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Will MacArthur is a new candidate this year.
I also saw that far too many other students weren't given the same advantages that I, as a white, straight, cisgender male without physical or learning differences, had taken for granted. I've lost track of the number of friends I've had tell me that they feel left out or left behind because of their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, physical or mental illness, or any of myriad other identities that make it difficult to take advantage of what our district has to offer.
Cambridge Public Schools are complex, but my goal for this campaign is simple. I hope to bridge the gaps in this district: between students and administrators; between elementary schools, Upper Schools, and CRLS and the Extension Program; between CPSD and the larger Cambridge community; and most importantly, between the many different students of as many identities who come to this district for an education, whether for one year or 13.
I want to unite Cambridge, and I hope you're with me.
Vision for CPSD:
In the elementary schools, where we are varies wildly depending on which of our 12 schools you attend. Some schools have waiting lists far longer than their rosters, while others have empty seats in almost every grade as families look elsewhere for education. Our system of Controlled Choice is designed to guarantee equitable access to our highest performing elementary schools regardless of race, income, or neighborhood, and has constraints in place to ensure that each school looks like the whole district to a degree in terms of socioeconomic status, but it only works as well as its weakest link, which in my opinion is outreach. The first round of the controlled choice lottery takes place in January, nine months before the first day of kindergarten, and the CPSD controlled choice plan states that "Families will be notified that they will have the greatest chance of receiving one of their choices if they register during the first registration cycle, held in January of each year." I believe that the first round of the lottery should be held as close to the beginning of the school year as possible without compromising teacher preparation and instructional quality, and I will express and fight for this view in School Committee and subcommittee meetings when the parameters of controlled choice are reassessed each year. I also think that much stronger outreach is necessary to involve families in the process as early as possible to give them more time to determine their lottery choices, and I would fight for an outreach budget that better reflects the district's commitment to equitable access to kindergarten and elementary schools for all.
Increasing equity of access to top elementary schools will likely make a dent in the real and perceived quality gap between the schools, but we also need more comprehensive data about the factors that families consider desirable and undesirable in elementary schools. There are so many variables in elementary school choice in this district: language immersion opportunities, middle school feeder patterns, MCAS scores and score trends, quality of facility, curriculum, neighborhood, start time, and general philosophy all vary between the 12 CPSD elementary schools. To truly make every school desirable, we must gather comprehensive data from incoming kindergarten parents each year not just about what schools they ranked highly, but about why. This will let the district expand popular offerings to all schools and rectify real and perceived shortcomings. It will also put data behind an idea that many teachers and administrators likely already know; CPSD families come to the district with different concepts of what constitutes an optimal school, and we can better serve everyone if we unabashedly embrace a diversity of offerings between elementary schools rather than a standardization. This will bring controlled choice closer to what I see as an ideal function: to help families choose the best school for their needs, not simply to lottery off spots in a few universally acknowledged great schools.
The Innovation Agenda created 4 upper schools with 2-3 feeder elementary schools each, and a large part of its unrealized potential is in fostering meaningful friendships between students and families in these elementary schools. Many current and former upper school students whom I have spoken with have mentioned that their close friends throughout upper school were the people from their elementary schools. To encourage the wider social circles made possible by the Innovation Agenda, the School Committee should be doing much more to encourage connections between families in the same upper school triad as early as kindergarten, especially through stronger collaboration with the City Council and other agencies around out-of-school time. The city has invested money in a beautiful new campus for the Putnam Ave Upper School, a completely new building is going up on Cambridge Street, and both Vassal Lane and Rindge Ave have solid facilities, especially in terms of field space; the School Committee should take advantage of this by supporting collaboration between elementary and upper school administrators to host regular sports, arts, and other activities for future students at each upper school as early as possible.
