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I am very happy to be serving my second term on School Committee, and hope to serve a third term - since I love the job and think I have made a positive contribution to the committee. I am the only candidate with such a broad mix of management experience and leadership skills. I am the candidate known for being data-driven, for taking courageous stands, and for taking action on issues. In other words, I may be an incumbent, but I have the heart of a challenger - but with experience. I am also the strongest environmental advocate. I have a record of speaking up for higher achievement for all students - those who are academically STRONG in addition to those who are struggling. I am the candidate who really understands our budget, since I have a background in management.
I live between Harvard Square and Fresh Pond, with my husband, David Rabkin and our two children, Joshua (8th grade) and Alexis, (6th). Our children have gone to the Amigos, Kennedy-Longfellow, Peabody and King Open schools.
I was born in Chicago, where my parents chose Catholic school. When we moved to Stamford, Connecticut my five sisters and I attended public schools. My high school, Stamford High, was very much like CRLS in demographics. I was a varsity athlete (MVP in two sports), academically inclined and a little political. Afterwards, I spent a year as an exchange student in Belgium, which was very formative in exposing me to another country, language, culture and education system. (And it's why I speak French and can make my way in Spanish.)
The first in my family to attend Harvard, I moved to Cambridge in 1976, was involved in student activism, especially in divestiture from South Africa, and wrote my thesis on feminist consciousness. After 2 years of work in New York City for a politician (Brooklyn District Attorney Liz Holtzman), I got a graduate degree from the Yale School of Management. After several years in corporate consulting at a large international firm of McKinsey, which allowed me to pay off my school loans, I went into the non-profit and socially responsible business sector. I have run two small companies (an environmental firm and a telephone reseller) and done a lot of consulting to a wide range of organizations.
For the last 2 years, my main job has been School Committee member. We get paid $32,000 a year -- more than any other school board in the state. I pledged to spend at least half time on the job if elected. My husband can confirm it's more than that. I also pledge to propose a pay cut for us if we ever face teacher layoffs due to budget.
BUT nor am I a candidate who glosses over our weaknesses. Or points to ridiculous lists that rank our schools high when anyone looking at the list knows that the methodology is deeply flawed and therefore the ranking meaningless. (Yes, I am referring to the Boston magazine list others tout. Look at the numbers yourself. Look at the top 100 and tell me you really believe the methodology is sound. Then, explain it to a CPS 8th grader.)
We have some truly embarrassing results which show we need to raise expectations for all students. All our schools are underperforming, according to the state watch list (12 out of 13 schools on the list for poor MCAS performance, including 6 in restructuring and the 13th did not make adequate yearly progress.) Average 2009 MCAS proficiency of African Americans is half that of white and Asian students, and at 35% only a little higher for Latinos at 42%. Many academically strong students report not being challenged and we don't even have a roster of programs we proffer to capable and motivated elementary students. No wonder nearly a quarter of our city's parents opt out of regular public schools.
It doesn't have to be that way. We will see higher achievement if we manage to raise expectations. I know that is easy to say, not so easy to do. But, we know the elements: differentiate instruction, get students excited, ensure teachers are linking their instructional practices to engaged learning, use various strategies, stretch up for all kids, not down to the bottom. And, let's note that our market research results showed very clearly that a very large percent of people like me in the district and those who left think we are doing too much teaching to the test. I agree. The way to excellence, as every effective teacher knows and every grateful parent of those teachers will tell you: engage kids in learning. Plus, there are fewer behavior problems when kids are engaged.
Better Use of the $25,000 per student we spend.
We will need to make thoughtful decisions, and be vigilant about basing the budget on proven programs, with well-researched evaluations driving decisions, and a comprehensive review of every non-educational aspect of running the district with an eye towards greater efficiency. The state's finance department compiles comprehensive budget information on all districts. That comparison shows a number of areas we should explore for re-allocation of dollars into educational uses. For example, we still spend more dollars on central administration this year than three years ago and FAR more than other districts anywhere near our size. It is critical that someone with my background represent you, as we face these budget questions.
Use our data on school choice to improve programs.
