Fred Fantini for School Committee, 2019
Incumbent first elected in 1981 and seeking 19th term in office
Background: Accounting and finance | Focuses: Community and family partnerships, curriculum improvements
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’ve made great progress, including electing a superintendent who is a person of color; naming and defining racial equity; and talking about overcoming structural and systemic barriers. On a personal level, I do a lot of reading about the subject and am very active in attending and participating at the courageous conversations taking place at schools throughout the city.
What changes would you recommend the district undertake to improve the experiences of students with special needs?
A school system should be measured by how it treats its most vulnerable children. I’ve been on the committee in the 1980s; in the early days there was always a battle, because we didn’t have the money – but one of my non-negotiables has always been the special ed budget. I was the person who always made sure the special ed budget got the resources it needed. I felt so strongly about special ed that on my own I went to the Federation for Children with Special Needs and spent the 15 weeks to become certified as a parent advocate, even though I’m not a parent, so I would be in a position to be able to help. I am a big supporter of Special Start and spend a lot of time visiting those classes. It’s a great thing. We always need to be pushing to make our special needs program better, and we will.
For many years, educators in Cambridge have voiced concerns over testing at the district and state level. How will you respond?
All schools need to need to have a system of accountability; we need to be responsible for the resources we’re given. But I’ve been on the committee for a long time and am ready to leave behind high-stakes testing – yet still need to be able to answer parents who say to me, “Fred, I just want to know that my child is performing at grade level.” We need to have data to support that. I am pursuing getting Massachusetts granted a waiver from the federal government so schools can implement a different system of accountability. The MCAS is one system, but in Cambridge we value arts and music as well.
Vocational education is one of your top priorities. Can you tell us more about what you see as the next steps for it in Cambridge?
Cambridge has 13 or 14 programs that kids can go to out of 50 allowed by the state. Since there is no charter vocational school in Massachusetts, kids are for the most part stuck with these programs. We need to be able to allow our kids to go to any vocational school in the state so there can be pathways leading to higher wage earning; our kids are not working in the biotech community, because we’re not providing them with the skills they need to. I’ve visited a dozen of the vocational programs in this state, and I’ve seen that a young lady can become a welder today and earn $100,000 a year or become electricians and plumbers.
I’ve been on the committee for 36 years. That makes me the longest-serving member in Cambridge history. It’s been a labor of love for me. A little bit of a background: I served as the deputy treasurer and tax collector for the town of Arlington for 35 years, and retired from there. I was the president of my union. And that’s when I came to the city of Cambridge. I couldn’t believe how low teachers’ salaries were, and one of the first things I did was become involved in negotiations with the unions. Every year since, I’ve worked on the team of negotiators to make sure our benefits and wages are what they should be for the people who work so hard. One of the things that I really love is visiting classrooms. I love going to schools, where a teacher will say to me, “I’d really like to take my class ice skating,” and that I have the ability to make that happen. One teacher alerted me that the back parking lot’s lights go out when they leave at night – a lot of teachers get in before the custodians and are the last ones to leave – and when I finally had Public Works put the lights on in the back, I wondered why the principal never indicated anything about it. And the teacher said, “Well, the principal always leaves at 3 o’clock.” (This was a while ago.) Visiting a classroom makes it more possible for me to be a good policymaker at the committee level.