet these requirements, we need some help. Which means we need staff to implement it properly, which means the addition of interventionists. Right now we pay, with our School Improvement Funds, for two part-time teaching assistants to provide interventions. They are phenomenal, but this is not nearly enough. We ask that you provide specific funding for interventionists district wide, not just at Graham and Parks, but across the city. These are positions that should not be funded by schools with discretionary funds, but should be allocated in the budget.
More specific to Graham and Parks, we request that you allocate funds in the budget to our building, furniture, and technology. We are the largest elementary school in Cambridge, serving 396 students as of yesterday. And 397 as of today because I just got a new student. These students learn in a building that is stretched to the limits of its capacity, and with a physical plant that is in dire need of attention. If you walk through our halls and classrooms, you will see signs of deferred maintenance, quick fixes, and outright neglect. The air quality is a concern, and whole sections of our building are often without adequate heat. We are grateful to the maintenance staff for nursing our building along, but we need more than quick fixes. It’s going to be at least ten years before our building is renovated. What does it say to our students about our values and expectations for them when we can’t maintain their learning environment with care and respect?
Like our building, our furniture is old and breaking down. It may seem like a small thing, but some of our students sit at folding function tables instead of school tables or desks. Every year, teachers must scramble to find enough unbroken chairs for their students. We have Smart Boards and projectors in our upper grades, but they’re starting to break down after 5 or 6 years of use. At $6,000 apiece, we simply can’t replace them with funds from our school budget. Ironically, the district adopted a math program that is heavily reliant on interactive white boards. These tools are too valuable and too expensive to be left to the schools to fund alone. There is also no technology in our K-2 kindergarten classrooms. No Elmos, no white boards, no interactive whiteboards. They do have I-pads, but that is not sufficient to teach the math program.
In closing, we would like to bring your attention to our most pressing concern: Sheltered English Immersion classes (SEI). These are some of our most vulnerable students. They should not be in larger classes than general education students, as they often are, even with a classroom assistant. Children at Graham and Parks speak at least 35 languages. I have 12 languages in my classroom alone. SEI classes are incredibly complex to teach. Our students must master the same curriculum as their general education peers, while simultaneously learning how to speak English and navigate a new culture. Although not ideal, we’re asking for a cap of 18 students for SEI classes across the district. Right now, we often go up to 25 students because Graham and Parks has the only 2nd-5th grade SEI classrooms in the district. We feel strongly that a second complete JK-5 strand of SEI classrooms should be opened at another school. Many of our SEI students are in Cambridge to stay. A student’s first few years in SEI establish his or her learning trajectory through high school and beyond. They need the support of a smaller class size early so they may succeed later.
Thank you for this opportunity to provide input on the budget. We spent time talking about this in our staff meeting yesterday, so these are ideas from our entire staff. We feel heard and valued as teaching professionals, and we appreciate the work you do for all of our students.
CRLS Teacher: I know it’s probably true that teachers can come to a School Committee meeting any time, but it is enormously significant that you reached out to us and kept reaching out to us. It’s wonderful, wonderful that you reached out to us and we really appreciate the gesture. I don’t have a long list here.
I don’t have 40 years of teaching experience, but I love being a teacher, it’s the only thing I want to do for a job forever. I take my job incredibly seriously, maybe too seriously. I’ve been teaching for 12 or 13 years, so that is the background of bringing my suggestions and recommendations to you.
My first recommendation is that we put instructional coaching back into the high school. To have that level of commitment to our instructional ability and the other things we do besides get information across. We loved coaching and loved our coaches. Our history coach could help everyone, no matter who we were teaching across the board, she was a great teacher of teachers.
I want to recommend we have in-district professional development around cultural competency. We are smart here and know what we need. We are dying to do a good job for all of our students, and all we want are more ideas for good instruction and opportunities to practice, to make our instruction accessible to more of our students.
Because the good people of Massachusetts think we should not have Sheltered English Immersion more than one year or so, we need more in-district ELL instruction that is relevant and something we can really use.
Because of the increased responsibility we have for special education instruction, we need more professional development for providing special education and scaffolding and incorporating special education into our instruction. And performance-based authentic assessment methods and strategies so our kids can be doing as they are learning.
My last recommendation is that we continue to work toward smaller classrooms, 20 or fewer, so we can work toward incorporating rigorous, heterogeneous, diverse grade-level inquiry-based learning into our classrooms.
Two CSUS Teacher (Cambridge Street Upper School): Like everyone else, thank you very much for asking to hear what we think. We wish we heard that all the time, so it really, really resonates when you ask to hear from us. So thank you.
