Laurance Kimbrough

Laurance Kimbrough
2017 Candidate for Cambridge School Committee

Home address:
24 Aberdeen Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138

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Laurance Kimbrough is a new candidate this year.

Statement for 2017 Election
It is with much excitement that I announce my intention to run for the Cambridge School Committee in 2017. As a lifelong Cambridge resident, parent of a rising junior kindergartener, former Cambridge Public Schools employee, and current member of the City's Police Review and Advisory Board, my wide range of experiences makes me uniquely qualified to serve all Cambridge families.

A New Direction for Boys
My desire to serve on the Cambridge School Committee is deeply personal. Within the past calendar year, two of my classmates from CRLS have died from drug overdoses. Additionally, one other classmate and two former students (who I met while doing my student-teaching at CRLS) have been murdered because of their involvement in illicit drug sales. Significantly, all of these victims were men.

In the Cambridge Public Schools, boys are three times more likely to be disciplined than girls (MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, “2015-16 Student Discipline Data Report”). Coupled with the fact that boys and men are far less likely to seek help or counseling, I believe we have a boys’/men’s health crisis that is impacting us all.

The Cambridge Public Schools need to think differently about supporting the emotional health and development of the boys who will one day grow up to be men. And while these numbers are not unique to Cambridge, the Cambridge Public Schools should be at the forefront in addressing this national health crisis.

Improving Achievement for All Students Through Engagement
“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
— Albert Einstein

I believe the Cambridge Public Schools have an engagement gap. Not enough of our scholars are fully engaged in learning within our schools because it is challenging, rewarding, and personally meaningful. During my time as a special education teacher, guidance counselor, and tennis coach at CRLS, many of my highest achieving students were simply “doing school,” while others felt little motivation and interest to take full advantage of the education afforded them.

I recall a time in 2013 when I complimented a pair of my students who were hard at work on an AP AB calculus problem. I praised their love of math and told them we needed more students engaged and loving math because it is a language tool we can use to solve so many of the world’s problems. One was quick to correct me however, stating that she hated math and was only taking AP AB Calculus so she could get into a good college. Improving the type of achievement that looks good on a transcript or increases test scores is NOT the type of achievement I want to improve. Interestingly, high achievement is a byproduct of true educational engagement.

The kind of achievement I am interested in improving for all students is more value-driven and individual than anything that is measured by thick admissions envelopes, AP or honors classes, MCAS scores, or grades earned. Can we measure achievement by how effectively schools and educators help students and families meet their own personal goals for academic success, improvement, engagement, character growth, moral development, and community activism? I believe that we can.

We must allocate resources and enact policies to eliminate the achievement gap in the Cambridge Public Schools. And yet, we must resist the temptation as educators, policymakers, parents, and community members to only measure outcomes that can be counted easily. What good is an acceptance letter from Harvard if the boy receiving it is catcalling girls in the hallway? Is it more valuable for students to take AP Environmental Science, or to understand the importance of recycling and energy conservation in relation to climate change? Should we prioritize students passing the MCAS at the expense of creating lifelong learners? If a student earns an “A” in US History, but chooses not to vote upon turning 18, did the individual truly learn anything?

I see engagement in school as a prerequisite for a different type of achievement that I believe, we as Cantabrigians, want to measure. Fulfilling our district’s stated goal of “educating all students well” starts with instilling a love of learning in them. It continues when curricula are meaningful, challenging, and force students to think critically about and participate in the world around them. If elected, I will never lose sight of “what really counts,” as closing the engagement gap will be part of my core values when evaluating the growth of our school district.

Black Lives Matter!
During the 2015-16 school year, Black students in the Cambridge Public Schools were 5 times more likely to be disciplined and 3.6 times more likely to be suspended compared with their white peers. Black students made up 25.5% of the student population, while 40.2 % were white. (MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, “2015-16 Student Discipline Data Report”). I believe our schools must be at the forefront of creating equity within our city and dismantling the legacy of white supremacy and white privilege within Cambridge, not perpetuating it.

Lift Every Voice – Especially Those of Our Most Vulnerable
In Cambridge, we have a problematic tendency to give our focus, attention, and people-power to the families who make the most noise. I believe this has created a chasm in the Cambridge Public Schools between the haves and the have-nots, that leaves our city's most vulnerable students and families voiceless. If elected, I will always speak up for those who have been rendered mute through years of oppression and discrimination. I will also work to create policies within our schools to ensure that all Cambridge Public Schools families have a voice, not only the "squeakiest wheels" who regularly dominate the conversations.

The Race to Nowhere
The gap between the haves and have-nots in America has risen, and as a result, the importance of landing in the “have” category has increased. Our democracy and our government officials at the national level have let us all down, and many of us believe that our country is headed in the wrong direction…and has been for decades. A 2014 Wall Street Journal poll showed that 76% of Americans believe their kids' generation would not fare better than their own. These fears have seeped into our schools. Parents are increasingly placing more emphasis on preparing students to attend highly selective colleges and universities, in hopes that this will give them the edge to secure their futures in the "haves" category. Economist and former President of Vassar College Catharine Bond Hill describes this phenomenon well: "The reward for getting into the top x percent of the income distribution now is a multiple of what is was 30 or 40 years ago. And people now believe that the access to a higher income comes through these elite schools" (qtd. in Frank Bruni's 2015 book Where You Go Is Not Who You Will Be).

