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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. 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've worked in the for-profit, non-profit and public sectors for large internationally known firm and tiny worker owned startups. My background and experience shape who I am as a School Committee member - able to synthesize information, sift through data and budgets to find the most relevant and important information. I bring skills to the job: wide-ranging management experience, deep training in strategic thinking, independent verification of information, and thoughtful analysis.
At the heart of all my work is a deep core belief that Cambridge, with its financial ($27,000 a student ) and community (Harvard, MIT, Lesley, biotech leaders, etc) and families (extremely passionate and involved) can do better. That is what led me to run the first time and inspires me to keep running. I have held true to the core values of high expectations and data-based decisions, delivered on my promise to hold the district accountable and proven to be an effective change agent.
I am honored that State Rep. Jon Hecht endorsed me as did neighbor and social justice intellectual pioneer, Christopher Jencks. Parents and residents from across the city have endorsed me too. Quotes and a partial list: www.pattynolan.org/endorsements.html
I hope that you agree I have earned your # 1 vote with my effectiveness combined with my willingness to take on tough issues and my dedication to doing what it takes to make progress. My honesty – about the disappointments and challenges of our school district – makes me vulnerable. Holding to my pledge to honestly assess our district - cheering what we do well and acknowledging when we fail to live up to our promises – has cost me politically.
Please vote #1 for Patty Nolan on November 5th. I needed #2s last time, and the time before won by 19 votes. Your vote matters.
Top Priorities and Issues
One important initiative I have continually pushed is to have ongoing monitoring and meaningful outreach to parents and outside educational practitioners helps ensure we build on the best in Cambridge and elsewhere.
My continued service would ensure a forceful voice advocating for research-based decisions, broad-based input and transparency. The IA will not achieve the vision of balanced, engaging schools if we don't work together to: focus on outcomes, honor effective teachers and create respectful classrooms.
World Language starting in Kindergarten and strong support for bilingual immersion programs
I am the strongest supporter of bilingual immersion programs and using best practice to inform our decisions. I believe that Amigos, the King Chinese Immersion and Ola all deserve more support than they currently get. I have been a strong and effective voice for helping those programs continue in Cambridge. We can and should do more. As Gregg Roberts, a national leader in immersion educaiton, whom I brought to Cambridge, is fond of saying: "Monolingualism is the illiteracy of the 21st century".
We should explore having another immersion program, perhaps a French immersion, to respond to community need and increase the percentage of parents who get their top choice in the Kindergarten assignment lottery.
Universal Junior Kindergarten or Preschool for all 4 year olds
Currently the age of entry into our public schools is about 4 1/2. Yet research has documented that children who have successful early experiences establish a foundation for future success. Instead of starting behind, children from impoverished backgrounds or households where books are not available or English is not spoken can start on a par with their peers. Early intervention also can reduce the need for and/or intensity of special education services later.
The effort to have all 4 year olds in excellent programs can be accomplished through a partnership between the city and the school department. I invite everyone in the city to join this effort. With all our resources, this idea is one we should be implementing now. Although concerns over where such programs could fit, in light of a space crunch in our schools, I believe that if we commit to the program, we will find a solution. Other cities have built early education centers, which might e a better solution than trying to add junior Kindergarten classrooms in every school.
Better Use of the $27,000 per student we spend
I believe that we should consider spending more in the classrooms, putting effective adults (whether they're teachers, aides, tutors, as long as they're effective I don't care what level or title they have) working directly with our students.
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.
With the Innovation Agenda, we are spending even more on administration. We need to make sure that spending yields more engaged learning.
Use our data on school choice to improve programs
This fall we will be discussing specific ways to improve the attractiveness of underchosen schools. Too many people opt out of our district due to worry about not getting their school of choice or trying and not getting it. The choice system has strengths, and its core value of the importance of having balanced schools is wonderful. A key strength of our district is the range of educational programming offered in our elementary schools. Building on that by expanding offerings in schools needing to be more chosen will lead to 100% of families getting into a school they want.
I see three programs that would attract families: another Montessori on the east side of Cambridge, another immersion school (French or another language), and an International Baccalaureate school.
The reason this issue is a top priority is that it feeds into our areas: the families who opt out are ones we fail — there is no reason families should not be confident that every one of schools would be a great place for their child(ren).
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.
Longer school day:
I am open to more instructional time - during the school day and/or during the summer. To vote on a policy to add more time to a school day, or year, I would need to be confident that the extension of time would be well done and I would need to know how the time would be used.
To the first criteria, of using time well: research on longer school days shows that if the current school day is well run, and instruction is excellent, then extending it can improve achievement. I do not believe in CPS we have that precondition. There are many places in our district where we need to improve instruction, especially in the new upper schools, where my sense is that we fell behind where we were before the restructuring. Following best practice, I advocate for us to work on improving instruction, and once that is done, consider adding more time. While many teachers feel the crunch of time, adding time without acknowledging the work we need to do to improve the current instruction would be a mistake.
To the second criteria: adding time without knowing how the time would be used is unsound policymaking. We need to involve the entire community in how any additional time would be best spent. If a longer school day policy was decided, without a guarantee that some of the time would be for world language in elementary, I could not support it. I have said publicly that at the elementary level, having more time for art, music, recess, tutoring and world language is something I could support. At the middle school level, more time for electives, tutoring, physical activity and the sciences seem to be the areas most desirable to lengthen. At the high school level, I see students who are already overwhelmed with homework. And many don't even time to participate in the wonderful clubs since they have too much work. Others at CRLS may not have enough homework. I cannot support adding instructional time at the high school unless students have less homework.
