Thursday, April 18, 2024

The first day of school this year held more excitement than usual for Cambridge high schoolers, as it was also the premiere of the new Cambridge Rindge & Latin School. With dozens of last-minute “punch list” items handled over the weekend before Labor Day, similar to last year’s unveiling of the first half of renovations, the $112 million project was complete.


“I think the school is amazing,” said senior Naomi Tsegaye, reporting to the School Committee in her role as student representative Tuesday only hours after the opening day of school. “The only downside is the photography room, because I’m taking photography and I was excited to take film — but the darkroom isn’t ready. Everything else is great.”

The “grand, grand opening” of the school is 10 a.m. Oct. 1, though, with a Saturday walkthrough for the public, Mayor David Maher announced. He confessed to having had a tour already and being impressed by the space, while acknowledging a number of punch-list items remain (in addition to completing the darkroom).

District official are planning an earlier tour for School Committee members, since in November the school returns to its role as home of committee meetings.

In the meantime, the committee schedule is being set at least through September, with the regular meeting Sept. 20 looking to include a presentation on the academic framework for the “upper schools” approved last year as part of the Innovation Agenda. The plan to separate sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from Cambridge’s elementary schools requires that space be set aside and curricula created, and educators and parents have been filled with questions about what those things will look like, how they’ll be implemented and the process for deciding both.

A draft calendar suggests there will be a Sept. 27 roundtable (meaning the committee will take no votes and accept no public comment) on how to change the district’s controlled choice policy, meaning how the district and parents select schools for students and vice versa.

Next week was portrayed as a unique two-day retreat for the committee, with the draft calendar setting aside from 5:30  to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday. On Monday night, though, Maher clarified that the two days would be spent on facilitator-run training, similar to training the City Council has had, focused on leadership development for committee members.While the public can attend, there would be no votes or public input taken and he felt the nature of the meetings would be boring for most.

That holds in reserve the four retreats that can be held each year, according to committee rules, which “work on creating a dynamic relationship with the superintendent,” committee member Fred Fantini explained on the Cambridge Civic Journal site. “We will be working [at retreats] on establishing goals and priorities.”

Committee member Patty Nolan said late Saturday that she’d had a different impression of what was planned for Tuesday and Wednesday. She’d believed the mayor and Superintendent Jeffrey Young had a broad, general agenda of “issues facing the district” for this one based on members’ past responses on priorities for the district, including “to talk through some of the issues on implementing the Innovation Agenda.”

“I expect us to hear the responses collated, and for us to discuss the priorities as a group and see areas of focus for our work over the next year,” she said.

The committee has held some meetings and informal discussions in rooms at the Cambridge Main Library, but Sullivan Chamber at City Hall remains its likely home until switching to the high school. The move allows the City Council to more freely schedule its own meetings, hearings, roundtables, retreats and committee gatherings, although Nolan was unsure there were so many conflicts that the creation of separate space in the 459 Broadway high school was necessary.

Still, she and other committee members will get to experience the same pleasure of working in new, custom space as the students attending CRLS as of Tuesday.

“The school looks really beautiful,” said Grant Baker, a junior serving as the second student representative to the committee. “It was amazing to see hundreds of kids out before school just waiting to get into the building. Once they let us in, everybody rushed in and the excitement on everybody’s face was just a great thing to see.”

After sending a link to photos of the renovated high school to alumni and education officials in other cities, vice chairman Marc McGovern said, “I received a number of incredibly jealous responses. One person wrote me back from a neighboring school system that said ‘our high school track team still has to take laps in hallways because of the lack of facilities. We’re quite jealous.’ … It’s just another highlight of this district and the city.”

This post was updated Sept. 11, 2011, with a response from Patty Nolan about the intentions of the two-day School Committee retreat and Sept. 13, 2011, with comment from Mayor David Maher.