Dear fellow Cantabrigians:

I would like to take a moment to address my vote on the superintendent’s Innovation Agenda.

First, I would like to thank the superintendent and his staff for their hard work over the past several months. No matter how you feel about the proposal, I think we can all agree that a great deal of work and thought went into its preparation. To my colleagues: Thank you for your hard work; I’m proud to be a member of this committee. I also wish to thank members of the community who have expressed strong, articulate and passionate feelings both in support and opposition to this plan. I know it’s been suggested at times that some who oppose the plan don’t care about all the children of Cambridge; I don’t believe that to be true. I think people want what is best for all children but don’t always agree on the best way to achieve that goal.

For as long as I can remember, our public schools have struggled to educate all of our diverse children. Some children thrive in the Cambridge Public Schools, receiving an education rich in knowledge and culture. Other students don’t, often going through their school years surrounded by low expectations, small schools and little diversity.

One of the major issues facing our students, particularly those in the middle-grade years, is that our desire to have small, individual, often competing K-8 schools leads to children entering high school with various skills, various knowledge and various habits of mind. Each school, in a desire to maintain their unique and often wonderful and successful programs, works on an island, with little collaboration. This leads to dramatically different experiences, academically and socially, for our students, often leaving many unprepared for high school.

The Innovation Agenda calls for our 12 elementary schools, 11 of which are K-8 (Haggerty is K-6), to become K-5 schools, with the exception of the Amigos, the only stand-alone, dual-immersion school in the district, which will remain K-8. For grades six through eight, three — and on one occasion two — schools will come together to form small, upper-school campuses that will be unified in what they teach but not how they teach. In addition to creating larger cohorts for our children, offering more electives and after-school activities, providing more time for teacher collaboration and training and bringing a unified vision to our middle grades, this plan also solves one of the most grossly unjust practices in our district: Special education students in our self-contained classrooms for anything from autism to emotional difficulties are forced to change schools every two or three years. They are the only population of students mandated to do this. Under the Innovation Agenda, this will no longer be the practice. Our most vulnerable students will now be full citizens of their schools and face no more transitions than any nonspecial-education peer. This is long overdue.

Many have criticized the plan for being too vague, for not filling in the details as to what these upper schools will look like. Although I understand how this can be unsettling, the exciting part of this plan is that the superintendent is going to work hand in hand with teachers, parents and community members to design these programs in a way that reflect the best practices of the district and build upon the expertise and the talented of our experienced staff and community.

I know this vote is very difficult for many. Some communities hunger for change, while others who have built successful and wonderful programs over the years are feeling a profound and painful loss. Please know that my colleagues and I respect and empathize with those feelings. It is what made this decision so heart-wrenching. But I am confident that in this new structure we will build a district even stronger than before, a district where we can finally assure parents that no matter what school their children attend they will be prepared at high levels and be taught skills and knowledge needed to be successful in our advancing world.

I look forward to this community pulling together, as we always do, and concentrating our efforts in the best interest of our children. Thank you all for your participation thus far, and I am eager for us to begin the next phase of this discussion.

Respectfully,

Marc McGovern, vice chairman  of the Cambridge School Committee