Piotr Mitros for School Committee, 2017
Piotr Mitros is a longtime Cambridge resident whose son is a kindergartner at the Martin Luther King Jr. School. He has a long résumé in education as a researcher and program manager on improving teaching and learning, working with universities locally and across the world. His experiences include more than a half-decade as chief scientist and co-founder of the MIT/Harvard initiative edX; teaching in a range of formats, including project-based, small-group, blended, online, lab-based and in a more traditional setting; and working with education systems across many cultures, including in China, Nigeria, Jordan and many others.
He has also worked with experimental education projects at MIT; studied the “science of learning”; been a serial entrepreneur, including in three ventures from an early stages (all valued at $200 million to $1 billion or the not-for-profit equivalent); done policy work with the National Academy of Education, National Science Foundation/CRA, European Commission and other government organizations; and is the author of a number of peer-reviewed research papers in education. In addition, he is a keynote speaker/panelist on a range of topics related to education, such as how people learn, big data and educational technology.
Focus on student learning and outcomes. The School Committee spends excessive amounts of time on administrative matters, national politics, local politics, statements of support and other issues that have little impact on how our children learn or develop. I would like to move those issues to the City Council and school administration and refocus the committee on student development. In the past few decades, we’ve learned a tremendous amount about how students learn, and when the committee approaches an initiative it should start with how it expects that initiative to affect students’ outcomes. When possible, we should tie that back to quantitative effect sizes from research and estimated costs; when not, to qualitative data or substantive arguments. I’d like to bring that kind of rigor, depth and focus to the committee.
Empowerment. The committee meets a few dozen times per year. We have 18 schools, 14 grades from JK through 12th (and some pre-K), dozens of subjects, dozens of fantastic community-run programs, students from all of the larger ethnic groups in the world, advanced learners, language immersion students and many types of special-needs students. Put together, we have a far greater range of challenges and opportunities than a board-level body can or should tackle by itself. The committee should set an environment for innovation that empowers parents, teachers, students, researchers, community organizations, administrators and anyone else interested in improving the school system to do so. It should also provide mechanisms for transparency and evaluation so we can identify programs that work and mechanisms for dissemination of best practices. It should not spend time engaged in individual programs directly; it can’t get to them all meaningfully without micromanaging. Specific decisions are best left by the individuals running the programs or participating in them. What a school board can do is create an environment conducive to good decision-making.
Collaboration and organizational dynamics. The committee has caring, highly qualified individuals who bring a diverse set of talents and a good, compatible set of goals. Between the committee, the administrators and our teachers, we have a caliber of individuals that would be the envy of most districts. If you’ve ever been to a committee meeting, tried to fix something in the schools or discussed with teachers how best practices spread through the district, though, you probably know that those pieces don’t fit together very well. That’s not a problem with any individual; that’s an organizational and structural problem. I would like to help the committee work as a unit in which individual goals come together into a single, coherent strategy, we support the superintendent and administration and move away from a command-and-control approach. That involves empowerment, trust, transparency and communications.
Other issues include closing the achievement gap, in part through high expectations for all; quality program evaluation; restructuring school assignment while still keeping school diversity; family engagement; the elimination of high-stakes testing; and rewriting and simplifying school policies.
Compiled from the candidate’s words and statements in publicly available sources.
Mitros’s statement to the Cambridge Education Association is here.
If Mitros doesn’t win a seat on the committee, he should be hired by the administration. He has an amazing depth of knowledge about the issues Cambridge struggles with – closing achievement gaps, honoring teachers, bringing joy back to the classroom, understanding assessments. He was apparently urged to run for School Committee by fellow parents and teachers from his schools, and anyone who spends time talking with him will understand why. Though new to politics, since deciding to run he has studied up on the issues, learned the personalities and followed committee meetings, as well as sworn to work tirelessly if elected at what is important work for committee members – visiting schools and classrooms – while still considering the work of the committee to be “high-level vision and strategy.” Mitros also says he is dedicated to working collaboratively with the group, and his collegiality with colleagues at candidate forums is obvious. He is not your typical candidate, well-backed by established politics or with deep community name recognition, but it would be a shame to pass up a chance to use his expertise.