I believe that we need to use research-based decision making, including a review of how our two extended learning time (or ELT) schools are doing. As we explore the policy question of a longer school day, we need to review the evidence of what is effective. Our two ELT schools have not performed as well as hoped in some areas and are performing well in others. We need to understand what leads to success. Based on my own review of the data, pending a review by the district, the results are not impressive enough for me to be confident the program should be replicated now. STudents at the ELT schools, based on MCAS and performance of students as freshman at CRLS, perform near or slightly above the district average - in terms of student growth and proficiency. However, the ELT schools are not the top performing CPS schools in growth or proficiency, even when comparing the same subgroups. Other schools which have not had two extra hours a day for seven years are at the top of the district by those measures. Given that, I believe we need to look more closely at our achievement data if the goal is to increase achievement.
Another question that has been raised is the amount of time. Should we consider adding a half-hour? an hour? or lengthening the school year? THese questions deserve a full discussion as a community, to ensure we base decisions on best practice.
I hope that we continue the recently started community-wide discussion on the issue, apart from collective bargaining which cannot be discussed publicly. That is why I sponsored a motion to discuss it. The motion led to a public presentation by the superintendent at our last meeting, which was making the case for a longer school day, not a review of the issue. There was also thoughtful public comment at that meeting. However, we have not had a community discussion and dialogue, which was the intent of the motion, which passed unanimously.
I will note that most nearby schools have about the same amount of time as CPS. While many private schools near us have school more hours in a week, they tend to be in school two weeks less each year, which essentially evens out the additional time. Many charter and other schools extend the day- yet it is not clear whether that time is responsible for whatever success the schools have. Or whether it applies to the entire school population or a subset.
I have read some reports cited by proponents of a longer school day. Interestingly enough, the reports include a number of examples of summer learning programs used to address issues of achievement. They cite the importance of working with unions - although for the most part the examples used are not implemented wholly by the current school district staff. Meaning it is in collaboration with community partners. Those partners have been very involved here in Cambridge, and are very interested in being part of the solution. At a community Relations Subcommittee Meeting last month there was a lot of energy around engaging those groups in our discussions on how to achieve the goals of higher achievement without a longer school day for all.
Also, I am concerned about engaging in another disruptive, large scale change districtwide without a clear idea of the goals and the implementation plan. We need to make sure the restructuring is fully implemented and monitored and adapted based on our review. Having more time might be good for some cases, but it is a massive change that will be disruptive - and the system can only handle so much systemwide change at once. That is why I want to hear from the entire community.
To summarize my thinking: in a high performing organization considering ways to improve, options are developed, discussed, vetted, and then plans are made to adopt the most promising. I imagine a process where many options are developed: expansion of summer programs [e.g. a version of Breakthrough for all], a longer school day [with time from 20-60 minutes longer]; universal preschool/JK; different grades having different options. Those options would then be studied and discussed widely in the community before adoption.
School Department Administration & Superintendent
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.
We need to give our principals, the frontline educational leaders, the full authority to do their job. We also need to have a stronger mentoring program for our principals, since many have little experience and all are facing the challenge of restructured schools. We should be setting policy and establishing goals. The superintendent should be ensuring that the goals and statewide curriculum frameworks be followed. The superintendent should also be providing support to principals, and holding high expectations for teacher and student performance.
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
The most relevant question is now "why do we spend so much or where does our money go". The most important budget questions, given that we have enough money, are "Are we spending our money well? Are we getting our money's worth?"
In my view, no. We do have amazing programs and we are all lucky — students, families, residents — to have such a well-funded school district. Much of the money we spend IS well spent. 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. We also have relatively small classes and relatively big school buildings.
Add that all up, and it accounts for 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.
For example, we spend three times the state average, on a per pupil basis, on professional development. We have done that for a decade. People say "it's great to spend so much on training and professional development." I ask "Is our spending on professional development effective? How do we measure it? If we have spent three times the state average for over ten years, why isn't our district improving at a far more rapid rate than the state?"
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. With the Innovation Agenda, we will be allocating even more dollars to administrators, and have less available for classroom teachers. We need to be sure that every dollar spent ultimately improves the education of all children. Should we be re-allocating some of our professional development dollars to more art or music or second language teachers? Or tutors? I believe that is worth exploring.
The research on effective ed reform demonstrates 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.
Over the last six years, the school district has had to close multi-million budget gaps, due to rising staff and energy costs and small budget increases. Since we start from very high funding levels, we have been able to close gaps without cutting essential programs or staff. That luxury will likely end soon. It is critical that someone like me, who understands budgets and can quickly synthesize information and take a top-level view of the budget serves on School Committee.
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 very proud of the work Marc McGovern and I did as budget co-chairs a few years ago 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 send 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.
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 Upton Street building is now the Amigos School in the fall of 2012. 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). The funds need to be allocated, so all students in Cambridge, including those at Amigos, have access to appropriate educational space.
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 the challenging curriculum
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 complete through the math offerings, some students 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.
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-5. 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.
High School Programs and Curriculum
It is also time to evaluate the block scheduling. Currently, unless a student doubles up on math, they go 8 months without math. Same with foreign language. This gap in learning is educationally problematic for those two subjects.
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 other 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.
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.
Our communication efforts have greatly improved, but we have a long way to go. For a city which prides itself on being at a center of innovation, we have a school district that should be a top notch website and parent outreach program.
With policies and practices, we are slowly moving towards high performance, sustainable district. The forum I put together on green school buildings with Harvard, MIT, and the state Green Schools program, led directly to some of the most innovative sustainable features of the CRLS renovation. Our school bus emissions program has helped alleviate toxic emissions from our buses daily polluting our air as they transport our children.
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
The summer backsliding is particularly acute for special needs students, for low income students and for students of color. Our school schedule is still based on a harvest that last happened in Cambridge more than a century ago. (Anyone know when?)
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.
CCTV candidate video (2013)
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