Bernette Dawson for School Committee, 2019
Challenger running for committee for the first time
Background: Nursing and small business | Focuses: Special needs, universal pre-K
For candidates who did not sit for the interviews contributed for profiles by parent Piotr Mitros, we have edited and condensed responses given to questions at an Oct. 3 forum held by the Cambridge Education Association and recorded by Beck Hamlin of Cambridge Community Television. That full video is here.
If the School Committee is part of a culture of white supremacy that has perpetrated racial inequities in the district, how will you as a member work toward dismantling that culture?
We need to deal with this from the top down – show, not tell. We need to hold everybody accountable. If we expect our students to do their best, we should be able do the same as adults that are dealing with these students.
What changes would you recommend the district undertake to improve the experiences of students with special needs?
I have a child who has been on an IEP since 3 years old, and having more transparency and building better relationships with families and teachers would would help with that. With the support of more hearts and hands in the classroom, he does not feel “different” – because when kids on an IEP get pulled out, they feel like they’re different, like they’re not as smart as the other kids.
For many years, educators in Cambridge have voiced concerns over testing at the district and state level. How will you respond?
We need to find alternative ways to measure how our students are progressing. Our teachers should not be teaching to a test; they should be teaching our students to be deep thinkers. I have heard teachers say, especially around the fifth grade, that students are tested 20 to 25 times a year – that is a lot – while for second-graders, it’s more like two or three times. We really need to take a deep look districtwide and at the different grade levels: Why are we testing more the older they get? Because that’s actually building more stress and anxiety on our students.
What structures would you recommend to support more collaboration between educators, central office administrators and the School Committee?
I would host listening sessions – and really listen, valuing what everyone has to say. I’ve seen teachers simply asking for more hearts and hands in the classroom and year after year not getting that. We’re showing them that as a School Committee, we’re not listening or valuing our teachers.
I’m running because I believe in equity through education. As a mother of two black boys, one being a child on an IEP and with advanced learning needs, I’ve had to learn how to use my voice and become a fierce advocate to ensure he receives the exceptional education he deserves. Not every parent knows how to use that voice, or that they even can advocate for their children. I will make sure everyone has a seat at the table.