Will MacArthur is a new candidate this year.
I've lived in Cambridge for 19 years, and I don't think I could have gotten a better education anywhere than I did from my 13 years in Cambridge Public Schools. I ran track for one of the top public high school teams in Massachusetts, played soccer against some of the top teams in the country, wrote for the oldest continuously published public high school newspaper in the country, researched Cambridge history in a dedicated public research room at the Cambridge public library, volunteered at the first student run homeless shelter in the United States, and got to watch my friends win state championships in basketball, go to finals in a theater festival, operate 3D printers in Engineering, and study academic disciplines spanning the breadth of human knowledge, from Epidemiology to Constitutional Law. Between when I first walked into Graham and Parks in September 2003 to when I crossed the stage in the field house of Cambridge Rindge and Latin in June 2016, I benefited from amazing teachers, inspiring peers, astonishing resources, caring administrators, and a district that was built to help me succeed.
I’m now a sophomore at Harvard studying sociology, and I think that Cambridge public schools prepared me incredibly well for any academic challenge. I hope to be a Cambridge parent some day and I would send my kids to Cambridge Public Schools in a heartbeat. I am running for School Committee because there are far too many of my classmates who can’t say the same with confidence because too often, getting the most out of Cambridge Public Schools requires intersecting identities of privilege.
I’m a Cambridge kid who is running because our schools need to do better for every Cambridge kid and I don’t think that the district’s priorities reflect that right now. 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.
- Closing the Opportunity Gap
- I believe that this should be the district’s top priority. I support detracking Math and Science classes through the end of 8th grade and English and History classes through the end of 9th grade, hiring more teachers of color and better supporting the faculty members of color already in the district, launching a district-wide review of race and extracurricular activities, and working with the City Council to identify and reduce out-of-school obstacles around internet access, housing, and food insecurity for students. While I recognize that there are multiple views on how to solve this problem, I believe that solving it must be the central goal of the district over the next several years, and I would evaluate every proposal that comes before the School Committee around curriculum and achievement with this goal in mind.
- Civic Engagement
- I believe that our schools and our city work best when students are actively engaged in the civic process. I supported this concept when I produced School Committee candidate profiles for the CRLS Register Forum in 2015 and when I pushed the CRLS student government to use Proportional Representation in their elections, I have made it a central part of my campaign by engaging CRLS students in key roles, and I would make it a priority of the School Committee by pushing for curriculum on the history of activism in Cambridge, engaging students in a process to rename the Upper Schools, and visiting every school for at least one full school day per school year to hear from students and teachers.
- Inclusive communities
- Our district can do more to make non-academic community events inclusive for women, low-income families, LGBTQ+ students, and families who speak a language other than English at home. I would seek a seat on the School Climate subcommittee to bring a focus to these issues, and among other things I would push for regular meetings between the Feminist Club and the district; a ticket fund to subsidize school event tickets for families who qualify for free or reduced lunch; gender-inclusive policies for bathroom designations, name change procedures, sports, and locker rooms; and a fund to pay student translators to translate the CRLS course catalogue, Schools at a Glance, and other important district documents into more languages than the three currently offered.
- Teacher voice
- I believe that teachers are in the best position to propose curriculum and program changes in the district and I would work to support the CPSD Design Lab and establish procedures to bring successful pilot programs to more schools. I also favor more open-ended professional development to allow teachers to communicate across schools and subject areas and share best practices while being paid for their time.
The top challenge facing CPSD today is the gap in achievement between white students and students of color, which is driven by a gap in opportunity between these groups. Regardless of how you evaluate it––MCAS scores, AP enrollment, pass rates in introductory college classes, high school grades, teacher recommendations for CP vs. honors classes––it is abundantly clear that students do not have comparable preparation for college and careers when they leave the district, and we must make closing the Opportunity Gap our top priority.
