Patty Nolan

Patty Nolan
2017 Candidate for Cambridge School Committee

Home address:
184 Huron Ave.
Cambridge MA 02138

Contact information:
Tel: 617-661-0729

Send contributions to:
Committee to Elect Patty Nolan
184 Huron Ave., Cambridge MA 02138

Or donate with PayPal on my website

Bio / background:
My husband, David Rabkin and I have two children born here and in our public schools from Kindergarten – grade 12. Both our children are now in college – our son is at Lafayette in Pennsylvania and our daughter is at Barnard College in NY (part of Columbia University) where she started this fall after a gap year of traveling and working.

I know how important education is, since my grandmother did not graduate high school and mother had to fight to go to college. My father went to night school since he needed to help support the family. My sisters and I were lucky enough able to go away to college, instead of the commuter colleges our parents attended. I was the first in my family to apply to and attend Harvard and a few years later I went to Yale to the School of Management.

I have worked in the public sector, nonprofit and for profit. I worked in a corporate setting including McKinsey, at smaller companies, including leading an environmental firm and a telephone reseller. And worker-owned start ups. Now, my main job is serving YOU.

I usually write long answers – just click on the links from my answers on this page from the last couple of elections, which are at the bottom of this page. And go to my website, where there is more information on my background, my work, my perspective, my reflections. This year, I want to focus on a few select areas that I think are most important in deciding for whom you should vote # 1.

Priorities and campaign summary:
The summary of my campaign is that with $27,000 a student, a city full of people with passion and expertise and dedication, and amazing community and institutions there is NO EXCUSE for us not being the best school districts in the state and country. And my experience, skills, training, passion and drive can help us go from good to great.

Our schools are good, and there are pockets of excellence. WE have amazing and creative teachers and staff. Yet we are a district where more than average proportion of families opt out of our district schools. Many chose private and parochial schools and many, mostly low-income students of color, enroll in our city’s charter schools. Of 350 districts in Massachusetts, we are about 340th in percent of students enrolled in our district’s schools. Why? WE have money, resources, amazing institutions, incredible community, creative teachers, engaged staff.

It’s the management and governance pieces that have been lacking. We have done a pretty good job – I believe that now, with the new superintendent, we are poised to do even better.

By re-electing me, you will have someone on SC who has accomplished a lot and never forgets that our job is advocate for ALL students – advanced, struggling, in-between. For our district to advance, we need engaged policymakers who work hard, use data to inform their decisions and push for information and answers. Which is what I bring.

This past term, together the School Committee and superintendent accomplished a lot and I’ve been a key player in every effort.

Just a few example of some progress from this term:

  • After five years of delay and broken promise of the “innovation Agenda” we expended world language to two more elementary schools.
  • To address segregation in high school classes, CRLS 9th grade English classes are now all honors level, with extra support for those who were not ready for honors level work.
  • After cutting suspensions in half starting several years ago, we continued to work on revising our discipline policies so they are effective at addressing behavior, sending a clear message about appropriate behavior and give students an opportunity to learn instead of disengage.
  • After reviewing our classroom assessments, some were eliminated and others are being cut back to ensure accountability without overburdening teachers and students.
  • Funded a design lab led by teachers to expand opportunities for teacher voice and creativity.
  • After several years without a longer term strategic vision, developed a framework for all district work and furthered work on an emerging more specific strategic plan.

There are more examples, encompassing the range of issues we deal with , from controlled choice to help for struggling schools to dress code policy to enhancing student voice to many more issues. And there is more to do, which is why I am running. I love the job, am good at it, and would love to continue.

If you want someone who is effective and a leader and who collaborates with others- and someone independent and courageous when warranted, that’s me.

What matters in addition to the background, experience and ability to collaborate and be effective (all of which are attributes I have proven I have)? I believe you should want to know what a candidate’s educational philosophy is. And perhaps their political philosophy.

On political philosophy - I could be conventional – tell you I am a bona fide liberal (at my wedding 20+ years ago we asked for gifts to be donations to a GLBT equal marriage fund and I was Ms. Lib in my high school superlatives and lost a job for not crossing a picket line…) or I could talk about Paolo Freire’s impact on me and how I support More Learning Less Testing and am the only candidate who voted against PARCC in CPS – and that vote was explicitly based on the fact that as unbelievable as it may seem, no teacher or principal had been consulted prior to the recommendation by the former superintendent which meant going against a core value which is to honor educator and teacher input …

That is all true. AND, my philosophy towards politics and education is centered on a critical thinking approach, using data and research-based decision=making, transparency and respect for democratic (small d) voice. How that translates in our district is to insist on looking at best practice (like Finland - lauded for being high performing, on a number of internally normed tests, and while less diverse than Cambridge does have lessons for us: it has far more recess, less homework, more teacher collaboration time). And the research also shows that students know when they are learning – that translates for me into wanting us to listen more to student voice. And advocating and working towards us using surveys to assess teacher effectiveness. Even a young student, if asked “Does Ms. Teacher care about you learning?’ and “Does Ms. Teacher know how to make sure each student is working hard?” can answer. And those questions are key to understanding if teachers are effective.