One is that the middle schools are struggling. I don’t know if you know that or not, but we are. The Innovation Agenda’s idea of having equity across the schools, even as we know that some schools are Title 1 and some schools aren’t, lets you know that the composition of the student bodies in the schools are different.
One interesting measure of our struggles is that it is now difficult to get substitutes to come to our schools to fill in for us when we are absent, and not just at our school, CSUS. We have so many behavioral problems in our classrooms stemming from severe, severe emotional, social and academic issues that substitutes don’t want to come. The fact is we don’t know why, nor do I think anyone in this room really knows why. So anyone who has one answer for that and a silver bullet, I would say don’t believe them. It might be that we have a middle school model, and this is just what comes from a middle school model. It might be that we changed our curriculum and our curriculum is not serving our students as well as it should. It could be the greater social climate outside of the school. Whatever it is, we are struggling.
Our staff, after polling everyone in the building and asking for what people wanted me to say today as our building rep from the CEA, our staff is overwhelmingly in support of using the budget for new hires in direct service roles for students: counseling, a paraprofessional at every grade level in every middle school whom the teams can schedule to be an extra person in the classrooms where that person is needed. Not just for IEP students. We have many students who come in very far below grade level, struggling with severe social-emotional difficulties. Just to have another person to take a small group in that classroom would make a huge difference to those kids.
Paraprofessionals are not just for IEP students, but we also need firm limits on the caseloads for our special education providers. Lower firm limits. We need special educators who are not split between schools. To do this we need new hires in the buildings providing direct service to students. Across the board, every teacher in my school asked for that to be what I say. This district spends a lot of money on administrative positions. We need hands, minds, and hearts in the classrooms with our students. Some of my dearest friends from the charter schools say, “When our students, the ones who aren’t cutting it in our schools and we can’t keep them, we send them to you.” That’s not as big of a deal for us this year as in previous years, when we’ve had people from the charter schools coming back to us, but it certainly happens and is something to think about in terms of the students we have, we retain, we educate. If we are really going to serve these kids, we need more people in the buildings. We need to be proactive not reactive. We have spent the year scrambling to serve students we knew would need more support. We knew it coming into this year. The middle schools need more staff. Thank you.
CPS Music Teacher: I’ve been a music teacher for 25 years, and I studied the Kodaly method pretty extensively. One of the most fascinating things was the research done here in Cambridge. This has nothing to do with music. It has to do with test results. This research was done at the Peabody School, and they found that, amazingly, the free and reduced lunch subgroup did 58% Proficient or above at the Peabody School, while Cambridge as a district did 27% Proficient or above. That’s a big difference of 31%. For language, the FR subgroup did 52% Proficient or above, while the district was 29%, which is a 23% difference. More fascinating was the learning disabilities group in math and language. In math, children with learning disabilities did 47% Proficient, while the district subgroup did 21%. And in language they did 42% Proficient, and the district did 22%. That’s a huge difference and can’t be ignored.
The children who get Kodaly music in K-2, it helps everything they do. There have been studies of brain development. Music is a right hemisphere thing, language and math are left hemisphere, and they blend in the middle. There is a famous researcher, Dr. Schlaug, he’s at Beth Israel, who studies what music does for the brain early on. It’s uncanny and never ending. I have a family member who has had a stroke, and we are approaching his language development through music. It is working brilliantly. It’s never ending. If you get it early on it lasts a whole lifetime. Thank you.
CPS Music Teacher: I am passionate about music teaching and always wanted to teach K-8th grade. I come from Boston Public Schools, where I had an excellent position for 18 years as lead music teacher. I came to the Cambridge Public Schools music education faculty, though, so I could be part of a cohort that takes music education seriously. Where we appreciate rigorous training for ourselves. Kodaly music provides rigorous and enjoyable training for our students. When we do school tours, parents ask a lot of questions about how many times per week we have music and am I trained in Kodaly, and I can say yes.
Haggerty Teacher: Thank you for this invitation. We know from research, and I’ve provided you with an article, that system change takes 5-7 years. Here in Cambridge, we unroll new things every year. Often change is implemented before we have even gathered sufficient evidence of its success or failure, and without an implementation plan suitable for the change. Teachers need more input into these top-down decisions, time to meet and plan, and ample professional development.