No one has worked longer or more consistently than I have on raising issues of choice, of new school models, of clear delineation of our enrollment numbers, of the complexities around discussing how choice plays out over the year. As we address the policy it is very important that the district and the Committee are thorough and equitable. Based on my past experience of providing the leadership necessary to avoid a potentially embarrassing policy change through diligence and collaboration, I am certain that I would be able to provide that leadership in future discussions and decisions.
School Department Administration & Superintendent:
And, I was the first, staunchest supporter of Dr. Jeff Young. Dr. Young, who led Newton for 11 years, had a depth of experience in a high performing, well-managed district that was unmatched. Our district needs a leader who can get us to excellence. However, while I supported Dr. Young happily, that does not mean I will stop doing our job of holding him accountable, asking tough questions, and demanding excellent results for all students.
As for other district administration, we have some terrific staff. There are two main kinds of administration: in school administrators, like our principals and asst. principals, and out of school administrators, often referred to as central administrators. The main issue for me on school-based administrators is that they get the support they need and feel comfortable making decisions. They are central to our success as a district, and we need them to be the best. Currently, we have some weak leaders who need to be supported.
The main issue on central administration is to figure out how to help the district improve the efficiency of those roles, especially since we may be facing deficits in the coming years. That would be a huge change from the past several years when we have had multi-million dollars surpluses in the school department each year.
School Department Budget and Capital Needs:
It takes a village to raise a child, including one in a school district. We must all work together, instead of getting caught up in petty politics, to ensure our budget dollars are spent in the most effective way possible.
I am also very proud of the work Marc and I did in getting the district's first ever budget guide out to every household in Cambridge. For a very modest amount of money - far less than we spend on some other publications, we sent a comprehensive but readable guide to you, the city's taxpayers - who are footing the bill. The guide summarizes our budget spending, priorities, process and initiatives.
This question of our budget could fill twenty pages. Our budget is phenomenally generous. When I talk to school board members in other place, we have an embarrassment of riches. We spend $25,000 per student. Other towns average about half that.
Some of our excess spending goes to things other districts only dream about: no fees for activities or buses, all day Kindergarten, an array of afterschool programs, early childhood programs. But add that all up, and it accounts for only a portion of the extra we spend. We owe it to ourselves to be honest that our extra spending is not just about no fees. Nor is it mostly due to small class sizes. All our extra spending on non - school based staff is great if it's leading to higher achievement. Not great if it's because we have not evaluated programs and positions and cut those which are no longer needed.
Numerous studies have shown that for all the cuts we have made, we are still one of the most top-heavy districts in the state. The research on effective ed reform demonstrates pretty clearly that the path to excellence is through school-based management, and pushing authority and resources into the schools, not keeping much of it centralized. Over half our spending is in non-teaching areas. That is too much.
One area that hasn't been addressed systematically is how we're doing on being a technologically up-to-date school district in terms of management. In a number of areas, teachers have told me we're behind a lot of districts. For example, a teacher can't process a purchase order for something for the classroom electronically. That seems very inefficient to me, and worth examining.
I think it's time for a thorough review of every position, and an evaluation of every program.
Buildings are important. CRLS is undergoing a very expensive renovation. And we have a very long list of elementary schools in need of renovation and repair. It will be very challenging to find the money to work on those buildings. But we must figure it out, since all children should be in buildings that enhance their learning, not ones in need of serious repair.
On the disposition of school buildings: The school department is using the former Longfellow School for a Ninth Grade Academy, for the next 2 or 3 years. After that, we will need space for school department administration, hopefully space for renovating elementary schools in dire shape, and space for an expanding enrollment. WE are likely to need the Longfellow building.
The Upton Street building is another matter. The building itself needs major work if it is to be used for a school on a permanent basis (new fire codes, accessibility issues, no open space, few bathrooms). Thus, it is not clear if it could serve the school department. I am hopeful that once the CRLS renovation is close to finished, we can decide whether the building is appropriate for the administration.
Controlled Choice, Student Assignment Policies, and the
Two years ago, we made a change to the controlled choice policy. This change is emblematic of how I work, and why I should be re-elected. I am proud that I led the effort to overturn a vote on the controlled choice policy that shortchanged low income families. I refused to go along with a plan that helped the middle class at the expense of low income families. Taking political heat, I stood up for finding a better way. We did. We came up with and passed, a plan that increased options for BOTH the middle class and low income families.
