Five priorities for the School Committee in the next 2-year term

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 2.20.38 PMA city can only be great if it has a great public school system. That requires a School Committee whose members work hard, understand the issues, have a demonstrated record of accomplishment, and want to move the district forward without needless delay. That’s what I did as a parent activist before I was on the School Committee, it’s what I’ve done in my first term on the Committee, and it’s what I will do if I’m re-elected next Tuesday. To be re-elected, I need you to rank me #1 for Cambridge School Committee when you go into the voting booth on November 7th. But your #2 and #3 votes will not be wasted. They will help elect the other candidates you also have faith in. Whomever you elect, we will work together.

What are the issues the School Committee needs to address in its next term?

Obviously, early childhood education. Cambridge is one of the richest cities in New England, yet we don’t have a system that guarantees that all Cambridge children can attend a high-quality, affordable preschool program. The School Committee, which is charged with closing the income-based achievement gap, must take leadership on this issue and make sure there is a viable plan in place by the end of the next term. In the meantime, we can’t maintain dozens of unfilled Junior Kindergarten seats when we have a preK waitlist of 300 families. We need to use that unfilled capacity and also create additional capacity.

Small education is freedomOur high school. Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School has many wonderful, unique learning opportunities. Now they need to be linked into coherent pathways that give every student a chance to pursue their own interests while also getting a broad education. The Somerville Public Schools just won a $300,000 grant from the Barr Foundation to work with the Center for Collaborative Education to redesign Somerville High School to emphasize personalized in-school learning, apprenticeships, and college and career readiness. Last year, Somerville won a $10 million grant from the XQ Super School Project to create a project-based alternative high school in Powderhouse Square. We need to learn from and with our neighboring public school districts.

The middle schools.  The four new upper schools all have some delightful characteristics, but the promised increases in achievement for low-income students have not yet materialized. With  teachers asking for “more hands, hearts, and minds in the classroom,” and many 6th-8th grade class sizes exceeding the target class size of 22 students, this is not surprising. We need to staff these schools in ways that support the achievement of all students, which means more co-teachers, more skilled paraprofessionals, and more specialists in the schools.

The elementary schools. Cambridge has 12 high quality elementary schools, but they’re not adequately or equitably staffed to meet the needs of Cambridge children. In 2014, I co-authored a report titled “Unequal Schools: How Unequal Staffing, Demographics, and Neighborhood Characteristics Create Unequal Opportunities for Low-Income Students to Learn in CPS Elementary Schools.” Analyzing the FY15 budget, my co-author and I showed that staffing across the 12 elementary schools was inequitable. There have been some improvements since 2015, but we need to do more. In particular, CPS needs to provide small class sizes or team teachers for all 1st-3rd grade classes, both of which are verified best practices.

Books

Measuring quality. We actually don’t know how good our schools are in terms of multiple criteria.  For two decades, Cambridge has followed the national mandate to use high-stakes tests as our main measure of school quality. The result has been a restricted curriculum, increased standardization, too many worksheets, and not enough time for recess and lunch. For the foreseeable future, Cambridge students will continue to take state-mandated tests, and the School Committee will continue to use those results to guide improvement decisions. But we also need to do what many forward-thinking districts are doing: adopting robust, reliable measures of: school climate, instructional quality, leadership quality, extracurricular learning, family engagement, and, most important, measures of postsecondary success: graduation from college or career training programs, satisfying employment, and participation in civic life in young adulthood.

Please vote for School Committee candidates who work hard, understand the issues, and want to move this district forward without delay. And of those candidates, please VOTE  EMILY DEXTER #1. Cambridge deserves a great public school system, and there is no reason we can’t have one.

Election Day is next Tuesday, November 7th. The polls are open until 8:00 p.m.

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