Note: The below essay is by a candidate for School Committee. All candidates are invited to submit such articles (and some others have) to explain why they are running for office, and their supporters are invited to submit as well (and some have) to explain why they back the candidate. Each item will be posted in the order received to be best of the editor’s ability. All will be lightly edited for publication. Submitted images may be used if they are of sufficient resolution, size and quality.

101615fi-Jake-CrutchfieldFrom the Jake Crutchfield for School Committee campaign, Oct. 25, 2015: My name is Jake Crutchfield, and I am running for School Committee. As an educator, community organizer and frequent participant in civic service, I know how incredible our teachers, students and families are. I’m running because I want to empower our community’s decision-making process. Below are my ideas on how to mitigate two of the most persistent issues in our school district, excerpted from my full platform:

Achievement gap

Cambridge has a clear socioeconomic and racial divide, with the achievement gap still a persistent issue for Cambridge Public Schools. Bridging the gap requires a profound change in the way we approach poverty and achievement in our schools.

Opinion boxAcademic consensus increasingly demonstrates the value of a holistic education. Students need skills in math, science and language arts to succeed in modern society. It is equally clear students best retain these skills when taught in a hands-on, creative way that treats the student as a partner in their education. We cannot legislate educational policy from the top down and expect meaningful impact. Our educational policy must stem from the question “How do students learn best?” As a graduate of Lesley University’s Graduate School of Education and as a licensed teacher in Massachusetts, I know teachers are best equipped to shape our policies. And, as a community organizer around education, I know we need to reach out directly to the students and families that need our services the most. It is from these perspectives that I view the following priorities for closing the achievement gap:

Building a professional roadmap. The positive effect of being exposed to the professional world at a young age often flies under the radar. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons cited in professional success stories, and a common thread linking them with colleagues who came from means. With Cambridge’s incredible resources there is no reason our low socioeconomic students and students of color cannot all have internships and apprenticeships throughout the city. The value of these experiences cannot be understated. Through consistent exposure to science-, technology-, engineering-, arts- and math-focused programs, students will leave the school system equipped to follow their dreams no matter which career they choose.

Consistent outreach year-round. The educational programming available in Cambridge is exceptional. Yet when examining participation rates in after-school and summer programs, there’s a clear lack of low-socioeconomic-status students participating. Moreover, the families of these students are are rarely able to be present at School Committee- and School Council-related meetings. Our open-door policy is not enough. We must reach these families where they are, in their community. Holding forums in public housing, hiring street workers and even offering child care at committee meetings would provide greater access to the services offered throughout Cambridge to the families in need of them most.

Focus on learning, not outcomes. Assessment and professional development are indispensable tools for educators. They are not, however, foundations of educational policies, nor are they appropriate use in every circumstance – despite their ubiquity in our schools. When testing dominates the school year and an overload of initiatives prevent teachers from planning long-term units or differentiating instruction, our low-socioeconomic-status students suffer the most. Our district needs to determine which district assessments are useful for teachers and which are superfluous. Furthermore, we must relax the numerous requirements asked of teachers. We must trust their expertise and be responsive to their needs. A classroom focused on helping students grow will ultimately yield better outcomes than a classroom obsessed with remaining accountable.

Emphasize the Rindge School of Technical Arts. In the excitement over the 21st century tech economy – and there’s a lot to be excited about – the value of a trade education has been obscured. College is not the right option for all students. Too many of our students enter college only to leave without a degree but having accrued large student debt. A trade education is valuable; more interesting to many of our students; and can lead to high-paying jobs in Cambridge. The Rindge School of Technical Arts is an outstanding trade program, and it should be presented as a viable alternative to a two- and four-year college experience.

Improve relationships

Superintendent: The superintendent is – as is literally stated in his or her contract – the chief executive of Cambridge Public Schools. They are responsible for the day-to-day operations and structure of the school district, and his or her relationship with the School Committee can come to define our schools. Successfully evaluating the superintendent and hiring his or her successor are among the most important duties entrusted to the committee. The process that took place during the summer and the fall did not meet the standards Cambridge families deserve. Individual evaluations held discrepancies, the composite evaluation left out significant reservations from some committee members and it took a Freedom of Information Act request by two City Council candidates for the evaluations to be made publicly available. Distressingly, an evaluation was not even conducted last year.

We are better than this. The superintendent should be evaluated every year, without fail, and both the individual and composite evaluations should be made available to the public expeditiously. If elected, I will lead on this issue, ensuring the evaluation process happens when it’s supposed to, with the utmost respect for all involved.

School Community: The School Committee is required to make decisions from a very high altitude. While this distance from the classroom affords greater objectivity, decisions from the committee don’t always reflect the needs of teachers and administrators. The committee needs a greater level of in-classroom knowledge to effectively govern the district.

Attending School Council meetings and holding lunch hours in the schools and appropriately scheduled school visits would give committee members an enriched understanding of each school’s unique needs – without the stigma of micromanagement.

The committee could also include teachers formally in the legislative process. Some concrete ideas:

bullet-gray-small A consulting body made up of teachers from every school and administration could be formed to advise the committee on curriculum-related matters.

bullet-gray-small Committee members could submit proposed legislation to teachers union reps for feedback from district educators.

bullet-gray-small A 360 review process would provide all members of the school district with meaningful feedback.

I have a record of building consensus with diverse stakeholders, and I will do so again to ensure the city’s public school district is a collaborative, productive community for teachers, administrators, families and students.

If you believe the School Committee needs to empower our teachers, students and families, hold itself to the same rigorous standards it sets for the district, and renew its commitment to extensive community outreach, I humbly ask you to consider me for your No. 1 vote on Tuesday, Nov. 3.