My name is Jake Crutchfield, and I am a Cambridge resident who is passionate about education. I’ve taught in classrooms from as far away as China to right here in Cambridge. For the last 2 years, I’ve worked as a substitute teacher in the Cambridge Public School District, serving as a community organizer to connect students to Out-of-School time programs, and playing a significant role as a member of the city’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) working group. I am the only candidate with in-classroom teaching experience in the Cambridge Public Schools within the past decade.
While getting my Masters in Secondary Education and Political Science at Lesley University I made the decision to gain more classroom experience as a substitute teacher in the Cambridge Public School District. Working as a substitute provided the best hands on learning I could ask for. I spent time in classrooms from kindergarten to twelfth grade, and taught subjects from special education to art. All of which has exposed me to a wide range of learning experiences, people, and school communities. I am actually the only candidate with in-classroom teaching experience in the Cambridge Public Schools.
To become more involved in the community, I started an after school class that develops students' critical thinking skills through structured inquiry – modeled on the Socratic Seminar. The city has taken notice. This teaching model is now being integrated into instructional training for the Agenda for Children. I also joined a working group convened by Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan and City Councillor Nadeem Mazen to determine how best to coordinate the STEAM focused programs in Cambridge – work that saw a significant financial commitment from the City Manager towards implementing the group’s recommendations. I spent – and still spend – countless hours volunteering, tutoring, and learning alongside community organizations throughout the city. Education has become the center of my life, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Every child deserves an education that takes into account their unique learning needs. In Cambridge, we’re lucky to have the resources to do this, but we need to coordinate more efficiently. If elected, I will use same approach I’ve brought with me to teaching, community organizing, and policy work: working one on one with teachers and families to find the best solution for each student’s development. I humbly ask for your #1 vote on November 3rd.
On the Issues
3 Areas of Focus
- Building on our Best Practices:The Cambridge Public Schools district boasts exceptional teachers, unique institutional resources, and high expenditure per student. Our students are in great, capable hands. To further develop our strengths and determine where we need to improve, we must comprehensively evaluate the programs already in place. If elected, I’ll ensure this is process is collaborative, with meaningful input from teachers, parents, and even students from across the district.
- Working Better, Together: Every member of our educational community wants the best for our students. Unfortunately, this goodwill often translates into a high volume of initiatives, programs, and requirements that actually detract from student learning. Teachers take months to master new initiatives only to find them scrapped in favor of new requirements, while department chairs, administrators, and School Committee members legislate in silos, without clear lines of communication. Moreover, our focus on data has distracted us from real, on-the-ground engagement. To create educational policies that enhance classroom learning our process must be collaborative and teacher-driven.
Our teachers are not simply top quality, they are the foremost experts on Cambridge classrooms. Only with their meaningful involvement can we bridge the gap between policy and classroom learning. Additionally, we may want to consider a pause on new initiatives to properly evaluate the effectiveness of those currently in place. In my teaching and community work, I’ve prioritized open dialogue and collaborative decision making – both of which I’ll continue to promote if elected to the School Committee.
- Strengthening Community Engagement: Our university, non-profit, business, tech, art, and trade communities provide unique opportunities for Cambridge students. Research demonstrates that out-of-school time enrichment has a positive effect on classroom achievement. I believe strongly that no student should be without an after-school or summer program. We have the resources.
Expanding access requires a greater commitment to on-the-ground engagement, which means meeting families where they are, in their communities. Whether it’s door knocking, distributing pamphlets that list the services available through the schools, or consistently holding open forums around the community, we must make the same commitment to outreach that defines election season all year round.
The Innovation Agenda and the Need for a 5 Year Strategic Plan
Almost five years have passed since the Innovation Agenda was first implemented, and in retrospect, it’s clear there were serious flaws in this process. The Upper Schools still lack Family Liaisons despite repeated requests from families, teachers, and parents, and – contrary to the Innovation Agenda’s original goal – students are still arriving to the high school with significant discrepancies in their education.
The next five years require a more complete vision for our schools. If we are serious about educational equity, a structure that empowers teachers as the foremost experts in Cambridge, and students receiving a world class education, then we must create a truly comprehensive 5 year district improvement plan (DIP), similar to the work already performed in Boston and Brookline. While “planning” is a loaded word in Cambridge, a DIP could be the catalyst for clearer communication around the district, stronger collaboration between teachers, administrators, community partners, and School Committee members, and closing the achievement gap in all grades.