This week’s Marshall Memo brings our attention to Harvard researchers who study
“Teacher Involvement as the Key to School Wide Change.” The project, soon to be published in Columbia University’s Teachers College Record, is titled, “Ready to Lead, but How? Teachers’ Experiences in High Poverty Urban Schools,” and examined the link between student growth and teacher buy-in. The author, Susan Moore Johnson, states:
Organizational change takes time and significant resources…When teachers believe the proposed changes are sound, and the leader has taken their views, suggestions, needs, and interests into account…they are more likely to lend their support and encourage colleagues to do so as well. When they think the proposals are weak or misdirected, or that teachers have not had a say in their design, they may resist the initiatives either actively or passively.
Teachers in Cambridge are not a passive bunch. When will we begin listening to them?
We have much to learn from this recent Harvard case study that graphs the correlation between working conditions and Student Growth Percentiles in urban districts. Johnson goes on to explain, “…that a plan cannot simply be ‘rolled out’ as some reformers suggest, for doing so without teacher contributions, approval, and suggestions for refinement may well mean that the plan will be rejected outright or adopted in name only…Without engaging teachers in diagnosing and addressing the adaptive challenges that the school faces, a plan can never benefit from the insights of those who might improve it and the energy of those who must implement it.” This is a diagnostic picture of why implementation fails in Cambridge.
Please slow down this high-speed train. The people who can provide the most powerful change are feeling disengaged and distrustful of the process. Slow, meaningful change results from teacher-led initiatives, not top-down, city-, state-, and federally-mandated ones. High-speed agendas and newly purchased curricula do not close the achievement gap. Empowered teachers do.
The premature rollout of Math in Focus may be the most recent example of misguided leadership, missing the opportunity for data driven, teacher led support groups. A small group of teachers piloted Math in Focus from September to December of 2013, and from there, a significant budgetary decision was made. Numerous initiatives have followed the same path. More will come along. What will we do with these opportunities? Only when we learn to slow down the process and listen to dynamic teacher leaders will we be able to harness these opportunities for real change. Imagine what it feels like to have a new evaluation system, SEI training (Structured English Immersion), Math in Focus, District Determined Measures (for measuring student growth), Response to Intervention, and the new ELA units of study, with more curriculum changes to come. When will we even begin to discuss the social and emotional needs of our most vulnerable students with mental health needs? Many teachers feel set up for failure.
As members of the School Committee, you are faced with tough budget decisions. Since Math in Focus was adopted, teachers have been given three days of training. Is this best practice?
In the future, before purchasing a new curriculum or adopting a mandate, allow for more teacher involvement. Not just one or two opportunities to learn about a decision that’s already been made. Teachers throughout the city are now grappling with a curriculum and attempting to synthesize three years of math using two curricula, supported by coaches who are one step ahead. And this is just in math! Ask yourselves, “Was this a process built on trust, careful thought, and dialogue, or another pre-conceived top-down decision?
Teachers require an enormous amount of professional development to implement your recent purchase of Math in Focus, several weeks of training, enhanced by teacher led support groups and time to reflect on our work. Please add additional funding for professional development, allowing teachers to meet and plan with the curriculum, based on what is essential. We are counting on you to help us with this request not only for time and resources, but also in recognizing pervasive initiative fatigue.
CRLS Teacher: Thank you for inviting us and allowing us to speak. I teach English at CRLS, Honors and co-taught. This is my 17th year teaching. I’ve worked in other settings, Dorchester and Roxbury, through Workforce in Roosevelt Towers and Jefferson Park, in alternative school networks and charters, and then came back here in 2007. I’m here to talk from that background in teaching and also from my personal background. I grew up in Section 8 housing, one of 11 children in a multiracial Cape Verdean family, only two of whom went to college. I’m here to talk about the achievement gap as many others are here today.
Thank you for lowering our class sizes this year. I know the School Committee was instrumental in that and it made a huge difference. That said, I want you to do a little bit more. Right now, in my co-taught class I have 24 students, which is the cap. We are over eight students in special education, which used to be the cap so you wouldn’t have a subseparate classroom. We are well over eight. I’ve had students come in with ankle bracelets, I’ve had students with severe mental health problems, and out of home programs. We are up to 12 students who need services, plus FLES students and 504 students, in one classroom.
Making everything equal doesn’t create equity. So saying we are going to have 24 students in every class is not going to close the achievement gap at this high school. We need smaller classes for the youngest students. So our 9th grade co-taught classes also have 24 students. You walk into those classrooms and it looks like we are in the past. I really urge you to visit those classrooms, walk around all the 9th grade tracked classes, and see where the students of color are. They are predominantly in these lower track classes.
