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I was born at Cambridge City Hospital on December 21, 1968. I've grown up in Cambridge, a city my family has called home for nearly a century. I attended the Cambridge Public Schools, first the Cambridge Alternative Public School (now Graham and Parks), a school which my mother helped establish. I then moved to the Agassiz (now Baldwin) and to Cambridge Rindge and Latin, before graduating in 1987. At CRLS I was captain of the Varsity Soccer team, a writing tutor to other students, a member of the Student School Committee, and Co-Editor of the school newspaper.
Following high school, I attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I transferred to UMass-Boston, but before that I volunteered in a 5th grade classroom at the Tobin School. As a college senior I worked in the Cambridge Elementary Schools helping to establish the Peer Mediation Program and also was active in Amnesty International and MASSPIRG. I graduated in 1994 with honors and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology.
I immediately began working at Project IMPACT/ Special Adoption Family Services, as a social worker and case manager for special needs children awaiting adoption. All the children on my caseload were receiving special education services, and as a result, I consistently advocated for them at school systems throughout the Commonwealth. On that job I saw how political activism can create positive changes for children and families. That knowledge, combined with my previous school-based experience, solidified my commitment to helping them.
In 1996 I married Pamela Thilo, and in 1997 we welcomed our first son, Nicolas. I enrolled in the Simmons College Graduate School of Social Work, while working full-time and starting a family. Those years were busy, but they taught me many things: to manage my time well, to seek advice and guidance from teachers and colleagues, to remember my goals and head toward them every day. I graduated from Simmons in 2001 with a Masters Degree in Social Work. By this time our second son, William, had joined the family, and I went on to work at the Manville School in Boston, an out-of-district school placement for children with learning disabilities. I am currently employed there.
Starting in college, I often spoke out publicly -- through testimony, published articles and trainings -- on behalf of children in special education and their families. I have dedicated my professional life to working for all families, many of whom are struggling with special needs children, to ensure that they are receiving the support, education, assistance, and opportunities to be successful.
Role of the School Committee:
Elementary School Consolidation:
Faced with budget cuts and declining enrollment, the School Committee struggled to develop a plan to address the many competing needs of the system. The result was a process that became disorganized, disrespectful, and hurtful to many parents, teachers, administrators and most sadly, children. With the exception of one School Committee member, who continues to not acknowledge the flaws in this process, every member who voted in favor of the plan stated "we could have done better" or "this isn't the best we can do, but we have to do something." As someone who has worked with families and children for ten years, helping them transition through many different settings and systems, I was disturbed that the School Committee would move close to 50% of the elementary school population because they painted themselves into a corner. Yes, they did have to do something, but this plan was far too disruptive. Many of the moves (i.e. Amigos) did not seem to be based on education but on politics.
If I had been on the School Committee last term, I would have looked to address this issue more quickly, while being respectful of the school communities that were impacted. I would have made sure that a transition plan was in place, so that teachers and parents did not have to do all the work over the summer, mainly at their own time and expense. I would have looked at minimizing the disruption to the system and impact as few children and schools as possible. Research shows that the small classroom/small schools model works best. Why did we abandon it in some programs? Most importantly, I would have made sure that whatever decision I made, it was based on what made educational sense for the entire system, not for one group over another. It was appalling to me as a citizen and professional to attend School Committee meetings where school communities were pitted against one another. This is what happens in the absence of clear goals and a shared vision that come as a result of all stakeholders being engaged. We can all accept tough choices if we are given time to understand them and feel our voices have been take into account.
Restructuring of the High School:
The issues facing the high school include addressing the causes of probation, articulating a clear mission and vision for providing educational opportunities to all students, holding high expectations for students, and ensuring that students have challenging and innovative courses from which to choose. We must restore a feeling of community and pride. There are committed teachers and students at CRLS, and extra-curricular activities (Athletics, Clubs) routinely receive highest statewide honors. There is no reason that CRLS can't engage the interest of every student, in the classroom or out of it.
Academic Excellence and Goals for the Cambridge Public Schools:
With that being said, until MCAS are no longer the prime criteria for graduation, we need to ensure that we are adequately preparing our students to pass the exam and to graduate.
For the past 15 years I have been trying to make Cambridge an even better place to live. I volunteered in a 5th grade classroom at the Tobin School, working with students on social skill building, community participation, and peer relationships. I helped to implement the Peer Mediation Program in the Cambridge Elementary Schools. I was a coach for Cambridge Youth Soccer for ten years. I have advocated, publicly and privately, with elected officials on issues ranging from zoning to funding for community schools and literacy programs.
Currently, I am the Vice-Chair of the Ward 6 Democratic Committee, a member of the Cambridge Kids' Council, a member of the Center for Families Subcommittee of the Kids' Council, and a member of the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association.