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Pia understands the strengths and weaknesses of our school system. An early childhood specialist and speech therapist, she knows what it looks like when children are getting their needs met, and when they are not. She understands best practices and developmentally appropriate education. As a representative of the parent community in Cambridge, both within her roles as co-chair of C-PAC and as Parent Rep on the Haggerty School Council, she has heard stories from parents of children who are not getting their needs met in our schools. She is an organizer and a collaborator. When she heard from parents that their children’s emotional needs were not being met, she collaborated with her co-chairs at the C-PAC and was able to secure funding for more school-based social workers in the 2015-2016 budget. She listens carefully to parents and teachers about what is going on in our classrooms. When parents and teachers tell her that students are in need, Pia has a proven track record of advocating for those needs to be addressed.
TOP CHALLENGES FACING CPS TODAY
SUPERINTENDENT, ADMINISTRATION, AND SCHOOL DISTRICT BUDGET
We need more transparency in the budget process. It’s crucial that families, students, and teachers be at the center of policy and budget decisions that affect them. School departments can do a better job of identifying which needs exist. There should be more effort around seeking feedback from parents and teachers to fully understand classroom needs. But soliciting feedback is not enough. Feedback needs to be analyzed and actions should be taken in a consistent manner to address needs across our school district. We should build enough flexibility into the budget to be able to meet needs as they arise mid-year. Classrooms are not static. Students’ needs change throughout the year. We need to be able to address needs as they arise.
Pia has a track record of communicating with families and teachers to know what needs exist. She is committed to involving teachers, families, and students in budget and policy decisions. She believes that it is not enough to listen to their concerns. It’s the School Committee’s responsibility, as elected representatives, to not only listen, but more importantly, to address the community’s needs. Pia knows that it’s not enough to make policy and budget decisions based on written reports and data on test scores. She knows the importance of talking with people about their experiences. For the last few years as Haggerty School Council Representative and in her role as co-chair of the district-wide Parents Advisory Council on Special Education (CPAC), Pia has been listening to the stories of students’ families, and has advocated for what they need. Pia will be able to represent the community’s needs because she does not make assumptions about what students need in their schools. She listens to parents about what their students need, and she advocates based on students’ actual experiences.
ACHIEVEMENT GAPS, STANDARDIZED TESTING, MEETING STUDENTS’ NEEDS:
Another way Pia has helped CPS to meet the needs of our students: by advocating for less testing in our elementary schools. In order to meet the needs of a diverse population, we need the time and resources to be able to differentiate the curriculum to make it accessible to students with diverse backgrounds and with diverse learning styles. In the past few years, Pia has spoken with parents, teachers, and administrators about the amount of testing required of our youngest students. Our first and second graders are taking nearly 30 written standardized tests per year. In response to these concerns, Pia worked with Citizens for Public Schools and the Cambridge Education Association to organize last January’s forum and community discussion on standardized testing. Together with other parents, she helped to circulate the petition signed by 400 and counting community members to support Marjorie Decker’s bill H340, calling for a moratorium on high-stakes standardized testing.
Recently, Pia has joined together with a group of parents to work toward advocating for more recess in our elementary schools. Currently, our first through fifth graders are provided with only 15 minutes of outdoor recess per day. Some teachers are able to find time to provide a second outdoor recess, but all too often, children are only provided with the 15-minute minimum. Research shows that children need much more activity during the day, and that they need more opportunities to play and move outdoors. Providing additional recess time has been shown to reduce behavioral issues and to increase children’s ability to focus on academic tasks. Pia is committed to working toward providing a developmentally appropriate education in our elementary schools, and that includes providing more time for outdoor recess.
MEETING THE NEEDS OF ADVANCED LEARNERS
She knows that technology is not the answer to addressing the needs of advanced learners. Often what is needed is additional face-time with teachers and the flexibility to provide a more differentiated curriculum across subject areas. As part of a strategic plan, hiring additional teachers must be accompanied by mentoring and training in advanced learning. Advanced learning can present in many different forms, depending on the gender and cultural background of the student. As a school district, it is our responsibility to ensure that we have the tools and capability to identify and support advanced learners of all backgrounds. Pia has a deep understanding and passion for supporting the needs of the wide variety of advanced learners, including those who are not traditionally identified as such by our current system. And she is committed to devoting resources and developing the necessary consensus within our district to meet those needs more effectively.
ADVOCATING FOR STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS:
As many students with disabilities are being educated in mainstreamed classrooms, we must ensure that OSS and Gen Ed departments are collaborating closely to ensure that our classrooms are a model of true inclusion. It’s not enough to allow students with diverse learning needs to have a seat at the table. True inclusion means that students are provided with whatever support and accommodations are necessary so that they are contributing in a meaningful way alongside their peers at the table.
In general, we should be doing more to build on the diverse strengths of our students. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and in general, we should ensure that our schools more consistently build upon the strengths and interests of our students. Joy of learning, inquiry-based learning- these philosophies should be the backbone of our schools.