I came to Cambridge specifically to teach these classes because that is the community I had been teaching in and I wanted to help. In my first year in 2007, 90% of my students lived on Columbia or Market Street, all were on the football team except the one female student, and all were Black.
We have a problem. So we’ve gotten better since then but we’re not where we need to be. I’ll add student voice to this. This is someone in my Honors class. We’re writing college essays, this is not an anomaly. I get this story 5-10 times per year in each of my classes. Here’s what he had to say. It’s about the decision to enroll in classes, which we say is a choice, but its not really a choice if you think about the situation.
When choosing my 9th grade classes at the end of 8th grade, most of my friends told me that the College Prep classes had a lot of people who looked like me, and that people I knew would be there. From what they told me, CP classes had mostly Black and Latino students. The CP classes were known as giving less work than Honors classes, but I didn’t care because I would be with people I would feel comfortable with, people who looked like me, and people I knew. After CP Algebra I, after the lower amount of work I received, I realized I could do more work than what the classes were giving me. Then I moved into Honors.
This is a draft of a story we are working on right now, but this story, and even worse stories, is what I hear every day.
My proposal is that we un-track 9th grade English, that we provide an embedded honors option, that we cap those classes at 20, that we provide special educators, and that we work on strategies that actually close the achievement gap. We have teams of teachers in support of this. I mentioned this to Mr. Smith yesterday, and he is in support of this. Our K-12 coordinator says this is the time to ask. And our student leaders who led the Walk Out said they are tired of being sorted this way. We cannot decide that kids at age 13 who messed in 8th grade like I did because they were a human being, I’m sure some of you did too, that we will decide where they’ll be the rest of their lives at that young age. Thank you.
Cambrideport Teacher: I’m very thankful for all the teachers who came before me, as a teacher and a parent in the district. We have very impressive faculty and staff in this district. I thought I was going to sit and just be present and support my colleagues that way, but here I am with the notes I just jotted down quickly.
I’m speaking from the perspective of a specialist. I’m going to talk for our art and music teachers as well. I agree wholeheartedly with those who want to support our students in a holistic manner, and I hear a lot about socioemotional supports and I agree with that. And if we do want to look at the child holistically, part of that includes supporting the arts and other co-curricular programs. In the JK-5 buildings, some schools share the art and music teachers. I want to see more equity across the district for having a full time art teacher, a full-time music teacher, and full-time technology teacher in all schools. Right now we have full time librarians and gym teachers in our schools.
What that allows for, when we have full-time positions, is a really collaborative program across the district. I think it’s really important to foster these relationships with students. And the funding for our programs, I’ll speak specifically for librarians but I know this goes on throughout the district for specialist programs, is that funding for our programs are currently discretionary from school to school. I’ll give an example. One JK-5 school in the district has a $4 per pupil budget for books in the library, and another school has about a $13 per pupil budget for books. And we all know what access to good quality literature means for kids. I don’t have to talk about all the research that we know exists. We are also trying to build libraries to support teachers, to make sure they have the materials that they need in order to have the kids fully access the curriculum.
The American Association for School Libraries recommends $11 per pupil. I’d love to see Cambridge get there, or at least have a recommended amount per pupil. And for the art and music as well. I know that I was talking to an art teacher today: One school has a $1 per student art materials budget, while another school they work at has a $5 per student budget. If you want to see equity in the district, that’s another place to look.
Amigos Upper School Teacher: I really appreciate the opportunity to speak to you. I chose to come to speak mostly about meeting the needs of our students who struggle, closing the achievement gap. There are a number of things that I’m struggling with personally that I’m hoping you can help us address.
One issue is addressing the digital divide. We still have a number of students in our classrooms who do not have access to computers at home, while we are moving more and more to a time when we need to ask our students to do more work at home on a computer. We’ve done a lot of work to make Google Docs accessible to our students. So I hope there would be a way our district could help these families to address this need. I’m not asking the district to necessarily purchase computers, but maybe to run a donation program in which many of our families of means could donate computers, which could then be cleaned and turned into something like a chrome book. So students don’t have to go to the library, come to school early, or miss a lunch period to do work that other students have the privilege to do at home.
Secondly, I’m very concerned about the needs of students with interrupted formal education (SIFE) at the elementary level. Right now these students come to the upper grades, and it is up to the teachers to determine what those students’ needs are and to find a way to address them, even when these students are not working at a level that allows them to access the curriculum for the grade at which they are enrolled. For example, I currently have three 8th grade math students whom I am working with on place value, composing and decomposing with 10, figure identification, and other early elementary math concepts. I’m doing this with the support of my math coach and other math teachers because there is no scope and sequence in the district, or anyone in the district to provide support to teachers working with students in the elementary schools who, because of their interrupted formal education, are not able to access classroom material, even with differentiation.