Student Assignment Policies: I take this question to be about our controlled choice in the elementary schools, and how we assign students. The reason this is an issue is because we have schools that have waitlists. WE have underchosen and overchosen schools. The latest Kindergarten round was just as unbalanced as when I did it for my first child 9 years ago. We need to look seriously at the impact of all our policies. Here are some things I support and we could do: open up seats in classrooms that are empty if there are waitlists. Explore new models for underchosen schools to attract more families.
The Tobin Montessori school shows how we could address the issue of getting to a district that still allows choice, but without a waitlist problem. We should consider changing one of the least chosen schools into a similarly popular program. We should involve the community in what that program should be, and explore options in-depth. Select a model, and implement it. If we did that with even one underchosen school, we would go a long way to addressing the problem of people not getting their school of choice.
Achievement Gap: While I hesitate to compare any group to white middle class (which I am), the fact that there are such large disparities along both socio-economic and racial/ethnic line is troubling. The average gap between white and African American in Cambridge, as measured by the usual albeit limited measure, proficiency on MCAS in 2009, is over 30 points!!! For Low income, and Hispanic/Latinos, it's also unacceptably high: about 25 points. That gap is unchanged in seven years. I worked with the Cambridge NAACP to document the gap and ask for a clear plan to address it.
I note that while our achievement gap is unacceptably high for proficiency, our district has an enviable record of high school graduation for all, and an especially great record for a group very difficult to reach, African American males.
The answer is deceptively simple: higher expectations, balanced schools, and acknowledge the gap publicly, since that is always the first step to addressing an issue.
On enrichment: Cambridge has an array of enrichment programs, but they have not been well coordinated or communicated. There are many programs that help children go beyond the classroom work. Some programs, like Science Club for Girls, happen in our schools. Some, like The Math Circle, happen outside our schools. We should have a more comprehensive approach, an explicit program to stretch all students.
On the challenging curriculum: First, we need to make sure we are not dictating curriculum across the board. Secondly, we need to do more to ensure that academically strong students are engaged. I believe we do a good job of providing challenge to academically advanced students at the High School level. I don't believe we do a good enough job at the elementary level.
I have heard -- all of us on School Committee have heard -- about programs for struggling students, but have not ever had a report on programs for the other end of the ability spectrum. At the high school, we have a full array of courses, not only AP, but in science internships at Biogen and other companies which provide those students involved college level and beyond exposure and experience. If you blow through the math offerings, you can go to Harvard Extension. If you are ready for more than AP English or History, you have a range of options to ensure challenge.
Not so at the elementary level. It is an issue I have worked on, and plan to do more on if re-elected. A concern of mine stems from some research suggesting that if a district is not careful, the pressure of No Child Left Behind can be used to basically ignore those already proficient.
Enrollment and the Marketing of Public Schools vs. Charter Schools
and Private Schools:
Demographics: the city's school age population is growing
Economics: some people who used to pay for private schools can't
Consolidation fatigue over: the consolidation, which caused major disruption, was long enough ago that the district has been able to settle down and parents have been able to focus on the positive changes in the district, instead of feeling betrayed by a process that ripped apart the district without a clear educational rationale.
Improvements: With the high school rebuilding itself, and some of the turmoil of the last decade over, families now look to CRLS as a terrific endpoint instead of a question mark.
On Marketing our schools:
We learned a lot from the full 2006 survey and the follow up in 2008. While people are happy with a lot of aspects of the district, many have concerns. We need to address the major concerns: teaching to the test, bullying and classroom behavior, and uneven educational quality. For new parents, the concern around getting one of your top choice schools is also critical (see topic below).
I feel the same way about charter schools, which are public schools, as I always have. I support charter schools for four main reasons: First, I don't want only people who can afford private school to have a choice if our system has failed them.
Secondly, charter schools do not get started in districts where the schools serve kids well. Only districts like Cambridge, where parents and the community feel their children have not gotten the education they could, even have charter applications. I support the idea that districts that have failed families need to face that fact, and families be given a chance to form an alternative. Districts like Brookline don't have charter schools, since the schools work for them. Charters only start out of frustration of parents with regular public schools and take hundreds of hours from many people I a community to get started, if they pass rigorous state requirements.
