EVERY SCHOOL – EVERY CLASSROOM – EVERY STUDENT
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Dear Readers of Public School Notes:
I have decided to run for a seat on the Cambridge School Committee. Election Day will be Tuesday, November 3rd. If you’re reading this blog, you already know that I’ve been writing and speaking about the Cambridge Public Schools for the past several years, with the goal of encouraging more parents and community members to participate in district decision-making. We can’t have public schools without the public.
I will be writing more about my platform and qualifications in future posts, but to start off:
The main reason my spouse and I chose to live in Cambridge was so our children could attend the Cambridge Public Schools. Both our daughters went through CPS from kindergarten through 12th grade (1997-2014), and we’re grateful they did. So are they. Many of the CPS teachers, administrators, and staff are incredible, as are some of the curricula and special programs. But as a city responsible for educating all our children and young people, there are areas where we need to work harder and do better.
My top 5 priorities are:
- Provide more resources for grades JK-3: Every child deserves to learn how to read by the end of 3rd grade, but we’re not making fast enough progress toward that goal. Our JK-3rd grade classes are some of the largest in the system, and some schools have only one reading specialist. We need to put more resources into the early grades so that every child can become a lifelong reader, as well as mathematician, artist, scientist, athlete, traveler, entrepreneur, historian, naturalist, writer, friend, and civic leader.
- More attention to anti-racism and diversity in our classrooms and curricula: Though Cambridge is a multiethnic, multiracial city, we can’t take anti-racism for granted. All students need to learn about racism and other forms of prejudice through well thought-out curricula such as Facing History and Ourselves; but not just at one grade level. In addition to needing more teachers and paraprofessionals of color, our curriculum needs to relate, in an even deeper way than it does now, to the lives and experiences of all of our students. It’s not about political correctness and taking time away from other subjects. It’s about critical thinking, asking questions, analyzing events and texts, and thinking about how to contribute to a better world; which is what all academic study is about.
- High school staffing: Class sizes at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School have increased over the past decade, teachers are asking for smaller classes for incoming 9th graders, and guidance counselors have caseloads of 220 students each. We need more teachers and counselors so that all of our students, when they graduate from our public school system, are ready for post-secondary education and civic life.
- Support every learner: Our current classrooms are designed for any learner but not every learner. There is no district-wide system of providing intensive tutoring to students working below grade level, or to teach to every student’s unique interests and learning style. After years of parent lobbying, there is only a rudimentary system to provide extended learning projects for students whose work is advanced. This is, in large part, because most classrooms are staffed with a single teacher and up to 25 students. Paraprofessionals are invaluable in hospitals, but scarce in our schools, leaving highly trained teachers trying to meet every student’s needs without any assistance. Parents in private schools would not tolerate these high student:adult ratios.
- Language instruction in the elementary schools: Though Cambridge is an international city, only 4 of our 12 elementary schools offer any World Language instruction; the other 8 schools are English-only. We need to ensure that all students have the chance to start learning Spanish, Mandarin, Portuguese, French, American Sign Language, or another World Language well before they get to 6th grade. When we include other languages in our JK-5 curriculum, we demonstrate how much we admire those students who come to school already knowing one or more non-English languages.
Those are my top priorities, but not my only priorities. We need, of course, a complex and challenging JK-12 curriculum, targeted professional development as requested by teachers, and appropriate student-teacher ratios so all children have opportunities to learn, whether they are fluent English speakers or still learning English, whether they have a disability or do not, and whether their academic skills are average, below average, or advanced.
We need to allow all parents and caregivers to become empowered through school and district decision-making, particularly those not familiar with the U.S. school system.
We also need to examine our testing and assessment practices to determine what is useful and what is not; support teacher-administrator collaboration instead of top-down decision-making; provide principals with the resources they need to make their schools vibrant learning communities for students, teachers, staff, and families; conduct ongoing research and evaluation so we can make decisions based on information and not assumptions; work with the Department of Human Services to ensure all children have enriched learning opportunities in the 0-4 years; and, most importantly, provide the staffing and learning materials all our schools need to support not just academic development, but the development of the whole child, the whole young person.
So far there are 12 candidates running for School Committee, each of us with unique experience and qualifications. Whomever you support, please, please go to the polls and vote on November 3rd. Because our city is so small, every vote counts. Number 1 votes are the most important, but many elected officials win their seats with a combination of Number 1 and Number 2 votes. (If you don’t know what that means, read about proportional representation.) That means you do not have to support only one candidate. We need a School Committee whose members have different skills and perspectives.
Here is the link to the Cambridge Election Commission, where you can register online to vote (deadline October 14), check your registration status, and read the brochure explaining proportional representation. https://www.cambridgema.gov/election
Unfortunately, only U.S. citizens can vote, which means many international residents are ineligible. But non-U.S. citizens can support candidates in other ways.
To learn more about our School Committee and how it works, go to the Cambridge School Committee webpage. Better yet, attend or watch School Committee meetings this fall, the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month. http://www.cpsd.us/school_committee
To follow news about the both the School Committee and City Council campaigns, including events, candidate forums, cable t.v. interviews, and candidate websites, read:
Cambridge Civic Journal (online): http://www.rwinters.com/
Cambridge Day (online): http://www.cambridgeday.com/
Cambridge Chronicle (online and print): http://cambridge.wickedlocal.com/