Jose Luis Rojas Villarreal for School Committee, 2019
Challenger running for committee for the first time
Background: Community finance | Focuses: Early education, world language
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?
The principal at my kid’s school last year invited us to participate in a course to understand culturally responsive teaching. I learned that it starts with all of us – we each need to acknowledge our biases, and not just acknowledge it but start acting to counter those biases. The same way we did it at our school, it’s something we should be doing at all schools and at the district level and at the School Committee.
What changes would you recommend the district undertake to improve the experiences of students with special needs?
It’s really adding more resources in the classroom that’s needed – basically, making sure that teachers, including special needs educators, have the resources and time to be able to focus on those kids and that the kids get the services and teaching they deserve.
For many years, educators in Cambridge have voiced concerns over testing at the district and state level. How will you respond?
As we all know, testing does have value, but it shouldn’t be the focus. The focus really should be on how the district addresses the systemic problems that come from our society’s wealth gap. As far as figuring out the achievement of the students, there are other ways to collect data. The best way to address this is supporting an engaging learning environment and culturally responsive teaching practices.
Given the district’s space constraints, what specific proposals do you have around how to expand equitable access to junior kindergarten?
The first thing is to address those space constraints. So it’s not a short-term solution. But in the medium term, the committee and City Council need to work together to figure out how to come up with that space. We need to at some point. The next thing is for the committee and the community to discuss how to ensure those seats are being given to the kids who will benefit the most. It’s going to be a politically charged discussion.
I bring passion, community and leadership to the committee, and the perspective of an immigrant and an English-language learner when Cambridge has a lot of immigrants and English-language learners who have no representation. I have a track record of community involvement, such as being part of the Amigo School Council for seven years, currently as co-chair. I’ve also had the opportunity to serve as finance committee chair and similar other roles on boards of cooperatives and nonprofits, where I’ve learned to challenge groupthink and come up with creative solutions to challenges, and to seek accountability from leadership and management. My day job over the past 20 years has been in community finance, in which I’ve developed skills to communicate and collaborate with people of diverse backgrounds. I’ve arrived at solutions with clients through various means, whether discussing financial statements with worker-owned businesses or understanding a community’s challenges based on the socioeconomic circumstances. These are all skills any School Committee member should have. But equally important, I’m dedicated to investing significant amount of time to be an involved, active and engaged committee member.