A DIP would clarify each employee’s role and responsibilities, provide appropriate guidelines for Professional Development and curriculum, and otherwise provide a framework for each school to align their programming with. As our school improvement and curriculum development will stem from the DIP, the drafting process will require a multi pronged approach. While I have no doubt our data analysis and research will be rigorous, our outreach and community involvement in this process must be equally robust. I will knock on every door and hold meetings in every apartment building in Cambridge if it means we have a plan that represents everyone – and I will work collaboratively with my colleagues and the administration to make this happen.
Cambridge has a clear socioeconomic and racial divide, with the Achievement Gap still a consistent issue for the Cambridge Public Schools. Bridging the gap requires a profound change in the way we approach poverty and achievement in our schools.
Academic consensus increasingly demonstrates the value of a holistic education. Students need skills in Math, Science, and Language Arts to succeed in modern society. It is equally clear students best retain these skills when taught in a hands-on, creative way that treats the student as a partner in their education. We cannot legislate educational policy from the top down and expect meaningful impact. Our educational policy must stem from the question “how do students learn best?” As a graduate of Lesley University’s Graduate School of Education, and as a licensed teacher in Massachusetts, I know that teachers are best equipped to shape our policies. And, as a community organizer around education, I know we need to reach out directly to the students and families that need our services the most. It is from these perspectives that I view the following priorities for closing the Achievement Gap:
- Building a professional roadmap. The positive effect ofbeing exposed to the professional world at a young age often flies under the radar. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons cited by professional success stories and a common thread linking them with colleagues who came from means. With Cambridge’s incredible resources there is no reason our low socioeconomic students and students of color cannot all have internships and apprenticeships throughout the city. The value of these experiences cannot be understated. Through consistent exposure to STEAM focused programs, students will leave the school system equipped to follow their dreams, no matter which career they choose.
- Consistent outreach year round. The educational programming available in Cambridge is exceptional. Yet, when examining participation rates in after-school and summer programs there’s a clear lack of low socioeconomic status students participating. Moreover, the families of these students are are rarely able to be present at School Committee and School Council related meetings. Our open door policy is not enough. We must reach these families where they are, in their community. Holding forums in public housing, hiring street workers, and even offering child care at School Committee meetings would provide greater access to the services offered throughout Cambridge to the families in need of them most.
- Focus on learning, not outcomes. Assessment and professional development are two indispensable tools for educators. They are not, however, foundations of educational policies, nor are they appropriate use in every circumstance – despite their ubiquity in our schools. When testing dominates the school year and an overload of initiatives prevent teachers from planning long term units or differentiating instruction our low socioeconomic status students suffer the most. Our district needs to determine which district assessments are useful for teachers, and which are superfluous. Furthermore, we must relax the numerous requirements asked of teachers. We must trust their expertise and be responsive to their needs. A classroom focused on helping students grow will ultimately yield better outcomes than a classroom obsessed with remaining accountable.
- Emphasize Rindge School of Technical Arts. In the excitement over the 21st Century tech economy – and there’s a lot to be excited about – the value of a trade education has been obscured. College is not the right option for all students. Too many of our students enter college only to leave within a few years without a degree and having accrued large student debt. A trade education is valuable, more interesting to many of our students, and can lead to high paying jobs in Cambridge. The Rindge School of Technical Arts is an outstanding trade program and it should be presented as a viable alternative to two and four year college.
Relationship with the Superintendent and School Community
The Superintendent is – as is literally stated in his or her contract – the CEO of the Cambridge Public Schools. They are responsible for the day to day operations and structure of the school district, and his or her relationship with the School Committee can come to define our schools. Successfully evaluating the Superintendent and hiring his or her successor are among the most important duties entrusted to the School Committee. The process that took place during the summer and the fall did not meet the standards Cambridge families deserve. Individual evaluations held discrepancies, the composite evaluation left out significant reservations from some committee members, and it took a Freedom of Information Act request by two City Council candidates for the evaluations to be made publicly available. Distressingly, the evaluation was not even conducted last year.
We are better than this. The Superintendent should be evaluated every year, without fail, and both the individual and composite evaluations should be made available to the public expeditiously. If elected, I will lead on this issue, ensuring the evaluation process happens when it’s supposed to, with the utmost respect for all involved.
The School Committee is required to make decisions from a very high altitude. While this distance from the classroom affords greater objectivity, decisions from the School Committee don’t always reflect the needs of teachers and administrators. The School Committee needs a greater level of in-classroom knowledge to effectively govern the district.
Attending School Council meetings, holding lunch hours in the schools, and appropriately scheduled school visits would give committee members an enriched understanding of each school’s unique needs – without the stigma of micromanagement.
The School Committee could also formally include teachers in the legislative process. Some concrete ideas:
- A consulting body made up of teachers from every school and administration could be formed to advise the School Committee on curriculum related matters.