Third, they are based on exactly the same impulse that started three of CPS most chosen schools. Cambridgeport, King Open, and Graham & Parks all started from parent desire to create an alternative to existing public schools to better meet their educational desires. That is the same promise of charter schools.
Fourth, if they fail, they're closed. If they work, their lessons can be disseminated. Two years ago Denise Simmons and I co-sponsored a series of forums to learn from model public schools, with School Committee members Richard Harding and Luc Schuster. The forums included some charter public as well as regular public schools. I got soundly criticized, but my response is clear: if a charter school has something to teach us about high performance then let's learn (and several charter schools which are predominantly kids of color and poor are among the top performers in the state and beat the pants off of white suburban schools). Just as others learn from Cambridge on what we do well, which is many, many things.
Elementary Schools and Curriculum:
The curriculum should not be dictated from above, but decided upon by an individual school community, as long as the outcomes are mutually agreed upon. At Amigos, for example where my children attended for 6 years, the nature of a bilingual immersion program does not always fit with curriculum that might work at another school. Amigos should do what's best for its program. Similarly, an alternative project-based approach is appealing to many - the Graham &Parks, Cambridgeport and King Open all have aspects of it. Are we losing the specialness of these schools? Let's make sure the answer is no.
A policy change I advocate is second language at every school K-8. Our students live in a world where exposure to a new language, and to different cultures is not a nice-to-have, but a necessity.
The middle grades question is very important. We need a comprehensive discussion of how to structure a solid middle grades program.
I advocate four things:
Examine research carefully. Districts studying separate middle schools and K-8 have found structure does not predict achievement. In other words, 6-8th grade students do just as well in K-8 and separate middle schools. Furthermore, for urban students at risk, there is evidence that K-8s are better, since introducing a transition can be problematic.
Be creative with solutions. Perhaps extracurricular activities could include middle graders from several schools. Perhaps some subjects could be taught in magnet programs. We should include a range of possible solutions, once we have define the problem.
Avoid unnecessary change. It's a whole system question. Elementary school consolidation created turmoil. Enrollment declined 1000 students in three years. We cannot afford that. We must be very thoughtful, and if any changes are proposed, we need to have deep confidence that expected benefits will outweigh the risks.
High School Programs and Curriculum:
The range of course offerings, the great quality in so many areas and the upcoming renovation all bode well for continued success of CRLS. The challenges for the future include instilling small school feel and attention when the small learning communities are not allowed to differentiate and are not separate schools. The high school renovation project needs to be carefully managed. The new emphasis on science and engineering will take some careful thought as well.
There are also issues to address in the high school. We need to look at policies on AP grades and policies on use of technology in the classroom including when online and computer coursework is appropriate. I also believe that our discipline policy is too punitive and rigid. While we all like zero-tolerance, we also like forgiveness and support. Many of our policies sound too much like one strike and you're out.
MCAS and Measuring Student Achievement:
I appreciate the MCAS and resent the MCAS. I appreciate that it is the single most important reason that districts, including Cambridge, could no longer pretend they were doing fine, when on average they were doing OK, despite having large groups of kids, mostly low income and kids of color, were NOT doing OK. I appreciate that it gives us a benchmark against which we can measure ourselves. We can see how we compare to the state on average, to other middle districts in Mass., to high performing districts in the state. We can use MCAS results, if we choose, to identify schools that do better than us, and learn from them. WE can use MCAS results to help figure out how we can do better.
But, I resent MCAS since it is tempting to slide into thinking the test is the goal, as opposed to a means of determining whether the goal of learning has been reached. I resent MCAS since too often it is used as a stick, not a source of information to inform teachers of effectiveness. I also want to throw up when I see my own children's homework consist of work that can only be described as test prep. That is totally counterproductive to engaged learning.
MCAS is here to stay, for better or worse. What we as a district have to fight is the urge to do even more testing, to focus ONLY on MCAS. The best teachers and the best schools confirm that you can do well on the test without teaching to the test. Too many teachers in our district have been telling me they don't hear many queries about their teaching and learning beyond its impact on MCAS. That is disturbing, but happens when you standardize too much and you don't let educational leaders in each school determine for themselves how to achieve desired outcomes. I am a big believer in setting the goals, the expected outcomes, and leaving it to the creativity and energy and passion of our school based staff to meet the goals and achieve the outcomes.
