I would like to take this opportunity to address some of the worries raised regarding the academic challenge policy recommended by Superintendent Jeffrey Young and passed by the School Committee. The goal of the Innovation Agenda and of the Cambridge Public Schools is to educate all children at high levels. “All” means those who are struggling, those who are in the middle and those who are excelling. Despite some concerns, the committee and the administration did not ignore nor turn its back on advanced students, nor are we heading toward “mediocrity” as some have suggested. Instead, we are raising expectations across the board for students and staff.

The academic challenge policy calls for Upper School students to learn in heterogeneous classrooms constituted with students who have a variety of perspectives, knowledge, skills and experiences. These classrooms will be formed to ensure a strong mix of students reflecting the diversity in our community. Students will be in classrooms with others who share similar interests, skills and learning styles. Teachers will be allowed to flexibly group students to match the content, instruction and tasks to students’ unique learning profiles. These groups will allow for fluidity so students will be challenged as their need, desire and progress dictates. In addition, the policy calls for the implementation of the subject acceleration protocol, a tool designed to meet the needs of those advanced learners whose performance is significantly beyond their current grade level in a particular subject area. Additionally, with the new common core standards being developed at the state level, expectations and curriculum in each core subject area will be dramatically more rigorous next year.

There were also concerns raised regarding the non-continuation of the Intensive Studies Program. The ISP is a program that serves approximately 170 of our 1,200 middle school students. Although this program has worked well for many of those students who attend, under the new middle school structure of the Innovation Agenda, a more rigorous and enhanced curriculum and the academic challenge policy, these 170 students will continue to be challenged while reaping the benefits of instruction in heterogeneous classrooms.

It is also important to note that the academic challenge policy was not only endorsed by our superintendent and administration, but also by the Cambridge Teachers Association, with the support of teachers from across the district, all 12 principals and district curriculum coaches. Essentially, all of our educational leadership endorsed this plan; that is significant. This was a policy that was widely discussed, debated, researched and considered.

Change is difficult, but policymakers must step back from the emotion, look at the big picture, listen to the professionals and make decisions based on the greater good. The School Committee passed a plan that will meet the needs of all students, including those who are advanced, while supporting the Innovation Agenda’s goals of creating a superior academic, social and emotional experience for all middle grades students in Cambridge. These are complex issues — far more complicated than many realize. I am confident our teachers and educational leaders are working tirelessly to ensure all students, regardless of ability, will be challenged and pushed to achieve at high levels, and that the academic challenge policy the committee approved will support them in that work.

Respectfully,

Marc McGovern, School Committee