Alan Price

Alan Price
2003 Candidate for Cambridge School Committee

Home address:
15 Corporal Burns Road
Cambridge, MA 02138

Contact information:
Tel: 617-492-0117

Send contributions to:
The Alan Price Committee
C/O Dennis Scannell, Treasurer
122 Hancock Street
Cambridge, MA 02139

Educated only in public schools, I am a proud graduate of the Bronx High School of Science. I went into the Army National Guard to earn money and put myself through college. I graduated first in my class from Indiana Military Academy and became a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry. I graduated Earlham College (major in Economics) and Harvard Law School. I spent several years as a management consultant with CMI, CMG and ThoughtBridge in the field of negotiation strategy and conflict resolution. In the process of facilitating several teacher contract negotiations, I learned a great deal about the issues and obstacles facing public education. My wife, Gina LaRoche, and I run INSPIRITAS, a leadership consulting and training firm. Our two boys attend the Cambridgeport School (kindergarten and second grade). My book, titled, ďReady To Lead? A story for leaders and their mentors.Ē (Jossey-Bass, publisher) will be in bookstores in May of 2004. Prior to serving in my first term on the School Committee, I was chair of the Police Review and Advisory Board in Cambridge and served as the Director of the Global Leadership Initiative at Harvard Business School. I am a member of the Ward 10 Democratic Committee.

Role of the School Committee:
The School Committee role is much like a public Board of Directors. Our primary responsibilities are to, a) establish clear educational priorities in collaboration with the Superintendent, b) adopt a budget that is aligned with the educational priorities and the fiscal realities, c) hire (fire) and evaluate the Superintendent, d) set educational policies, e) negotiate fair labor contracts with the districtís employees, and f) create a forum for meaningful community dialogue on educational issues.

Elementary School Consolidation:
I thought the process and the decision were terrible. The process left most of the community feeling disrespected and lied to. The School Committee went back on its word to delay implementation until September 2004. There is no reason that a 2% budget reduction should require rearranging half of our students. I was the only School Committee member willing to put my opinions and proposals in writing for public discussion. I was the only member with a budgetary alternative (which would have made significant administrative cuts and made massive consolidation unnecessary). Now, student enrollment in the elementary schools has suddenly dropped by more than 300 children. Parents left our schools or moved out of Cambridge in significant numbers. I am grateful to the teachers and administrators who worked so hard to implement the plan, however flawed it may have been. It is simply too soon to know if any of the intended benefits will be realized. Now the hard work of improving education begins.

Restructuring of the High School:
If we donít have a clear expectation of what students should know at each grade level, or how to teach children so that they can achieve those expectations, or adequate resources and professional development to help teachers succeed, it doesnít matter how you rearrange the structures of CRLS. Those are basic building blocks of academic excellence. Those building blocks are missing or weak at CRLS, which is why its accreditation was placed on probation. Of course we want excellence and equity. Thatís more than a noble ideal. Itís our responsibility. I love the concept of small learning environments where adults know our children. But the idea that we should race ahead with equity and only eventually get around to academic excellence doesnít work.

Academic Excellence and Goals for the Cambridge Public Schools:
With the help of the prior Superintendent, the School Committee adopted the district goal of, ďExcellent Instruction in Every Classroom.Ē At the time, it made sense. It seemed to be a good goal to focus our educational priorities. The new Superintendent was quick to observe that excellent instruction wasnít a proper goal. Student achievement was the goal. Excellent instruction was one means to that end. But excellent instruction isnít enough. If School A gets excellent instruction that is very different than in School B, and isnít aligned with our district standards, then children will still arrive at the high school with an achievement gap that will overwhelm CRLS. That is one of many reasons that we have been in the process of resetting our educational goals. The Superintendent will soon have a detailed recommendation for us to review and (I hope) approve.

School Budget:
We spend the most money and we do not get the highest academic achievement. If we did have the highest achievement, we would all be proud of the financial commitment that produced such success. Instead we are justifiably concerned. We must spend less on administration and more on education. We made a tiny bit of progress in the last two budgets, but we need to do much more. The School Committee has not demonstrated the political will to tackle this issue with urgency. Positions get shuffled, restructured, reallocated, and redeployed, but rarely cut. This is the one issue that the City Council is empowered to help us with. If the School Committee does not significantly reduce administrative overhead, does the City Council have the political will to vote, ďNoĒ on our budget? That kind of message would support our Superintendent to make significant changes. That kind of message would challenge the School Committee to face this problem rather than pass it on to another generation.

The MCAS is a valuable tool for educators and a dangerous threat for many of our children. The test is far from perfect, but that isnít my primary concern. Used properly, as one of multiple assessment instruments, it can give teachers valuable insights into what the students know and where they need more or different instruction. It can also help teachers improve our curriculum. The problem arises when children fail the test in large numbers or in certain patterns. Who will be held accountable when we fail to educate our children? I believe that the adults must be held accountable. If we disproportionately fail to educate our poor, our Blacks, our Hispanics, whose fault is that? If our children canít appeal the decision with portfolios that demonstrate their competency because the adults didnít tell them to save their work, whose fault is that? The fastest way to improve public education is to hold adults accountable for their failure to educate children. Unfortunately adults have chosen to avoid accountability. They have instead decided to punish the children by denying them a diploma, thereby denying many of them a successful future. I believe in high standards for our children. The MCAS by itself, with accountability placed on the wrong people, will more likely hurt our children.

Civic participation:
The School Committee members, as individuals, are highly accessible for civic dialogue. I certainly get calls at all hours on a wide variety of issues. However, the School Committee as a body is not accessible. This makes it difficult to have meaningful civic participation in the creation of district policy.

There are four formats for School Committee meetings: executive sessions, regular business meetings, workshops, and the budget hearings. Currently, only the budget hearings come close to allowing meaningful civic participation. Obviously, no civic participation is possible during executive sessions. Regular business meetings limit each person to three minutes of public comment. The School Committee is not required to respond to any of the questions, suggestions and concerns raised. Even in the yearlong consolidation process, most School Committee Members waited until the very end to share their thinking with the public. The budget hearings allowed the public to meet, discuss, and brainstorm in small groups. At least one School Committee member and one senior administrator participated in each of those small groups. It wasnít perfect, but it was a step in the right direction.

What if we took three topics and discussed them throughout the year? And what if we pushed the conversation out into the community? For example, we could discuss the high school turnaround in a series of meetings held at CRLS. We could discuss how to close the achievement gap in meetings that took place in several elementary schools, or youth centers. By pushing the School Committee out into the community, and choosing a format for real dialogue, we are much more likely to draft policy that serves the entire district.

This is a critical time for Cambridge Public Schools. We have an experienced and committed Superintendent. We have the financial resources. And we have a community that desperately wants all children to achieve at a high level. What we need is a School Committee that will put education ahead of politics. We need a School Committee who will support this Superintendent to make some fundamental changes and improvements. We need a School Committee with the wisdom to listen, the integrity to tell the truth, and the courage to take a stand for all children. I am running for re-election because I love the work and the work is not done. My name is Alan Price and I am asking for your help, your support and your #1 vote on November 4th. Thank you.

Cambridge Candidates