Sunday, April 14, 2024

Zeyla Anderson and Nathan Greenberg, of Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, play after the Feb. 9 donation of $100,000 worth of musical instruments for local schools at Boston Symphony Hall. Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart and Peter Cieszko, president of Fidelity Investments, look on. Cambridge city councillor Ken Reeves has complained of the lack of a strong orchestra for city schools. (Photo: Fidelity Investments, taken by Bizuayehu Tesfaye of AP Images)

Denied the role of mayor and the accompanying leadership of the School Committee, city councillor Ken Reeves spoke bluntly Monday on the district’s failings on after-school programs and a proposal to create a middle school.

“I can see when B.S. is being sold as steak,” Reeves said of Superintendent Jeffrey Young’s plans for a middle school. “I’ve never seen a city involved in such an elaborate discussion of something that is a figment of imagination. There doesn’t seem to be votes for it. There is no strong advocate on the School Committee to change from K-8, not one.”

“So don’t get caught up in the hype,” Reeves said.

A formal presentation of the proposal won’t be heard until April; Reeves was responding in part to a rough draft of the proposal given Feb. 2 by Young, who got directions Tuesday from the committee on how to hone it.

Reeves heard the proposal firsthand because he had been serving as interim mayor and committee member as the election of a mayor from within the City Council dragged out nearly three months. But it was David Maher who was elected Monday and heard the committee’s suggestions to Young the next day.

While Reeves said he hadn’t set an agenda for a mayoral term he wasn’t sure to get, he said Monday that he had “a very energetic interest in correcting flaws in the school system” and, as a person of color in a racially mixed city, in balancing out a panel on which the demographic of “white middle class is overrepresented.” Eight of nine committee members are white.

His opportunity to comment on the plan came with an update from the city manager’s office on a Blue Ribbon Commission on Middle School Youth detailing an award of $117,000 from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and how it will be used toward after-school activities.

He was critical of money being applied to programs that involved — not including students in intramural sports programs such as soccer — only about one-third of the city’s children. The report he cited “did not tell us about the other two-thirds, which is so essential,” Reeves said.

Assistant City Manager for Human Services Ellen Semonoff said data collection was being improved, and that the grant would help train personnel and bring after-school activities to more kids.

But Reeves remained concerned after-school money would be misapplied, as he had seen happen in the past, even though Cambridge is full of arts venues housing organizations that could instruct kids inexpensively — especially since he felt district music and dance programs were so weak compared with what they could be. He contrasted the lack of a strong citywide youth chorus and orchestra with when he, as mayor in 1995, brought in Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem to work with 60 kids for $20,000.

“That’s not a lot of money for the quality of experience they got. Are we going to be that kind of creative going forward, or are we going to be sort of herding cats about who will take these kids and do what with them?” he said. “We have some high-quality arts organizations right here that do not appear to be that greatly engaged with our kids.”

Noting Semonoff’s comment about training, he said, “The Blue-Ribbon Commission says we should have enriched training for all the personnel — toward what end? How can we know exactly it will have an impact? Who’s doing the training, and what is their success to date?”

“We’ve been planning for what to do with after-school for most of the time I’ve been here,” he said.

City councillor Sam Seidel asked if the foundation’s grant would be affected by changes to the district’s structure that could be brought on by the middle school proposal, but Semonoff assured him the money was not affected by the configuration of schools.