I have been a resident and property owner in Cambridge since 1982. I do
not have children in the Cambridge Public Schools, but people with
children in the public schools are not the only ones who should be
interested in what is going on there. Every Cambridge taxpayer contributes
to the support of our public education system. We all need to be concerned
about how so much of our money is being spent.
I studied Education as an undergraduate, and I have a Master's in
Education from Harvard. Since first entering the classroom as a student
teacher in 1975, I have taught English, Math, and Science in junior high
and high school. I worked at MIT for 17 years as an Engineering Assistant
and Lecturer. While there, I helped found and operate The Institute for
Learning and Teaching, a program that worked with school systems across
the country to create a more integrated approach to education which helped
unite the community in the process of educating children.
Over the years at MIT, I often worked with the Cambridge schools. Many
Cambridge teachers and administrators attended our curriculum workshops
and professional development seminars, resulting in some innovative
programs in the classrooms. I have worked with many businesses exploring
ways in which they can contribute to education in their community, and
with the Massachusetts School-to-Work program in smoothing students'
transition from classroom to workplace.
Role of the School Committee:
The School Committee's primary responsibility is defined as oversight of
the school budget. I feel that the Committee in the past has interpreted
this as calling for micro-management of the Superintendent. The members of
the School Committee are not qualified to make many of the decisions that
they have undertaken. We have recently hired someone who appears to be
highly qualified for the job of Superintendent of Schools. Thomas
Fowler-Finn has a proven record as an effective leader with the ability to
improve school performance. In my mind, the proper role for the School
Committee is to cooperate with the Superintendent we have hired and
provide the political and financial support to enable him to do his
I do feel that the School Committee should take on a strong role of
community building. The lack of involvement of most of our community in
the public education process is a problem. The Harvard Graduate School of
Education is one of the best resources in the world for expertise in
school governance, pedagogy, and curriculum. It is negligent not to take
advantage of this. Our business community has demonstrated a willingness
to contribute to public education in Cambridge, and this should be
facilitated. In addition, Cambridge is home to many talented and
experienced citizens who do not have children in the system, and we can
use their contributions.
Elementary School Consolidation:
The recent elementary school consolidation process is a good example of
the problems inherent in the School Committee's micro-management of the
school system. The problem facing us was not complicated. Declining
enrollment made it necessary to close three elementary schools, and a
fiscally responsible decision was called for. Although the School
Committee refused to provide the previous Superintendent with guidelines
for consolidation, they disapproved of her decision and refused to renew
her contract. The decision was handled in a confusing, divisive, and
highly political way that turned some parts of our community against
others. This did not serve Cambridge well.
Restructuring of the High School:
Our High School is currently in the process of restructuring. In fact,
this process has been going on for decades, and in that time both the
Academic and Vocational programs lost accreditation. At some point we must
accept the fact that changes in the organizational structure of the High
School do not necessarily translate into improvements in the classroom.
The "Small School" movement is currently fashionable, as is
evident from the actions of the Gates Foundation in New York City. The
fact is, however, that no amount of organizational sleight-of-hand will
turn our large High School building into any number of smaller ones.
Cambridge is committed to small class sizes, and this is the most
important point for our students and teachers. The last thing we need to
do is add more administrators to our High School. This will only serve to
divert resources and attention from the classrooms where they are most
Academic Excellence and Goals for the Cambridge Public Schools:
"Excellent Instruction in Every Classroom" is the guiding
principle for Cambridge Public Schools. This is a good thing, but it does
not address what is to be taught in the classrooms. Massachusetts has
adopted Curriculum Frameworks as part of the Education Reform Act of 1993,
and the MCAS tests are designed to measure student mastery of them. While
neither of these is perfect, they are not unreasonable. The School
Committee has suggested that Cambridge schools ignore State law and reject
these requirements, but they have not put forth any alternative. Without
curriculum guidelines and means of assessing student progress, it is not
possible to translate excellent instruction into academic excellence for
We spend an enormous amount of money on our school system - several times
the average for communities in our state. For what we spend every year we
could rent each student his or her own one bedroom apartment. The
Cambridge Public Schools presently employ one full-time adult for every
five students. There is one teacher for every nine students, even though
the average class size is about twenty students. Still, our students are
doing no better than those in neighboring communities, worse in fact than
some. They are certainly not achieving what they should given the
resources available to them.
Poor performance of the public school system is a threat to the future of
Cambridge. If we want to turn our system around, everyone involved will
have to focus on the needs of our students and work diligently in their
interests. This is particularly true of the leadership. The School
Committee is too often used as a steppingstone to the City Council.
Decisions about our schools that are based on political expediency are
unlikely to serve the interests of our students since students don't vote.
Cambridge needs a School Committee comprised of members who are well
informed about education and committed to our students. The citizens of
Cambridge have a right to a public school system that they can take pride
I think that participation by Cambridge Public School students in the
community is a good idea for a number of reasons. For the students
involved, civic participation provides a sense of involvement in the
community, a feeling of personal accomplishment, and a wider perspective
on the world in which they live. The city of Cambridge benefits from the
work these students do, and many individual members of our community who
are helped directly have their lives improved. In addition, a program of
civic participation can serve to give the schools system a more positive
image in the minds of those citizens who are not directly involved in it.
The School Committee should do all that it can to foster participation by
as many of our students as possible in the life of our city.