Ayesha Wilson for School Committee, 2019
Challenger running for committee for the first time
Background: Social work | Focuses: Teacher diversity, universal pre-K
School Committee candidates were asked by parent Piotr Mitros if they would be interviewed. Of the 11, three did not respond to emails; one declined; and one declined to have their interview recorded. We provided interview questions to the candidates a week before the interview to give time to prepare. Due to the length of the interviews, we have summarized answers, with links to audio for more depth.
Why run? With her job at the Cambridge Housing Authority’s Work Force Program based at the high school, where she runs a weekly workshop teaching kids life skills, Wilson sees firsthand the challenges of students entering and leaving the district, and the inequities they face. Cambridge has the resources to address them.
One thing. Standardized testing needs to be rethought. The MCAS has shown us we’re not serving some students, but we need to use that data to address those issues. We need universal pre-K to reduce the achievement gap, and it should be in place at the latest in the 2022-23 school year. [Note: All candidates seem to support universal pre-K, which needs funding by the City Council.]
Vision and direction. K-8 schools allowed more and deeper relationships with other students and teachers. Wilson doesn’t see the same kind of supports today as children switch schools more often.
How much time could you devote? Being based in the high school but paid by the Housing Authority, Wilson is in a unique position to interact with teachers, deans and students every day – and plans to keep using those resources. She would like to add coffees maybe once or twice a month with parents from each school and perhaps an hour per month at each school.
Cultural expectations at schools. Parents from some demographics are more active in school politics than others, which can harm other students. Schools can bring in parents to share their culture and add to diversity, and schools should be fun and contribute to relationship building.
Academic diversity. The Community Engagement Team and other partnerships should be used to welcome families into our spaces, and especially to have young people learn from each other. She doesn’t want to see kids separated, even within classrooms, and would like to see a model in which students who are ahead teach those who are behind – though it’s important for kids who are behind to not feel stupid, and for kids who are ahead to not feel superior.
Upper schools and math. Wilson sees a lot of work to be done. Though some parents like the new model, Wilson sees the dismantling of the K-8 schools as a mistake – in part because of the rigorous learning already happening in those schools, and because of a breakdown in cohesiveness. There should be more partnerships with universities on classroom tutoring (one partnership involving Boston College gives students credit for their volunteer work in our schools). She wants an investigation into the Putnam Avenue Upper School algebra results and some reparative tutoring, immediately.
Family engagement and family rights. We need to understand why we can’t engage with some families, and think outside of the box on improving that. Many of our schools have well-attended monthly community nights, but more white parents attend than parents of color, and understanding why is important. Meetings might also come into communities at housing centers, libraries, and other spaces, because for some families, schools are intimidating. Child care should be provided at meetings and at parent-teacher conferences. In terms of rights, parents should be able to advocate for their kids and be part of policymaking, and we need to think about open door policies that are not disruptive to classrooms. Kids often behave differently at homes than in classrooms, and we need communication where those come together.
Outcomes and testing. Test results show us where we’re not teaching effectively. That may not the best tool to do that, but we do need one. She wants to see the MCIEA piloted in a few schools to see if it is something we could use.
Closing thoughts? Wilson emphasized her background was ideal for a committee member – as a child who grew up in Cambridge, as someone who works in the high school and as a social worker. It lets her understand the whole child: where our kids sleep, eat, play and what role that plays when kids come into classrooms.