Tuesday, April 23, 2024

School Committee Nancy Tauber says “tweaks and additions” to a district plan for middle schools are likely, but not major changes to the concept. (Photo: Liv Rachelle Gold)

A 235-signature petition opposing the school district’s “Innovation Agenda” was sent Monday to school officials, said parent organizer Donna L. Palermino.

The move comes even as to Superintendent Jeffrey Young intends to offer amendments to the plan March 8, said School Committee member Nancy Tauber on a Yahoo message board popular with city parents. The committee plans to hold a roundtable discussion Tuesday to discuss the plan, and Young continues to travel to each school for local meetings.

“Based on all the feedback, he will offer changes. There will be tweaks and additions, but I don’t think there will be huge [differences]. The concept isn’t going to change,” Tauber said Monday, explaining her online comment. “It’s just guesswork at this point, but based on what I’ve heard him say, he might just focus on adding more frame to the framework,” meaning more detail to the general proposal.

Young later confirmed that he would “issue a kind of addendum that will provide, we hope, good clarifying information and, where there’s ambiguity, crystallize” the issues.

Being halfway through his listening tour of schools, he was reluctant to say more. “There is potential for some revisions to specific elements,” Young said.

The plan would create four middle schools in existing school buildings overseen by deans, a position that doesn’t exist now in the district structure. Young announced the agenda Feb. 1, leaving details to be pinned down afterward and raising questions about implementation, staffing and hiring, curriculum, scheduling and community involvement.

Committee members have noted that Young would probably also draw criticism for having too much of a top-down approach, just as he is now for leaving too many details for later in the process to be pinned down by the school communities.

The basis for the petition-signers’ opposition is the complete elimination of K-8 education, according to the one-paragraph introductory letter — sent in English, Spanish and Portuguese — calling the agenda “a high-risk makeover that would break apart and abandon all the good K-8s can offer.”

Young has based much of his argument for change on the district’s socioeconomic achievement gap and the testimony of students, who have complained about the loss of academic, social and extracurricular opportunities resulting from small class size at many of the district “elementary schools,” most of which hold students until they transfer to the city’s high school. Parents, though, have split over whether the plan is a worthwhile step, with many worrying over how specific programs will be affected and the loss of a nurturing academic model.

“We value the generally acknowledged educational benefits of the K-8 model. Although we completely share the urgent desire to address inequities in the school system, we know that many have made proposals that are less drastic and would not involve the complete dismantling of successful programs, curricula and educational teams and disruption for all children throughout the district,” Palermino said in an e-mail. “Therefore, we have asked the mayor and the School Committee to send the plan back to the superintendent for revisions that would include the K-8 option for the numerous Cambridge stakeholders who value it.”

The committee’s vote, once planned for Tuesday, is now listed for March 15 on the district’s website.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of weeks,” Tauber said.

A regular meeting of the committee is set to start at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, with the roundtable running from 6 to 9 p.m. at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge. This story was updated the day of posting with Young’s comments.