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|I believe we need new leaders on our school
committee who are courageous enough to stand for every single one of our
schools and every single one of our students. For too long in Cambridge we
have been satisfied with some good schools and some inferior schools. We
can create schools that engage all of our students with rigorous and
challenging curriculum. We need leaders on our school committee who have
experience working in schools and understand what it takes to improve
schools. And we need new leaders who can reach across the boundaries of
race, class, and neighborhood and work for alliance and understanding
instead of disagreement and division.
The time is now to create schools that are better than we have ever imagined.
I am married to Trina Abbott. We have 4 year old twins, Kate and Reyer, who will be in public kindergarten next year. We live on Walden Street.
Now I direct Turning Points (www.turningpts.org), a middle school reform program that works with more than 70 urban middle schools in 13 states. Schools and school districts hire me and my organization to help them improve underperforming schools. We help middle schools develop an improvement plan and then we work with teachers and principals week in and week out to help them implement that plan. This means I work with teachers to help them improve instruction. I help schools develop and agree on a vision that will drive all of their decision-making. I train teachers to use data to measure student learning and improve instruction. And I help schools involve families and community members by listening to them and working with them.
As a teacher and now with Turning Points, I have worked to improve schools for over a decade. Improving the quality and culture of schools is my work.
Role of the School Committee:
The school committee should act like a board of directors by being responsible for the overall performance of our teachers, principals, students, and school. The school committee should be asking the tough questions about how well are educating our children. The committee needs to ask for better measures of student learning so we can really know what our children are learning and how we are going to improve their education. They should lead a public discussion about the complex mix of race and class in Cambridge and how they affect schooling in Cambridge. And they need to be making sure that we know how we are spending our money and if we are spending it in a way that will produce better results.
I believe the school committee needs to steer clear of meddling with individual schools, teachers and procedures. The school committee needs to take a larger view of the school system as a whole and make sure all parts of it are working together. Essentially we need to watch over the entire ship. I think the committee should act as the keeper of the vision of what our schools will become. They should first develop a process where we set a vision for our schools and district. Then it's the school committee's job to make sure all parts of our school department including budget, hiring, evaluation, teacher training, family support, school assignment, curriculum, the Family Resource Center etc, work together towards this vision. The school committee needs to ask for measures that show whether or not we are moving toward our vision, and it needs to keep the superintendent and the schools accountable for their performance.
And, perhaps most importantly, our publicly elected school committee members should be role models for how our citizens can work together to solve complex challenges. I believe the school committee needs to set a tone of civility and of listening to each other. The school committee can and should be a model for including a wide range of perspectives in a productive way. They should be a model of effective decision-making. The school committee as a whole and each member individually should take responsibility for communicating the message that is essential that we educate every single child to the best of his or her ability. And the school committee must be a role model in calling for all citizens to rally behind our schools and put effort into making them world class. Until our school committee acts in a way we can be proud of, they cannot lead us in a direction we can be proud of.
Elementary School Consolidation:
And now that the consolidations, mergers, and moves have happened, the school committee needs to do a better job keeping an eye on these schools during a very complex transition. They have to ask for data on student performance, class and school sizes, how the consolidated schools are merging the students from two different buildings, how the different cultures and families of the merged schools are coming together, and how well teachers in new positions are doing with entirely new school cultures. As the school year progresses, schools that have been consolidated or merged will face new challenges and cracks may begin to show. This is a long-term process. The school committee has to continue to look after these schools to make sure they are successful for years to come.
Restructuring of the High School:
We are trying major transformation at the high school from 4 separate houses (5 including Rindge Tech) that were only educating some students well, to five small schools (six including Rindge Tech) that are educating every single child well. We will have very little success if we continue to change leaders, approaches, and programs every year. This back and forth confuses and angers teachers, parents, and students, and makes it virtually impossible to create lasting success.
I believe small schools (or learning communities) where the teachers work together on a common vision and know every student well is essential to student success at our high school. Small, personalized schools are safer and better able to teach children. We need to make sure we are challenging every student whether it's a student who is just learning English, has low reading or math skills, or if that student is reading at a college level. This means the high school needs to remain flexible in the programs it offers and how it teaches. Small schools are better able to respond to the specific needs of their students because they are more flexible.
I think heterogeneous grouping can work in a more limited way than we've been trying it. I think it is a better fit in English and history. It is more challenging in science and quite difficult in math. The science department has done an exemplary job developing curriculum and working with the chemistry and physics teachers to teach the 9th and 10th grade classes. A number of teachers still find it very challenging. We need to continue to modify in these areas as we see what is working and what is not working. Many, many high school teachers have been doing just this. In moving to heterogeneous grouping so quickly I think we set teachers and students up to fail. Teachers need continued, intensive support. If we continue to provide our teachers with training and support and continue to pay close attention to what is working and what is not working we will build a successful high school. Our teachers are making progress. We need to help them continue to make progress.
Academic Excellence and Goals for the Cambridge Public Schools:
We have to be relentless in pursuing our goals. All systems, decisions, policies, and curriculum, professional development, etc have to be focused on achieving a vision of excellence in every single school.
If we want to know how our students and teachers are doing, then we have to be clear about what our goals are at each grade level. MCAS is not a goal. It is one measure that may help us know if we are meeting our goals. Once we know what our goals are than it is much easier to determine if we are reaching them. If our goals are clear, then parents, students, and teachers can work openly and actively to achieve them.
I feel the school committee can do a better job managing public input and creating public dialogue. We need to move away from public comment for 3 minutes or so being the only formal way to be heard. Forums where a variety of community members discuss an issue with the school committee would be helpful. Having school committee meetings in different locations during different months would be helpful. The school committee can also play a role in bringing together groups of citizens who have different perspectives in order to create alliance and understanding instead of disagreement and division.
The schools can also consider developing more of a customer service approach with better and more information for citizens about learning goals, how we spend money, curriculum, and the strengths and challenges our schools have.