Ruth Ryan Allen for School Committee, 2019
Challenger running for committee for the first time
Background: Small business | Focuses: Special needs, vocational education
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 ensure implementation of the district’s Culturally Responsive Learning curriculum. We have things we start, but we never finish anything completely. And we really need to start cultural literacy very young. Kids in our pre-K Special Start classrooms who are together because of issues don’t see color, and that’s wonderful. When those kids start coming up from those classes, were starting to grow a very good culture. By doing more of that, we can dismantle a lot of bad things. We have to admit there are some issues that we still need to do better on, and follow-up is important.
What changes would you recommend the district undertake to improve the experiences of students with special needs?
This is my main topic. We shouldn’t be waiting for the children to be two or three grades back before we even start implementing the individualized education plan process or even the testing process. We need to undo the stigma that can come with a child being on an IEP; we have a lot of new families coming in that think an IEP means there’s something wrong with their child, which in reality it’s the opposite – we’re trying to say that we have curriculum the children cannot access and we really need to go the extra step and make changes so the child can. There is a lot of work we still have to do.
For many years, educators in Cambridge have voiced concerns over testing at the district and state level. How will you respond?
We spend way too much time testing our kids, especially the kids who have special needs. The teachers doing the assessments are taking that time away from other students they should be teaching, including extremely vulnerable kids. If we’re going to be implementing more testing, we need to have people whose sole role is to test and then to give back the information so teachers in the classroom can actually do what they love to do – to teach. We need to look at the entire student, with a holistic lens, through a student portfolio.
Can you talk more about your ideas for improving the experiences of families whose children have individualized education plans, specifically in regard to the IEP process itself?
Coming in as a parent and seeing my first IEP, I almost threw up. Because it was 24 pages, and I had to go through every one. Like a lot of other parents, I’m not the type who can sit down and actually read all that; we need to have things explained to us. Just simply what the test meant, what you’re going to do about the test, what should we be expecting to see on a daily basis with our child, what can we do on the outside of it. And that also has to be translated into all the languages spoken in Cambridge Public Schools. You have interpreters there when you get your IEP results, but that’s not being done across the board. There are a lot of families being totally underserved.
I’m not really good on paper, but I am a really good worker, am easy to talk to and have no problem going to meetings to voice my opinion and try to collaborate with a lot of people. I’ve been a community leader on special education, where I feel that our voice sometimes is not heard as much as it should be. We have a lot of children coming up that we’re finding have a lot more issues than we’ve seen before, and there’s a lot of budgeting we have to do, and quickly, to supply our kids with what they need. I’ve also advocated a lot for girls’ sports – I actually started the Paddy’s 5K road race because girls’ sports were duct-taping bases together while the boys’ sports all had new everything, and we’ve since been able to give more than $75,000 to girls’ sports teams in Cambridge. The other thing I am passionate about is vocational education – a lot of our children don’t test well, but at the end of the day they’re smarter than any of the kids that are out there.