Christopher Craig

Christopher Craig
2003 Candidate for Cambridge School Committee

Home address:
31 Magnolia Avenue
Cambridge MA 02138

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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 job. 

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 needed.

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 our students.

School Budget:
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 in.

Civic participation:
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.

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