Kathleen Kelly for School Committee, 2015
Kathleen, a Mid-Cambridge resident for more than 20 years, has served one term on the School Committee. She earned a master’s degree in business administration from Simmons and a dual master’s degree in social work and pastoral ministry from Boston College. She works as a small-business consultant for an economic development program in low-income areas in Boston, assessing struggling businesses, developing technical assistance plans and coaching business owners with regular tutoring.
In describing her experience, she says that as a social worker and community activist she has worked to create greater access to educational resources and opportunities for all children; mitigate the social and emotional effects of violence on youth, families and neighborhoods; and engage parents with different experience and backgrounds in public school activism.
As a Cambridge Public School parent, she served on the King Open School Council and the King Open Extended Day Advisory Council. She says she is running in part because she wants every child and family to have the experience my family had – to have both strengths and difficulties met with appropriate support, something she realized many families did not get.
Compiled from the candidate’s words in publicly available sources
Top three issues:
Improving achievement for all students. A theme in our community is the desire for more rigor and higher expectations for all students. A consistent educational policy and philosophy needs to be behind School Committee decisions regarding achievement, although implementation may be different in different schools. Although we may create different interventions for different groups, I believe emphasis on improving achievement for all students must be kept at the forefront of our policy. Identifying barriers to effective implementation should be a primary focus in addressing how we improve achievement for all students.
In my first term, I addressed this. I focused on widening our understanding of family engagement, raising learning expectations for all students and increasing the amount of time our most vulnerable students spend in the classroom, where they need to be to learn and remain engaged in school. I led the discussion on the district family engagement team to create a partnership between families and teachers to support student learning. I advocated for training in cultural proficiency for administrators and new teachers to raise expectations for all students and improve family engagement. Ensuring that teachers and administrators have high expectations for all our students made this a key strategic budget item. I am pushing to create a common language and practices around culturally responsive instruction and curriculum.
Building a safe, supportive, nurturing environment in our schools. A welcoming environment should exist for all members of our school communities and requires continuous evaluation and improvement. The primary focus should be on the students. We also must develop positive, collaborative relationships between the adults, including family members and guardians, teachers, staff and administrators. Adults must model the environment we wish to create for our students. We should see our district as a single system that implements particular supports, such as academic challenge supports and special education supports, not as separate educational systems. Some schools have created a strong feeling of community through particular practices, such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, responsive classroom and restorative practice. All schools must be safe, supportive and nurturing. A particular focus for the committee should be welcoming all groups in our policy discussions.
Social-emotional learning remains a growing edge for the district. We have lots of wonderful pieces of the puzzle, but they are not integrated fully. I pushed for evaluation of our SEL programs, not only as separate elements but as an integrated whole. How do our programs reinforce the development of healthy student and community member identities? Our students will need emotional intelligence as they navigate a different work world, where teamwork is critical.
I am concerned about the increase in mental health issues among students from JK through 12th grade in our district, other urban districts in Massachusetts and nationwide. Some increase may be due to increased consciousness and attention to student mental health, school refusal and trauma, we need to be cautious to balance therapeutic inventions with appropriate academic challenge. We must fully implement student individualized education programs and accommodations in the classroom. I am concerned that student supports and special education are interchangeable terms in our district. The roles of guidance counselors, school psychologists, school adjustment counselors and social workers need to be delineated. These roles have overlapping training. Through evaluation of these roles, our district could more effectively use their training to help students and their families. I also sense from discussions with families that the lag time for general education students who need services is too long, and that student supports or services should be a broader umbrella.
In September 2014 in my annual discussion with the Superintendent, I advocated for significantly reducing suspensions. The majority of principals agreed to eliminate suspensions for three months. With the students in the classroom, we were better able to ascertain the needs of the students, the teachers and others to have more appropriate responses, such as restorative practice, that rebuild and strengthen our classroom and school culture. I know the power of restorative practice as I worked with an organization that used it for families and friends affected by homicide. We want students in the classroom learning, and our data indicate we have work to do meeting the needs of these students. Engagement in learning, attendance and appropriate responses when students encounter difficulty in the classroom are critical for student achievement and supportive classroom cultures.
Instituting long range planning based on a common vision for budgetary and programmatic decision-making. Creating effective policy requires committee members to understand what is working and what needs to be improved. Parents, teachers, staff and the broader community need to know this. Planning, evaluating and improvement must be part of the process of setting policies and leading our district. In addition to improving achievement for all students, I will put particular emphasis on the district’s need to institute long-range planning for budgetary and programmatic decision-making. This planning should include wide community input. I look forward to initiating this process with the new superintendent.
Compiled from the candidate’s statements in publicly available sources
Kathleen has been finding her voice this year. She has been a consistent supporter of finding programs and policies to support social-emotional learning for all students, and has taken the lead on pushing the committee and administration to consider long-term strategic planning. It’s true those haven’t happened yet, but it’s an improvement over last year when some members of the committee regularly went on the record saying a long-term strategic plan or vision statement wasn’t necessary. That doesn’t happen anymore, and Kelly gets much of the credit. She refreshingly cut through a long, multi-meeting debate on a doomed proposal for a teacher training contract by simply asking the superintendent: “What was it that is happening now that you think this addresses? And, how does it fit in with what we already have?” She also is developing a skill in proposing alternative approaches when she objects to something, which has helped bring the committee together and move things forward. She is growing to be a steady, diplomatic asset to the committee.