In Defense of the Superintendent

Salim Library Podium alteredDear reader: If you would like to sign up for my School Committee newsletter, please do so at

Those who follow Cambridge politics are abuzz about the recent June 20th School Committee meeting. This is the meeting at which the Committee postponed a vote on the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan Framework in order first to have a roundtable discussion about the ideas in the Framework.  (See links below to a ppt of the Framework itself, to a video of the meeting, and to the Cambridge Day article about the meeting.) Apparently, by postponing the vote, the Committee showed disrespect or lack of confidence in the Superintendent.

What I would say is, “Please, give Dr. Salim more credit than that.”

(For those unfamiliar with Dr. Salim’s planning process, he convened an outstanding team of 31 Cantabrigians—parents, teachers, students, three School Committee members, school and district administrators, and community leaders, all of whom participated in a visioning exercise about the future of our schools. In addition, well over a hundred people attended meetings, agreed to be interviewed, or showed up at a Town Hall Meeting in order to share their views. Plus, a team of district administrators also engaged in the visioning exercise, as did school councils and other stakeholder groups. It sounds like a fabulous exercise and a must-do for the full School Committee and the full City Council.)

I’ve only worked with Dr. Salim for a year now, but I know for certain that he’s not made of glass. I’m pretty sure that a single School Committee vote–up, down, or sideways–isn’t going to offend him or push him off track. For goodness sake, the man was raised in New York City by immigrant parents, attended prestigious Brown University, and then taught Biology at Brighton High School.  Later he earned a doctorate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, one of the most selective education doctoral programs in the country. Even more impressive, he worked as an administrator in the Boston Public Schools, not a system that favors the fragile. I, as a School Committee member, have confidence that he’ll always look at the big picture, focus on student success, and not sweat the small stuff like whether a vote is taken or postponed. That’s why Cambridge pays him a quarter-million dollars to run a district of only 7,000 students.

Cambridge hired Dr. Salim to manage our schools in a way that our students deserve. We wanted someone “low-ego,” not a prima donna who confuses disagreement with disrespect. Good managers don’t try to bulldoze, divide and conquer, or set up power struggles. They don’t say there is only one way to do things, and they lead with flexibility, responsiveness, and a sense of humor. Cambridge hired Dr. Salim because we wanted someone who understands that discussion is crucial for deep understanding and for good working relationships. It can’t be hurried or by-passed.

I encourage the people of Cambridge not to underestimate our Superintendent. Give him a chance.  He’s doing good work, but he doesn’t need a cadre of babysitters worried that his feelings will get hurt. And neither do the seven members of the School Committee. If we did, we wouldn’t choose to work in the field of public education. It’s not a profession for the faint-of-heart.

SC No Scarf 2

Here’s a link to the June 20th SC meeting video.  The discussion about the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan Framework starts at ~32:00: June 20, 2017, School Committee Meeting.

Here’s a link to the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan Framework: CPS District Plan Framework

Here’s a link to the Cambridge Day article about the meeting: Cambridge Day article about SC postponing vote on Superintendent’s strategic plan framework.

As always, thanks for reading, comments welcome, please share.

Emily Dexter, first-term School Committee Member, running for re-election

To sign up for my School Committee newsletter, please do so at





5 thoughts on “In Defense of the Superintendent

  1. Emily: If I still voted in Cambridge you would probably get my #1 vote. reading your piece, I realize how far out of the loop I have been. I essentially knew nothing of this process of surveying and assessing though dialogue that Kenny Selim was pursuing. I would have jumped in to put in my two sense. But, truth be told, I so detached myself from the goings on in CPSD that I did not in fact know this was happening. Furthermore, I realize now that I am so detached that I probably do not know whether my perceptions and analysis are in fact valid, since I have less knowledge of the material conditions at CRLS. But this I do know. I have observed enough over the past several years. Walking around with camera in hand, for the previous three years, I observed that t he schools was even more segregated academically than it was 10 years ago. My Pilot school colleagues and I began talking about this in the early 80’s, I was an ally of the Concerned Black Staff and their report, and I was more recently involved in advocating unsuccessfully for restorative justice practices… Point of story, tracking continues, class are ever more segregated. I hope the leveling up planned for the 9th grade english and later history classes succeeds. That is a step in the right direction.


  2. Thanks Emily, it sounds like a good idea to take some time to think through anything of this size that will change the lives of thousands of kids rather than jamming it through. In the end doing it right is better than right away.


  3. Thanks, Emily—another very good post. I will never understand why so many people in this town are so discomfited by democracy at work in the running of our school system. We are supposed to be so progressive. I support both the SC and the superintendent here. We seem to be in a more hopeful place than we have been in a long time.

    Best, Dan


All comments welcome and appreciated.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s