Cambridge educators encouraged at inaugural
City School Committee members were sworn in Monday evening in City Hall, including new members Richard Harding and Alice Turkel. The proceedings were overseen by Ken Reeves, the city councillor serving as interim mayor until a final mayoral vote is held next week.
The proceedings were enlivened by songs from the children of the All City Chorus, music from the Cambridge Rindge & Latin School String Quartet, an invocation by the Rev. Marcellus A. Norris and a talk by Linda Nathan, co-headmaster of the Boston Arts Academy and author of “The Hardest Questions Aren’t on the Test: Lessons from an Innovative Urban School.”
Arriving in Boston in 1979 to teach bilingual education, she found her students sidelined, derided and the victims of violence from other kids. But in starting an arts program, she found success in mainstreaming without having to lose sight of children’s racial and societal differences. (In fact, her plays were trilingual: Spanish, English and in sign language for the hearing impaired.) And when she moved on to creating an operating framework for the academy, Boston’s only public high school for the visual and performing arts, messages from that success resonated.
Some say “race doesn’t matter,” she told officials and audience at the inaugural, “but as we looked at the data, there was no way race didn’t matter.”
She encouraged Cambridge educators to acknowledge the same truth and ignore similar injunctions that creating a defining framework for schools was “too touchy-feely” and “not related to getting students to meet high standards.”
It is, she argued.
“I’m well aware of pressure in public schools to respond to federal mandates … try to keep that cacophony at arm’s length,” she advised.
It is a position some committee members have already taken. “We need to take it in context,” committee member Marc McGovern told The Harvard Crimson last fall, speaking of poor MCAS test result. “They are one measure — an important one — but they don’t tell the whole story.”
Nathan made a few suggestions for Cambridge schools based on her experience in Boston — ways to engage parents in their kids’ success, for instance, and the possibility of taking students on trips to colleges when parents can’t — but acknowledged some were already being done and, on others, that “my sense of Cambridge schools is that you are well on your way.”
In addition to Harding and Turkel, committee members for the term include Alfred B. Fantini, McGovern, Patty Nolan and Nancy Tauber. Reeves will serve as chairman of the committee in his role as interim mayor until a permanent mayor — possibly Reeves himself — is chosen.