Innovation Agenda and middle schools:
Our middle schools are entering their sixth year, and many of the temporary frictional problems associated with school restructuring (e.g. high teacher and administrative turnover at the Vassal Lane Upper School) are close to being resolved. This does not mean we can be complacent about our Upper Schools. I would focus on two structural challenges in the schools.
- First, the dual-pathway math system has not narrowed gaps in achievement and opportunity in the middle schools, and we now have more 8th graders in both the Advanced and the Warning categories on MCAS than the state as a whole. To combat this bifurcation, I would push to:
- Keep every student in the same heterogeneous classrooms through 8th grade.
- Hire algebra coaches for each middle school to support teachers as they differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all of their students without tracking.
- Second, the middle schools should not be as isolated from families and from other schools as they have been over the past few years.
- Middle school teachers who wish to discuss curriculum and practice with their elementary school and high school colleagues should have a paid forum for this work in the form of at least two hours of paid professional development each month specifically for inter-school collaboration.
- The Middle School Network and FindIt are productive tools for out of school time, but for engagement with the school itself, families need full time family liaisons in each school.
School Department Administration and Superintendent:
Evaluating and hiring the Superintendent is one of the School Committee’s most important charter responsibilities. The Committee has an obligation to the Superintendent to communicate its standards to him clearly. To do this we should:
- Favor annual individual performance evaluations by each School Committee member over the composite evaluation that the School Committee has used in previous years.
- Communicate measurable goals around diversity and inclusion and closing the Opportunity Gap, especially in extracurricular activities, hiring, and other areas not measured by MCAS.
- Provide adequate resources for empirical examinationsof progress toward these goals by professional district data specialists rather than political figures.
School Department Budget and Oversight:
In my view, our district’s budget operation is quite strong and the budget process generally runs as smoothly as can reasonably be expected for a $184 million budget. If I were on the School Committee, I would see myself as an ambassador for public education spending to the rest of the city. We spend our money wisely as a district, but people can’t always see that our high per-pupil spending is necessary to deliver strong results in Cambridge. The School Committee should consistently explain our high per-pupil spending before skeptical residents and we should be proud of the commitment that we make to public education. Some specific ideas for bringing this about include:
- Contextualizing new expenditures in the budget book to acknowledge the gaps that new positions are filling and highlight the need for those positions.
- Acknowledging our unique situation as a district that is both highly resourced and high-needs to explain to residents and the City Councillor that comparisons to spending in Brookline and Newton should not dissuade us from our budgetary commitment to public education in Cambridge.
Achievement Gaps/Addressing the Needs of All Students:
Addressing gaps in achievement requires acknowledging gaps in opportunity and preparation, and I have devoted a platform plank to closing these gaps. My main ideas include:
- Reexamine Controlled Choice, and especially the confusing two-stage lottery system, to make sure that all families have the same chance of getting their most chosen schools.
- Set high standards for the High School Extension Program with commensurate school evaluation measures to ensure that universally high standards apply to all students regardless of which path they take to a high school diploma.
- Track student goals with an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) system similar to that used in the Philadelphia Public Schools. This system helps students take more ownership over their personal goals, is more flexible than traditional college-focused guidance, and can bring elementary school teachers into visioning conversations with their students.
- Prioritize recruitment and retention of teachers of color and cultural competency and trauma-informed education workshops for all teachers to build a teaching staff that contributes to safe and welcoming schools for all students.
- The rest of my plank is at www.willmacarthur.com/closing-the-opportunity-gap.html
Meeting the Needs of Advanced Learners:
The district has very strong programming available for advanced learners at the high school level, from advanced classes within the high school to out of school options through Harvard and MIT to independent study opportunities and TAing. Opportunities at the elementary and middle schools are less explicitly developed, but they include developmentally appropriate differentiated instruction and access to certain university summer programs. Therefore, our main goal around this issue should be making sure that our current opportunities are available to all advanced learners. To do this, we should:
- Reallocate co-teaching time (and hire more staff if necessary) to ensure that at least one Honors section of each subject for each grade level has a full time co-teacher to address accessibility issues for advanced students with learning disabilities.