In addition to a focus on teacher and student voice – I believe in accountability and school autonomy. Those two are not mutually exclusive. Many of the highest performing schools are ones where the decision making is at the school level – which doesn’t mean there is not role for central administration in a district our size. My educational philosophy is that we need to devise methods to ensure that standards are high, that students are assessed, that the need for additional support is identified early and supports put in place in a timely manner. Giving school leaders the tools they need to ensure effectiveness in the classroom and give teachers in the classroom the support and continuous improvement all professionals lead will help students. It also means holding management accountable for when things are not working and staff is better suited for a different position.

Finally, my philosophy is that every family regardless of color or socio economic or learning style should be heard, valued and respected and knows a lot. Cambridge can unintentionally silence voices – across all sorts of divides – of class, race, ethnicity, learning styles. It drives me nuts to hear or sense “those kids, e.g. special needs, aren’t my responsibility since that is why we have special educators.” NO. Similarly, I have heard far too many teachers and administrators say “those kids will be fine” when concerns around advanced learners are raised. NO. When we say every child, we have to mean every student.

What is the greatest challenge for the district as a whole?
I could say the achievement gap, or opportunity gap, or testing, all of which are critically important. But if I am honest, I actually believe it is doing the hard work of addressing ongoing issues by having the political courage to take on some things we have not hit hard enough. That is, there are goals we talk about every year, and somehow never reach them, so we put them into the next set of goals. That demonstrates that we are not intentional about a plan to achieve the goals, serious about monitoring progress towards the goals, and passionate enough to push harder when we are not meeting them. The goals I am thinking about: every third grader reading at least at grade level, every student feeling cared for and safe and confident and capable, every 8th grader passing Algebra 1, and every family getting into one of their top two schools. We can do that – IF we face the issues head on and infuse our entire district with a sense of urgency.

For example, after years of stagnant number of students in 8th grade passing algebra, this year the number increased. We must stay on that trajectory, until we reach the same level as Brookline, where for years almost every student passed, compared to our pass rate of barely 15%. AND this year the diversity of students in the class for algebra success reflects the district. For years I have been advocating that we can reach that goal and there was defensive reaction – now, with a continued push and a new leader, we made progress both in overall achievement on this measure AND diversity of students.

The key to getting that done? Working well as a team with the superintendent and not accepting that it can’t happen now. The point is that our greatest challenge is focusing on the goals we want to achieve, and pledging together to do all we can to advance them. That means a concerted effort to work with and monitor and mentor and help Dr. Salim have the best team possible in the best configuration possible. None of us can do this alone – not the SC, not the superintendent.

The challenge will be for us to support the superintendent, who is bringing a fresh perspective and knowledge of other systems and a focused approach to using and instilling a best practice mentality throughout the district. He will need support, since even here in progressive Cambridge we are often parochial and do not reach out to learn from others. He will also need to be pushed - to sense the urgency of the task we have and the potential to make a real difference if we push ourselves and have the political and administrative courage to make positive change happen.

What you get with me is not only my deep experience, before the School Committee job and since I first got elected, not only my broad training in strategic thinking, my facility with analysis and numbers, my ability to collaborate across many types of divides, but also you get my courage, independence and drive to push us to be better.

I persist when it matters. Earlier this year I put forth a motion to do a job search for our Exec Secy position which pays over $90K/year– since our policy and best practice require an open transparent search . The motion failed 5-2 – I stand by that vote since I voted my conscience based on what was best for the district and good governance. My integrity in upholding best practice means at times I won’t compromise. As many know from my lone vote against the last superintendent’s contract and raise.

And yet, I understand that compromise is necessary. With the World Language expansion in elementary schools – for several years I put forth motions to fulfill the promise of expansion. There was concern that the school day wasn’t long enough, that it was too big an initiative fatigue, etc. excuses. I believe it is better for students. Finally, this year, a compromise was offered – expansion yes , but only in 2 schools and only for a few grade levels for now. Despite being disappointed, I supported the pilot and worked to make it happen. And will work to expand it.

I serve knowing that I will not always “win”. You may not always agree with me. However, you can be sure I will be transparent about my stands, use data to inform policy making, keep my promises, work hard, listen and reach out.

This election, you need to decide whom you most want on School Committee – and vote #1 for that candidate. I hope it is me. Think hard and carefully – it does matter. If there is anything we’ve learned from the last year it is that democracy needs us to show up and VOTE. I won big last time, and in a recount a few years ago, I won by 19 votes – it was 3s 4s and 5s on ballots that elected me. If you want me to continue, don’t count on others to elect me.

CCTV candidate video (2017)

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Page last updated Thursday, November 2, 2017 10:19 AM Cambridge Candidates