We have someone in the district to address the needs of successful students who could be accelerated, but we don’t have anyone in the district whose sole function is to help address the needs of students without Ed Plans but who are not achieving in the ways they could be, particularly those with interrupted formal education.
Finally, I would like to ask that you consider a district wide initiative to provide consistent afterschool education opportunities and homework help and tutoring for our students, rather than relying on teachers and Cambridge School Volunteers to put together what they best can. And similarly, a summer program for students who struggle so we can actually help them grow over the summer rather than have them lose some of what they gain. Thank you very much.
Tobin Teacher: I’m here to represent the Tobin Montessori staff. I think the Tobin Montessori often considers ourselves a different kind of learning community than the other schools in Cambridge, different in the sense that we use different kinds of math materials for our teaching, different types of hands-on materials that are not available throughout the district. However, we also consider ourselves part of this district. And we’ve been really grateful for some of the new initiatives and new curriculum pieces that have come to us over the last several years. We’ve been happy with the implementation of RTI and just to have a more solid structure for intervention across the board throughout the school. What I do want to say, also similar across the district, is that we need more intervention support. That is the resounding message I got from staff over and over from staff when I announced that I was coming to this meeting to represent them. Over and over. I heard from teachers in Children’s House, “We really need more supports staff.” Particularly in Children’s House, teachers are asking for inclusion support.
Children with behavior issues who are in a class with 23-25 children, one teacher, one assistant. These are children who need an enormous amount of attention, daily support, daily help and they are really hoping to get more a consistent social inclusion specialist, or more than one, who can be in more consistently.
At the lower and upper elementary grades, what I heard was really more academic support. We would so love to have an interventionist, or more than one interventionist, to work with students below grade level or way above grade level. In all subject areas. We work really, really hard to differentiate instruction, but there are always anywhere from one to seven students in every class whom we cannot reach the way we need to. And we think in our heads, “Oh if I just had one person who could come a couple of times a week to work with this small group of students on a particular skill, it would make a massive difference.” I was fortunate to have that last year. I found a volunteer, a retired Cambridge teacher, who worked on a math skill set with a group of 4th graders. Those kids flew. So intervention support really does make a difference.
Also, a full time technology teacher. We have some great technology but we’re not making good use of it because we only have a half-time teacher.
Also a plug for our art teacher. We really really, really want him full time. We want to do integrated projects with him and work with him more. I’ll stop there, thank you very much.
CRLS Teacher: A few people in OSS (Office of Special Services) asked me to put in a word, especially, for subseparate classrooms, which are getting much larger. There is a push from OSS to bring a lot of students back from out-of-district placements. I’m a subseparate teacher, and as teachers we welcome them with open arms. But we are not quite getting the support we need. Class sizes are getting up to 14, 15, 16 students in the room, all on IEPS, with typically one paraprofessional. We’re asking for greater staff, perhaps even a co-teaching model in the subseparate classrooms.
CRLS Teacher (Letter read by another teacher): As anticipated, the elimination of clerk positions at the high school has had negative effects on the efficiency and effectiveness of student and personnel services, including record keeping, attention to student needs, and morale. Restoring the clerk positions should be a priority. We lost a number of clerk positions at the high school last year.
Similarly, the elimination of all Instructional Support Coaches and the Professional Development Teacher Coach positions has had detrimental impacts on the quality of teaching and learning at the high school, as well as on staff morale. The new staff to the high school are left to depend “on the kindness of strangers” to orient them to the school’s expectations, culture, and basic where-to-go-for-what. This means that they continue to learn about these areas as they go, hoping not to (or not even being aware that they can) disappoint expectations. Without any of these Instructional Support Coaches or proper professional development positions, the only faculty available to support or guide teachers is their evaluator. This often fosters a “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture at the high school, where teachers are less likely to identify areas they would like to improve, or expectations they don’t understand, because of fears that it will make them appear less than proficient.
The high school faculty are continuously asked (as are all teachers) to change, standardized, and adapt their instruction, but without the support to guide or monitor our ability to do that. While K-8 instructional coaches are lauded for their positive impacts on learning and teaching, 9-12 ISCs don’t exist. Restoring CRLS’s school-based support positions should be a priority. This is across the board with all the departments I’ve talked with. I also have one foot in the math department, and we’re very upset that we no longer have our coach, Peter Mili, who’s retired now, but who was very much sought after and beloved for his guidance and support. The math department doesn’t have that anymore.
