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At the last two School Committee meetings in June, Superintendent Salim presented the Committee with a framework for creating a multi-year strategic plan for the district. It’s a great framework with five broad objectives, and resulted from a community process led by CPS Chief Planning Officer Dr. Lori Likis. The next step is for the School Committee to turn this framework into a policy document that includes goals set by the School Committee. (It’s a little unclear whether strategic planning is primarily a School Committee function or an district administration function, but let’s assume it should be a collaborative process.) From there, the Committee and administration can work together to create a strategic plan with specific goals within each of the five broad objectives, actions toward those goals, and measurable outcomes matched up to goals and action steps. Some very broad goals and outcome measures are already included in the framework document, so it provides a great launching point for the Committee’s goal-setting work.
GETTING ON THE SAME PAGE: The Committee also has to discuss the document to ensure that Committee members agree with the goals that are listed in the framework (it’s hard to disagree with most of them!), and that everyone has a similar understanding of what the abstract terms in the document mean. For example, one broad goal is to Support the Whole Child as an Individual. What does that mean? Does this mean only the child’s social and emotional development? What about the child’s creative, artistic, physical, moral, and cultural development? If it’s only about socioemotional development, why not label the goal Support the Socioemotional Development of the Child? If it’s more than that, what are the initiatives to support these other aspects of our students’ development? Certainly developing a sense of justice and a moral compass should be a goal of Cambridge schools.
STRUCTURE OF THE PLAN: The five broad objectives that structure the framework are: 1) Provide Equity and Access to Increase Opportunity and Achievement; 2) Provide Engaging Learning for Students and Staff to Strengthen Instruction for All Types of Learners; 3) Support the Whole Child as an Individual; 4) Expand and Strengthen Family Partnerships and Community Partnerships; and 5) Improve Implementation and Progress Monitoring. Within each of the five objectives, the framework specifies 4-5 strategic initiatives.
STRENGTHS OF THE PLAN: To my mind, the Superintendent’s framework is a strong foundational document because most of it articulates what all school systems should always be doing. Looking at the 22 strategic objectives, I’d say that half or more imply or refer to continuing, expanding, or improving what we already do or already try to do, such as “expand integrated, hands-on, real world learning opportunities…,” “continue to develop multi-tiered systems of support…,” “pursue and expand partnerships…,” and “provide targeted support to schools…” Hopefully our teachers, coaches, and administrators have always been trying to expand real world learning opportunities, etc. Rather than initiatives, I consider these more like ongoing, foundational activities. But the framework is valuable because it makes explicit what good educators do naturally, and what most of us take for granted our schools are doing. There are also good managerial-evaluation practices listed, such as “create a common evaluation process for partnerships…” This document gives the administration a framework to tighten up systems or practices, what in edu-speak is called “continuous improvement.”
THE SCHOOL COMMITTEE’S ROLE: Now that the administration has generated this framework, the task for the School Committee, in addition to discussing thoroughly the framework, is to fit our short- and long-term goals into the final framework. While parents, students, administrators, educators, staff, and community members each have their own perspective on the schools, our job, as School Committee members, is to have a 360-degree view of the school system–to see all aspects of its functioning, and to view them from the multiple perspective of “the public.” That’s the nature of elected representatives and the reason elected officials are not a “stakeholder group.” Our job is, between us, to represent all stakeholders. That’s why there are seven of us–so that our overlapping perspectives will represent the entire public. How well we do that is a separate question, but that’s the theory of how democracy works. Though there were three Committee members on the community planning team, no subset of the School Committee can represent the public in the way the entire Committee is designed to do. That’s why our most important work–goal-setting and budgeting–is done as a “Committee of the Whole.”
DISTRICT GOALS: What exactly are the School Committee’s goals for the district? We generated a list of them at our goal-setting retreat last summer, and this year’s budget process was also one of goal-setting for next year. There are also goals conveyed to us by parents, students, and community members that we, as School Committee members, hear in our daily interactions with the public–in the grocery store, at formal school meetings, via emails, at the playground. An off-the-top-of my head list of goals is below, some short-term, some long-term. These are not goals the School Committee has officially agreed upon, but are certainly candidates for Committee goals.
- Collaborate with City departments to create a comprehensive system of early childhood education. (An explicit goal of almost every city in Massachusetts and beyond.)
- Collaborate with the City’s Office of College Success to increase college completion rates of CRLS students who attend two- and four-year colleges.
- Strengthen the early grade literacy program.
- Ensure that all CPS teachers are knowledgeable about the needs of students with disabilities. (Brought to our attention by members of the Cambridge Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, C-PAC.)
- Eliminate unnecessary assessments and develop alternative assessments in addition to MCAS. (Teachers have been asking for this for several years!)
- Encourage and support student agency, leadership, initiative, empowerment, and entrepreneurship at all grade levels, and find ways to evaluate student skill and growth in these areas. (This was suggested by our student representatives to the School Committee.)
- Create a Parent University that will teach parents skills such as how to advocate for their child, etc. (A long term goal of Richard Harding.)
- Decrease racial segregation in high school classes and extracurriculars. (The latter suggested by the student reps.)
- Strengthen the extracurricular programs in the middle schools.
- Create a more equitable distribution of staffing and other resources across the 12 elementary schools. See: See Dexter-Brunetta “Unequal Schools” report.
- Strengthen the K-8 math program and ensure its alignment with the 9-12 math program.
- Decrease gender differences in CRLS sports and athletics participation. (Another goal suggested by CRLS student reps.)
- Develop a high school intramural sports program as an alternative to Varsity opportunities. (A priority of Fred Fantini.)
- Expand the Kodaly music program and the World Language program to all elementary schools.
- Increase the attractiveness of schools that are less chosen in the kindergarten lottery.
- Increase the number of low-income families applying to CPS language immersion programs.
- Increase the number of low-income families who apply to the 3-year-old lottery and first-round kindergarten lottery.
- Work with families to increase student attendance and reduce chronic absence.
- Develop effective approaches to instances of racism, sexism, and other forms of intolerance, discrimination, or hate-related behavior within CPS schools.
- Improve mental health services in the schools, K-12, possibly expanding the social worker program that will be implemented in a total of 6-7 CPS elementary schools next year.
- Create a clear process for providing advanced learning opportunities to students working substantially above grade level.
- Create a comprehensive system of summer programs to reduce summer learning loss.
- Find more space for the Amigos middle school program.
- Respond to the high demand for the Mandarin immersion program.
- Review building needs and plan for enrollment growth associated with new housing construction.
- Continue to adjust Controlled Choice to meet the needs of all students and families as effectively as possible.
- Continue to improve responses to bullying, sexual harassment, cyber-bullying, and other forms of harassment.
- Build a comprehensive system for maintaining easy-to-access longitudinal records on each student so teachers can easily get information about each child’s educational history.
- Ensure that technology is used effectively in the classroom.
- Etc., etc.
This is the level of specific goal-setting that we need to get to if we’re going to generate an effective strategic plan. In my opinion, we need to put all the goals and needs of our district on the table, organize them into the categories suggested by the framework, and create a timeline and set of action steps around these specific goals.
Dr, Salim, Dr. Likis, members of the community planning team, and all the members of the CPS professional community have done a great job with their part of the strategic planning process. Now it is the Committee’s job to do our part.
Thanks for reading! Comments welcome!