- Support full leveling up of 9th grade English and History to help advanced students build confidence toward enrollment in an Honors 10th grade class.
- Work with the CRLS Math department to develop Math electives at the high school and give students enrichment opportunities outside of the demanding Math ladder.
- Combine the two pathways of Upper School Math to keep student in the same classroom through 8th grade and hire specialized Algebra coaches to support teachers as they differentiate instruction and make sure that students in every classroom have access to advanced material and support, regardless of whether they choose an accelerated path.
- Publicize scholarship opportunities for university-sponsored enrichment.
The purpose of Controlled Choice is to ensure that our elementary schools represent the socioeconomic and racial diversity of our district. This is not optional either morally or legally; we have an obligation to our students and to the courts to accomplish this goal, and every discussion of Controlled Choice should start with this framework. To do this better, we can:
- Combine the January lottery and the March lottery into one lottery in March. A lottery system that gives parents who are more informed a higher chance of getting into their top-choice school has no place in a system designed explicitly to promote equity. Conflicts with private school enrollment deadlines are not a valid reason to split the lottery like this.
- Give district parent liaisons the resources that they need to properly publicize Controlled Choice and its procedures.
- Advertise the positive traits that make each elementary school unique to remind parents that every school in Cambridge performs quite highly and break down stigmas associated with certain elementary schools.
- Work with FindIt Cambridge to track every family with a three-year-old before they begin interacting with the district and properly support them through the Controlled Choice process.
Family Engagement and Communication:
Family engagement in both academic and extracurricular life at schools is critical for student success. The district handles this quite well at the elementary level, but at the upper schools, high school, and districtwide, we can:
- Hire full-time family liaisons in each Upper School to give families a dedicated point person in school administration.
- Subsidize school event tickets for families that qualify for free and reduced lunch to reduce socioeconomic barriers for families to attend their children’s athletic and artistic competitions and performances.
- Hire student translators to ensure that the CRLS course catalogue and other key documents are available in more languages.
- Acknowledge the role that students already play, especially in immigrant families and families that speak a language other than English at home, as links between their families and the schools and work with students to promote family engagement. Backpack Express doesn’t take full advantage of the power that students have to build connections.
- Guarantee childcare for every School Committee meeting to remove a hurdle that families face in civic participation.
- Keep tests low-stakes by keeping test scores out of teacher evaluations and by working to identify legal methods of circumventing MCAS-based graduation requirements.
- Acknowledge the positive potential of MCAS from a policy analysis perspective and analyze disaggregated data publicly each year to evaluate our progress toward closing Achievement Gaps.
We also need to recognize that as one district, our ability to influence state policy is limited and that we have an obligation to protect our district and our schools from state intervention. Some test prep is necessary to keep our schools at or above Level 2.
Role of the School Committee:
The School Committee’s charter responsibilities are quite clear, and its primary legal responsibilities are to hire and evaluate the Superintendent and set the budget. Together, these two powers add up to a broader implied responsibility to develop a vision for an improved district and to oversee and evaluate progress toward its implementation. To me, this looks like:
- Comprehensive evaluation procedures: see “School Department Administration and Superintendent” section for more information.
- Specific prioritization of goals: I don’t disagree with any of the goals in the District Vision Plan Framework, but the document isn’t specific enough to give a clear vision for which of the many bold goals in it is most important. Prioritizing goals is less politically easy than setting them, but a legitimate vision that gives administrators clear and specific guidance about our priorities is a necessary step toward district improvement.
- Listening and learning from students and teachers in every school: if elected, I would spend at least one full school day in each of the eighteen schools in the district during my first six months to hear from students and teachers about their goals for the school.
- Listening and learning from each other: the School Committee has six members for a reason, and every candidate this year would bring their own unique experiences and qualifications to the body. I would strive to bring the humility and mutual respect to draw on the expertise of other members to every facet of the role. I would make relationship maintenance and collaboration a cornerstone of my service on the Committee.
