Wednesday, April 24, 2024

As of Monday there will be two people on the City Council who voted for the Innovation Agenda in March 2011: David Maher, mayor at the time, and Marc McGovern, vice-chairman of the School Committee at the time. As strong supporters of this radical restructuring of the Cambridge school system, McGovern and Maher, in their role as city councillors, have a particular obligation to ensure that the city provides enough funding to cover the costs of the many promises made in the Innovation Agenda proposal. So far the city has not done that, and the school department has had to fund new Innovation Agenda expenses out of budget cuts, including at the school level.

New costs so far include salaries and benefits for eight middle school administrators, five guidance or school adjustment counselors and four upper school clerks; energy and maintenance costs required to re-open the Upton Street building; the cost of the new preschool at the Fletcher-Maynard Academy (early childhood education has traditionally been the fiscal responsibility of the Department of Human Services); and other costs associated with creating four schools from scratch.

The goals of the Innovation Agenda were noble and shared by all public school families in Cambridge: equity and excellence at both the JK-5 and 6th-8th grade levels. The vision of the Innovation Agenda included enhanced JK-5 programming in all subjects, including, explicitly, world languages and the arts. In the case of the latter two subjects, the opposite happened. Schools that offered students an opportunity to study a second language in the elementary grades were asked to discontinue their language programs until a more consistent JK-5 program could be developed. Schools that had full-time art and music teachers when they were JK-8 schools were assigned, as JK-5 schools, only itinerant part-time art and music teachers who were no longer full members of the faculty and school community.

As city leaders, Maher and McGovern should feel an obligation to ensure that the city funds all the promises made in the Innovation Agenda, not just those at the middle school level. The School Department can’t do that without an increase in funding from the city. There can’t be a K-5 world language program without K-5 world language teachers. Art and music can’t be integrated into the curriculum with only part-time art and music teachers.

The vision of the Innovation Agenda was not just four excellent middle schools, but also 11 excellent K-5 schools and an excellent K-8 Spanish immersion school. When the new City Council convenes Monday, McGovern and Maher have the opportunity and obligation to ensure that the city funds the promises they helped to make when they voted “yes” for the Innovation Agenda. Good politicians keep their promises. Especially promises to kids.

Emily Dexter, resident and public school parent