And yet as a parent, I believe that what we want most for our children is not only for them to be happy, but also for them to be engaged in their own academic growth. As adults, we should be more interested in our kids' "eulogy virtues" than "character virtues." (David Brooks’ 2015 The Road to Character). The desire for our students to do well in school for the sake of college admissions puts us on a "race to nowhere," making learning a competitive battle with others rather than an engaging, fulfilling journey to figure out who we are, what our values are, and what type of person we want to become. If we believe in social justice in Cambridge, then education cannot be a competition where we compare our kid's success to that of our neighbors. We must put into practice the belief that all kids in our community and our school system deserve the best schools, the best educators, and the best opportunity for personal fulfillment and success. I believe this is at the heart of a social justice education.

Charter Schools
I am not a supporter of charter schools. And yet, this past fall, I voted in support of Question 2 (state ballot question to lift the cap on charter schools in MA) because of the Cambridge Public Schools' poor history of creating equitable educational experiences for all families. Many African-American families in Cambridge have given up on our district public schools and believe that their children can receive a better education at The Benjamin Banneker School, Prospect Hill Academy, or The Community Charter School of Cambridge. Despite the amazing opportunities afforded students within CPS, Black people have lost their trust in our schools. However, the reason I am not a proponent of charter schools is that families in Cambridge who choose to attend charter schools not only take valuable financial resources with them, but also take talented and gifted scholars out of the district schools and into charters. I believe these students are some of our city's most valuable resources.

Addressing the Lack of Educational Equity
A June 2017 presentation by the Cambridge Community Development Department titled “Cambridge Demographic Summary - Department of Human Service Programs” indicated that almost 20% of Black Cambridge residents over 25 do not have high school diplomas. In addition, Blacks in Cambridge aged 25 or older are just as likely to have only a high school degree as they are a college degree. These numbers lag far behind those of Asians, whites, and Latinos. And while this data does not include what percentage of Blacks living in Cambridge attended the Cambridge Public Schools, it does show us that the legacy of slavery and white supremacy is alive in Cambridge.

The most recent data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website shows that after finishing CRLS, Black, white, Latino, and Asian students attend higher education in high numbers. However, Blacks and Latinos are 3.9 and 4.5 times more likely to attend community college than white students. Additionally, in the 2015-16 school year, white students were 5.7 times more likely than Black students to take an AP exam (MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, “2015-16 Advanced Placement Participation Report”). During my time working within the Cambridge Public Schools, both at the middle and high school level, some Black students believed that taking honors and AP classes was "acting white." I support the "Leveling Up" initiative at CRLS because it requires all students to take honors classes upon entering high school. This will hopefully decrease self-segregation in AP courses during junior and senior years and prepare more students of color to enter four-year public and private colleges and universities upon graduation from the Cambridge Public Schools.

Straight to Working for the City
I believe that our schools should play multiple roles in the development of our young people. The primary purpose is to create lifelong learners who are committed to civic engagement and work for social justice. Second, as Americans, we believe that education should create greater financial opportunities and social mobility for those who attain degrees.

The Cambridge School Department should be working with the Cambridge Fire and Police Departments, Cambridge Housing Authority, Cambridge Public Works, Department of Human Services, Information Technology, and Traffic/Parking/Transportation to provide career pathways for students. This should include job shadowing opportunities and internships, and ensure that there are job openings in the city for CRLS graduates who want them. This would not only begin to address the employment and income gaps between racial cohorts within the city, but put CPS graduates on a path towards financial independence. I believe this will make our graduates more likely to be fully engaged in Cambridge civic life and our national democracy.

Carrying the Torch
My father, Leslie Kimbrough, spent the majority of his adult life working in the Cambridge Public Schools. He championed educational equity and opportunity. He worked tirelessly to build relationships with his fellow educators and the young people he worked with at CRLS. Around the time I was born, my father was demanding that the Cambridge Public Schools hire more educators of colors, even receiving death threats for standing up for his beliefs. I am confident that the Cambridge families and educators who have worked with both my father and me know that "the apple doesn't fall from the tree."

The last conversation I had with my father before he passed was about educational equity, academically engaging and socially relevant curriculum, and the need to continue to hire more men of color within our public schools. I will never forget that conversation. All Cantabrigians who knew Leslie Kimbrough should know that the torch has indeed been passed. If elected to the Cambridge School Committee, I will carry on my father's legacy and strive to make our schools better for all students.

Standardized Testing:
I have run into two recent CRLS graduates who are currently homeless. What good is a standardized test if questions being asked to not help improve their chances of success in life?

Yes these minimum compentency exams are a part our current educational reality. What is clear is that as a district, we can't stop at MCAS 2.0 or PARCC as the standards for how we assess our students. All of our college bound students should be able to pass the accuplacer exam upon completing CRLS. And as a committee, we should be working with families, local universities, city agencies, local businesses that pay a living wage and ask them, "what should our graduates be able to do upon graduation to assure the future strength of our democracy?" These should be the standards that are most important and not anything that's on MCAS or PARCC.

Page last updated Saturday, October 7, 2017 10:41 PM Cambridge Candidates