- Maintaining School-City partnerships: our students don’t leave their lives at the doors of the schools, and partnerships with the city are key to make sure that students who are experiencing violence, housing and food insecurity, and other traumas receive proper care and that all students have a productive learning environment both inside and outside of the schools. Working closely with City Councillors helps maintain these partnerships.
Role of Teachers in Shaping Programs and Influencing Policies:
Supporting teachers is a priority for me, and I have devoted a platform plank to this goal. Some key points related improving the policy development process at every step from idea to district-wide implementation include:
- Implement paid time for open-ended professional collaboration across schools and subject to facilitate the interdisciplinary and interschool conversations that help teachers develop great ideas for district improvement.
- Maintain support for the CPSD Design Lab to incubate these ideas.
- Establish clear procedures for evaluating pilot programs in a reasonable timeframe so that successful teacher-driven initiatives can expand district-wide.
- Use Consensus-Based Bargaining procedures in contract negotiations.
Curriculum and Programs:
I believe that a lot of discretionary curriculum and program is best set by teachers and school-based administrators rather than the district, but I also support:
- Elementary grades
- Emphasize local education early to build a civic consciousness.
- Make universal 3rd-grade literacy an explicit district goal.
- Support earlier collaborations between the elementary schools in each middle school feeder triad to facilitate curriculum alignment and general collaboration.
- Middle grades
- Establish local history classes and launch a school naming contest at each school to encourage students to engage with the historical figures who have shaped Cambridge and fully utilize the Cambridge Room and the Cambridge Historical Commission’s incredible resources.
- Combine math tracks to avoid labeling students by perceived academic ability through the beginning of high school.
- Use the strength of CRLS extracurricular activities to enhance offerings in the middle schools by involving CRLS students in extracurricular planning on a middle school level.
- Prioritize 8th-to-9th grade transition planning and support.
- High school
- Support Level Up as originally proposed by CRLS teachers to bring both English and History classes to an entirely Honors model. This year’s English-only implementation is not the extent of the program’s potential.
- Expand math electives to bring them to par with those in the other three departments and give students more opportunity for academic enrichment.
- Track the demographic composition of extracurricular activities by race, gender, and socioeconomic status to identify and improve less inclusive activities.
- Language immersion programs
- Explore the feasibility of a second fully dual-immersion school for Mandarin and English modeled after the Amigos program.
- Hold language immersion programs that function as separate programs within schools for 50% or more of instructional time to the same standards for socioeconomic inclusion that all schools must meet under Controlled Choice.
- Extended Day programs
- Maintain strong partnerships with DHSP to develop more extended day programs that build on the success of the King Open Extended Day Program.
- Early childhood education
- Advocate for city-managed early childhood education programs that offer sliding scale tuition. This model successfully created high-quality mixed-income early childhood programs in San Antonio.
- Push for statewide implementation of universal early childhood education.
- Recognize the limitations of the School Committee on this issue. It may sound like a great idea, but becoming the first district in Massachusetts to give free early childhood education to all without a sliding scale or income qualification can very easily turn into a subsidy for wealthier families. Creating an open-ended obligation that is worth up to $30,000 per child in a highly mobile metropolitan area without a strong concept of how many new wealthy families will move to Cambridge to use it is not responsible for a small district.
- Socio-emotional learning
- Support Tier 1 interventions that address socioemotional issues before problems become severe and more intensive intervention is necessary.
- Fund and mandate universal cultural competency and trauma-informed teaching workshops for all classroom teachers and regular substitutes in the district.
Vision for CPSD:
The School Committee's primary mandate is to set goals for every student and school in CPSD, determining the direction of the district and the relative importance of various priorities. While the committee generally works best when it avoids micromanaging and making overly specific policy demands of the professional administrators, teachers, and support staff in all of our schools, an effective School Committee member has a clear vision; where we are as a district, where we're going, and where we want to be. This is my vision.
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.