CONTROLLED CHOICE AND BILINGUAL EDUCATION
Pia prioritizes bilingual education and wants to increase support for our bilingual programs, and she supports providing funding for high-quality world language instruction across the elementary schools. In her work as a speech pathologist, Pia has seen how learning a second language can improve children’s overall language abilities. As a district, we need to prioritize not just the subject matter that shows up on standardized tests; we need to prioritize language-learning and story-telling in different languages; understanding other cultures and languages is an important part of being a citizen of a multi-cultural community.
CURRICULUM AND PROGRAMS
a) ELEMENTARY GRADES AND PRE-K:
For children with special needs, early identification and evidence-based interventions are crucial. The same goes for children with Advanced Learning needs. As a district, we need to be well-equipped to be able to identify and serve the wide variety of students’ needs early on. Some accommodations need to be addressed individually; others can be built into the curriculum. For example, children with ADHD are able to improve their ability to focus if given movement breaks. But rather than singling out one child for a movement break, teachers should be given the flexibility to provide an extra recess to the entire class.
Pia is committed to advocating for play-based Universal Pre-K across the district. She has already begun the work of reaching out to early childhood specialists in our district to make this a reality. Research has shown that good-quality Universal Pre-K can reduce inequalities in our system. To Pia, quality in early education means play-based, inquiry-based programs, staffed with teachers who are trained in developmentally appropriate, play-based early education, along with wraparound services for children in need.
b) UPPER SCHOOLS:
Supporting behavioral and emotional needs is crucial. We have additional social workers this year- that is an important first step in addressing these needs. We can do better about implementing wraparound services and other evidence-based approaches more consistently across the district. At some schools, restorative justice, PBIS, and Cognitive Problem-Solving are utilized successfully; we can build upon these successes by implementing more widely.
Approach to Discipline: Evidence-based practices in our schools’ approach to discipline must be implemented more consistently across all four upper schools and at the high school. Together with her CPAC co-chairs, Pia advocated for PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports) to be utilized consistently across the district. She knows that providing training and follow-through on use of evidence-based practices such as PBIS and Restorative Justice will provide students with better coping skills, will improve school culture, and will reduce the symptoms of a school-to-prison pipeline. Pia has already begun this conversation with district administrators; if elected she will be in a position to “hit the ground running” in moving our district towards a more consistent implementation of best practices.
Advocating for Family Liasons: For years, families have been requesting that Family Liasons be provided at the four Upper Schools. Pia believes that in order to improve two-way communication with families, families must have a point person at each school who has the time to respond to families’ questions and the ability to find answers. Technology can be useful in some situations in terms of getting messages out to families. But in many cases, families require a person who can respond to their concerns in a timely manner. Pia is committed to advocating for providing Family Liasons at the four Upper Schools.
Pia believes in providing a rich curriculum across the district. Middle schoolers should have access to Debate Team, arts, music, theater, and sports. Currently these are provided piecemeal. Some schools do a fantastic job of building these into the school day to provide a rich curriculum for our students. We should be building upon the programs that are working well and utilize our rich resources to provide these consistently across all four schools.
c.) HIGH SCHOOL/ BLACK LIVES MATTER:
Pia believes that it is very problematic that students in honors classes are mostly white. Pia believes in creating a strategic plan to address this issue. A strategic plan should include improvements to academic counseling, family engagement, and piloting a co-teaching model in some honors classes.
Pia supports the School Committee in their commitment to recruit more teachers of color in our schools. Recruiting teachers of color should be a part of a district-wide strategic plan to improve cultural competency across schools and departments. Further, Pia would like to see Black History and Civil Rights classes, as well as workshops on current events added to the range of offerings at CRLS. If social justice is part of the mission of our schools, then our curriculum should reflect that.
Pia will bring collaboration, leadership, and understanding to the School Committee in order to serve our students.
What people are saying:
"I endorse Pia as a candidate who supports play-based early education." -- Diane Levin, Cambridge resident and Professor of Early Childhood Ed., Wheelock College
"I'm giving Pia my #1 vote - she's committed to child-centered education here in Cambridge and has the knowledge, experience and wisdom we need in our School Committee members. Less Testing, More Learning!" -- Antonia Foster, CPS Parent
"I am supporting Pia Cisternino for Cambridge School Committee. Pia is a much needed voice for developmentally appropriate practices in the early grades. As a kindergarten teacher for many years, I am disheartened at the direction learning in the early years is headed. Research tells us that young children learn best by hands-on experiences in collaboration with other children and adults, around themes that interest them. Yet I see blocks, sand tables, water tables and dramatic play areas disappearing from classrooms. Pia is a strong advocate for pushing back against this trend. She knows the kind of learning that will best prepare children for life in the 21st century." -- Jim St. Clair, Teacher
CCTV candidate video (2015)
|Page last updated Saturday, October 24, 2015 8:53 PM||Cambridge Candidates|