Each upper school faces its own school-specific challenges, and several are dealing with high teacher turnover and inadequate communication with elementary and high school staff. In their fifth year, the upper schools are maturing to the point that we can begin to identify which problems are structural and which ones were merely associated with the transition. To that end, the most important thing that the School Committee can do in the next term is to listen to upper school students, families, teachers, and administrators. I will encourage the Superintendent to maintain the Innovation Agenda as a standing agenda item on the School Committee agenda to allow anyone to comment on any upper-school-related issues during any public comment period, and will work to make a similar allowance in subcommittee meetings. I will also work to host school-based community meetings in upper schools with at least two School Committee members present at least three times per semester. As a symbol of a shift toward listening to the upper schools, I will push the School Committee to initiate a school renaming process for all four schools and encourage school communities to name their schools over Cantabrigians from historically marginalized populations and identities. I hope to use the publicity around this to promote what I hope will be a larger pattern of listening and learning from upper school communities by the School Committee.
The transition from upper schools to CRLS is often fraught. Our 8th grade orientation night is a start, but the School Committee can play a much bigger part in encouraging connections. Resources for a Club Day at the high school for pre-freshmen, more busses to the high school on specific days would foster stronger connections based on extracurricular interests in the mode of the existing All-City Band, Chorus, and Orchestra, and curriculum conferences for grade-level team leaders in the same subject from across the district. The transition is also made more complicated by the fact that a large and increasing number of students come from out of district, including many from other parts of the world and about 40 per year over the past few years from private schools in the area. I hope to bring access to our top-tier athletics, theater, and other extracurriculars that begin before the school year does to all students by giving the Visual and Performing Arts department and the Athletic department the necessary funding to work with community and neighborhood associations and staff at public and private middle schools to publicize deadlines, auditions, and tryouts. I also would vote in favor of most funding allocations and other policy orders dedicated to special transition programs for students coming to CPSD from outside of the district.
Our civic conversation around CRLS during municipal election seasons has done a great job identifying its strengths; top level athletic teams and arts companies and amazing extracurricular activities, top-tier academics, and amazing teachers in every subject. There's been much less discussion about the high school's core weaknesses; lack of equitable access to these resources and the breakdown of community in a school increasingly divided along race and class lines. While the School Committee and district administrators, teachers, and students can discuss the relative merits of tracking at each grade level and within each subject, I think it's important to do this with the understanding that tracking as currently conceived has contributed to a climate of racial and socioeconomic division. Every School Committee candidate each year says that they want to close the "achievement gap." Who wouldn't? There is a difference, however, between the desire to close the opportunity gap in theory and the willingness to prioritize this goal over other ones in practice, especially when speakers at committee meetings are eager to stand up for many academic programs as currently conceived. When an effort to close the gap comes before the School Committee, I will evaluate it on its merits, but I will do so with closing the gap especially emphasized as a main district focus, rather than just as one goal among many. My vision of CPSD does not oppose academic excellence; on the contrary, I think that the district will continue to do a phenomenal job teaching our best students, and I will fight to preserve productive partnerships with universities and forge new ones, and to keep AP classes at CRLS. But we cannot let the desire for slightly better academic opportunities for our most advantaged students get in the way of the fundamental right to a quality education for our most vulnerable ones, and I will prioritize the latter when the two appear in conflict.
Our district is incredibly complex, and I don't envision a School Committee that tries to govern it like an executive body; that is the superintendent's responsibility. The School Committee should serve as a conduit of information and priorities between our students, teachers, administrators, and parents and the superintendent's office. I will attempt to immerse myself as thoroughly as possible in school communities, listening to every stakeholder and communicating their priorities. I will work to strengthen discussion between the Committee and teachers in the district, and as a symbol of this spirit of collaboration I will push to add "Classroom Instruction" to the standing agenda to allow any CPSD classroom teacher to make public comment at any meeting regardless of that meeting's specific agenda I will fight for a more inclusive School Committee meeting structure that respects the time of members of the public by strongly discouraging the tabling of motions on the agenda and relaxes the germaneness requirement for public comment. The School Committee is charged with developing priorities for CPSD, but our priorities should come from the people who best know our schools; students, teachers, administrators, and parents.
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