Manikka Bowman for School Committee, 2019
Incumbent elected in 2015 and seeking third term in office
Endorsed by Ayanna Pressly
Background: Philanthropy | Focuses: Empowerment of girls and minorities, School Committee governance
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 get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. The past two years, my service has demonstrated my commitment to making sure that we uplift the voices of students of color. White supremacy culture lives affects all of us, if you are person of color or not. This year, our students of color came to us and said there was an incident from a colleague on the School Committee that made them feel uncomfortable when it came to the N-word. I chose to listen to them. It’s just that simple. And as a School Committee we decided to look into that situation as it relates to the curriculum itself and to really push ourselves to address issues when they come up. We cannot be a society and a culture as well as a School Committee that see inequities and ignores them. I choose to live out my commitment to being a public servant servant by not ignoring those issues.
What changes would you recommend the district undertake to improve the experiences of students with special needs?
I support early screening when it comes to dyslexia and differentiated learning, and am involved with how we introduce curriculum into the classroom. A lot of our conversation focuses on special education teachers, but the reality is we need to work with general ed teachers and honors-level teachers to make sure they are positioned to help students with any type of special need access. It’s really important that we expand the framework of this conversation, because it’s really about transforming the culture to make sure all kids get what they need regardless of what classroom space they’re in.
For many years, educators in Cambridge have voiced concerns over testing at the district and state level. How will you respond?
This is a complex question. It’s an area that probably I disagree with the teachers union on, and it’s important to be transparent and honest about that. We have a lot of people in this community that have a different perspective on testing, but at the school community level their voices are not heard, and it’s irresponsible to have a conversation and not include multiple voices at the table. Here’s why I think we have to have balance in testing: We talk about dismantling white supremacy; our school systems are inherently not designed for people of color. I don’t trust our systems to be able to provide what is necessary for our most vulnerable kids – which include kids of color but also includes kids with disabilities – if you take away those accountability measures. We need to have more conversations around this.
We don’t intend to imply School Committee members are expected to be in our schools every day of the year. But how do you make decisions about what is best for schools when you are not?
This was one of my pushback questions for the teachers union, because I thought the question was a bit biased. I am a working parent, like many others in our district – and that’s the voice I represent. You don’t have to be in a school every day to understand the dynamic. We’re parents; a child comes home and talks to you. The second thing is, you have to understand the office of the School Committee. For us to be in classroom, in my professional opinion, is disruptive. We pay people a lot of money to bring their professional expertise to the classroom; then sometimes committee members come in and give recommendations, sometimes collaboratively, sometimes not. I think that is disruptive. I would approach it the way I’ve been doing it since I’ve been on this committee: I leverage the subcommittee systems to bring people together to have the necessary conversations to then bring recommendations back to the committee as a whole. I think that’s the most effective way to govern in our district.
I would love the opportunity to come back and serve the people and families of Cambridge. I pride myself on being a balanced voice that get things done, and my work since I’ve been on the committee speaks to that. I led the effort to get sanitary hygiene products in all schools and ensure equity in our buildings, so classrooms that didn’t have access to air conditioning now do. I’m working with our administration and colleagues to make sure our budget process is more transparent and that anyone who comes to a committee meeting understands the complexities and tradeoffs associated with bringing that budget together. Lot of times, we present it as if it’s Christmas and that no matter what someone says, something will end up in the budget – which is a disservice to the community, because that’s just not the way our system works. I value being a voice on the committee for girls, and particularly people and women of color. I have not shied away from controversial issues, because I believe if we don’t lean into our challenges, we will not grow. And if we don’t execute that leadership at the executive level of our organization, we will perpetuate the same social issues that allows academic achievement gaps.