- School Committee members could submit proposed legislation to teachers union reps for feedback from district educators.
- A 360 review process would provide all members of the school district with meaningful feedback.
I have a record of building consensus with diverse stakeholders and I will do so again to ensure the Cambridge Public School District is a collaborative, productive community for teachers, administrators, families, and students.
It’s no secret that Cambridge has struggled to adequately serve exceptional learners in the past. Fortunately, the district is finally moving in the right direction, with praise due to Victoria Greer, Paula Feynman, and the Office of Student Services for their work setting a clear direction for Special and Gifted Education across the district. It is now the School Committee’s job to support this work. Particularly encouraging are moves to:
- Create a district wide procedural handbook detailing identification, referral, data collection and evaluation, and other protocol.
- Implement a triennial review cycle while allowing appropriate revisions in the interim.
- Explore new channels of communication to ensure all families have access to services.
- Align curriculum and professional development initiatives with the ongoing professional development committee work.
- Incorporate best practices accounting for the asymmetrical development of advanced learners.
- Implement new curriculum framework that promotes higher level critical thinking skills while accounting for measurability and differentiation of content.
- Disseminate information on available services in multiple languages.
These, as well as other proposed goals demonstrate a commitment to more holistic supports for exceptional learners. I will be an enthusiastic partner for the Office of Student Services, C-PAC, and CALA as we begin implementing these objectives.
I would also encourage the district to collaborate with our community partners to assist immigrant communities we have had difficulty reaching. Many prominent public housing communities have resident liaisons who provide educational materials to tenants, and organizations like the Community Learning Center provide educational services to ELL residents. We should build stronger connections with these, and other organizations so every exceptional student has access to the programs our district has on offer. Research also demonstrates cultural differences often impact families approach to advocacy. These institutions could help bridge that gap as well.
My name is Jake and I’m a Cambridge teacher who’s passionate about education. My love of teaching has seen me working in classrooms from China to right here in Cambridge. In fact, since I arrived in Cambridge two and a half years ago, I’ve dedicated myself to substitute teaching in the Cambridge Public School District and community organizing to connect students to Out-of-School Time programs. I’ve also taken on a key role as a member of the city’s STEAM working group in advancing STEAM education for all our students. Please take a moment to read about my campaign for School Committee and goals for improving our schools.
Building on Better Practices
STEAM: Cambridge, as a city, has embraced STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) learning and hosts excellent Out-of-School time (OST) programs. We can improve even further by better coordinating our OST programs and reinforcing the Arts in STEAM.
Testing: I am firmly opposed to excessive testing, including the PARCC and MKEA exams. The Cambridge Public School District must find a better balance between the need for periodic examinations and student development. I will advocate for more holistic methods of assessment, like project-based learning and portfolio building so our students are meeting high standards without sacrificing their valuable classroom time.
Universal Pre-K: It is crucial we take the necessary steps to provide Universal Pre-K to every child in Cambridge. Programs like Baby U and Special Start exemplify the strong network of early education programs currently available in the city. These models should be expanded so all children have the same access.
Working Better, Together
School Interactivity: Our current system of elementary schools feeding up into the upper schools presents a great opportunity for schools to interact amongst each other, and build on the concept that we are one, united Cambridge community. We should encourage our curriculum development to help our elementary schools collaborate on joint projects while in fourth and fifth grade to build student relationships before heading into the upper schools.
Communication Between School & After-School: We need to increase the amount of communication between OST and CPSD communities. These two groups spend the most time with our students but operate without coordination between each other. We should be inviting OST workers to volunteer time in the classrooms so they can learn from teacher approaches and observe the needs of students directly in the school environment.
Strengthening Community Involvement
Engaging with Schools: School committee members should spend time in schools to learn from teachers and students and better understand the issues they legislate. Being physically present will inform school committee members of each school’s particular learning style, from the Montessori style of learning provided at Tobin to the technology-focused environment of Kennedy-Longfellow School. I will work together with the administration to ensure school committee members become an ally inside, as well as outside the classroom.
Strengthening University Relationships: Cambridge should expand pre-existing partnerships with neighboring universities Lesley, Cambridge College, M.I.T., and Harvard. Lesley graduate students could gain classroom experience as substitute teachers and high school students could audit M.I.T. and Harvard classes. Our universities can provide world-class programs for our children both in and out of the classroom.
Wider Variety of Internship Programs: We need to work more effectively with the business community to ensure every student has the chance for a meaningful internship at one of Cambridge’s incredible businesses. Our biomedical industries provide a solid foundation, but engaging with the city’s strong network of artists, small businesses, and technology companies will provide a broader range of opportunities for our children.
CCTV candidate video (2015)