A message of hope for those who think I am na´ve: The one school in Cambridge which made it to the top 10 of the state in MCAS proficiency was Amigos' 8th grade Science MCAS results. That grade was majority students of color and almost half low income, and their proficiency % beat almost every suburban school in the state. The students achieved those results by having a teacher who is dynamic and engaging, NOT by drill and kill.
Teacher Evaluations and Performance Measures:
Last year, only one teacher with professional status (tenure) was let go. I find it hard to believe that there is only one tenured teacher who is ineffective. I agree we should help teachers become effective, but for all our talk about excellent instruction, it means nothing if we do not act when it is not the right fit for a teacher.
School Safety and Student Behavior:
The issue of student behavior is complex. On the one hand, if you engage kids in learning, then behavior problems are dramatically reduced. On the other hand, there are kids who need different classroom environments and instructional strategies to be engaged than other kids. And one classroom one teacher might not be able to be all things to all kids. First, we do need to remember the first, and focus on helping teachers provide engagement. One worrying trend in our district is too much focus on testing, too much using the stick instead of the carrot to inspire teachers.
School safety is another issue. In general, Cambridge is a very safe environment. Whether compared to suburbs or urban, we have an excellent safety record. But we still have far too many instances of kids feeling insecure. This issue is not just the high school, but our elementary schools. I am concerned less about the external intruder than I am about how to inculcate throughout our district a culture of respect, which eliminates most safety and many behavior problems.
Parent Involvement and School Councils:
There is a new spirit of openness in the district. Let's build on the momentum coming from the new administration, and encourage families to be more involved.
Similarly, we have not done all we should and can to communicate with people. All of us must stand up and demand greater outreach, greater input and greater respect for participation. Participation does not mean confusing who actually makes the decisions. But without participation, without input, without the benefit of hearing from a range of voices, perspectives and experience, decisions are not as good. I'm plenty smart, but I don't know everything. Whenever I'm in a position to make a decision, I know that I will make a better decision by listening to and learning from others. That's the culture we need to develop and nurture in this fabulous district.
Our schools can and should be at the forefront of environmental education, building, and programs. Our city has made a commitment to being a city supportive of environmental sustainability. But we have not done enough to have a culture of environmental responsibility. I have been working in this area on a number of fronts, and if re-elected will continue this work. I bring my volunteer work in the community on environmental and energy issues - with Green Decade Cambridge, HEET, Green Streets - into my School Committee work. We do not yet live the ideal of incorporating sustainability into our practices as a district. We can and we should.
Explore extended learning time, including a longer school year:
Ask any teacher what kids lose over the summer. Answer: A lot. I see it in my kids, and their Spanish. They are the part of the Amigos family that is not Latino at all. Without Spanish over the summer, they lose a lot. It is as true for other subjects, from math to writing to science. Ten weeks with no academics is too long.
A recent national educational study demonstrated the positive benefits of academically oriented summer programs, especially for middle school students. We should be at the forefront of addressing this challenge.
Planning for the future:
Strategic planning around technology: I authored a motion to develop a strategic plan for technology, both the educational side and business operations side. This is an area on which we have spent millions, and directed millions more in surplus funds, without a strategic plan. To ensure excellence in this century, we need to have a plan, and implement it well.
Importance of understanding the role of School Committee:
I have taken many hits for being so strong and solid and acting on my convictions. I have always acted for the good of the district, even when it hurts me politically. Thankfully, through my collaborative work, I see the positive impact of my short tenure in many ways. For example, it is truly affirming that all candidates now talk about needing to meet the needs of advanced students. That wasn't the usual campaign trail talk a few years ago. But I kept insisting that we needed to address it, and reminded all of us that advanced students include students of all backgrounds and colors.
People should make sure they look up the voting record of the candidates they support. Or ask me. I always promote full disclosure. Many people are surprised to find out how people actually voted on issues of importance.
|Page last updated October 08, 2009||Cambridge Candidates|