Second, as computer-based assessment and student proficiency on computers is becoming more standard, the high school still does not have the capacity to give computer-based assessment or provide frequent use of computers. Similarly, as teachers are required to do more communication, their evaluations, grading, and other tasks on computers, they have not been provided with more access. This is particularly curious considering that many or all K-8 classrooms have a one-to-one ratio of computers to students, and many K-8 teachers were provided with laptops. At the high school, only administrators were provided with laptops, I-Pads, and I-Phones. The expectations for technology use have to be matched with available technology. If the district expects more work to be done on computers by students and staff, it must make providing those computers a priority.
Lastly, I am not sure what prevents the district from providing professional development in areas required by the state and/or the district (e.g. evaluation, data collection and analysis, restorative justice, maintaining students who are not meeting behavioral standards in the classroom, bullying prevention, etc.), and mentoring for all new staff. If teachers are expected to regularly acquire new knowledge and skills, they have to be provided with the instruction and time to learn the skills. I don’t know if this is a budget issue or just a false assumption that staff can learn how to do anything they’re asked on their own and on their own time. And this is felt by most of the teachers at the high school. Similar to students learning content and skills in the classroom, teachers are unlikely to learn how to do something well unless they are taught how to do it. If not common sense, certainly experience bears this out. Thank you for listening to our concerns.
Tobin/Cambridgeport: I’m going to speak in response to some things I heard today. I have an idea. One teacher was talking about furniture and money for new furniture in the schools. I think it was Graham and Parks. I know from my 20 years of teaching, 3 years here, that tens of thousands of pieces of furniture get thrown out every year because the schools have no storage. I know this happened at Peabody when I worked there. I was pulling things out of the dumpster. When I asked why these couldn’t be kept in the basement, I was told, “Because there is no storage.” So I would propose a place, a room this size somewhere in the district, where the excess furniture can go. And a data base for the entire district so they can access this furniture. I think that would save us a lot of money right there.
Second, this is a person opinion, just a thought. I am certainly not anti-technology. I use technology for my own artwork and a lot in my personal life. But I wonder about technology. I think about how far it has come in the past 20 years. I think it is the one subject where we don’t really know where it is going to be in 20 years. Will we need to type in 20 years? Will we need to know coding and lots of other basic exercises? I’m not sure that we will. I’m not sure the money we spend on I-Pads makes any sense because I-Pads can’t be updated. And soon all those I-Pads in all the schools will be obsolete. They will be just beautiful dinner trays. They are not upgradeable. I don’t use Smart Boards, I use a marker on a dry erase board. It works great. It will work 20 years from now, even 40. It doesn’t need support and doesn’t have technical issues.
Lastly, I believe that there should be a mandatory minimum expenditure for art materials. I know a school that gets a $500 budget and another that gets a $1,500 budget for art. I know and respect how principals need to have discretionary funds. But I can’t see how it’s not inherently discriminatory for one group of kids to be working with a $500 budget and other kids with a $1,500 budget. The same number of kids getting many more materials at $1,500. Thank you.
Richard Harding: I want to thank you, on behalf of the School Committee, for coming here today, being candid about your experiences as professionals in the buildings, and with what you think should be the priorities for the budget. This was a consensus of the School Committee to reach out to have educators as part of the process. I can promise you we will take into deliberation all that you’ve said, to hopefully come up with the best recommendations, as we work with the Superintendent and his staff. So I want to thank you again, and please look for the amended budget schedule. It will be on line, if you feel so compelled to come back to one of our other public hearings.
Mervan Osborne: I want to echo my co-chair’s thanks to you for coming out. There were some themes that just came up and up and up, and that’s a good thing. You lasered the focus on some areas, and as a committee we will talk about these things. Things that may seem small, but when repeated by so many, become maybe some obvious fixes, maybe there are some things we can do. Also know that we have a Superintendent who also is a teacher, so you are speaking to receptive ears. The things that you were saying are things that I’m sure we will take into consideration. Do take a look at that schedule. We have to amend the calendar going forward because of this and because we plan to do a little more deliberation, officially as a body, as we head into the later phases of the budget process. Thank you very much for coming out tonight.
Note: This budget hearing was transcribed, as a public service to CPS parents and members of the community, by recent CPS parent Emily Dexter. If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.