Sunday, June 16, 2024

Race and class inequity have been a historic Achilles heel for our school system. In the 1950s, my father, on School Committee, spoke loudly about the need to support Rindge Tech as an equal partner. During my 2000-01 term as mayor, we added socioeconomic (income) as a balancing factor, denied attempts to reinstate choice at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, rebuilt the technical program led by a vibrant director and created the Cambridge Harvard Summer academy to address failing students. But when I suggested merit-based raises for principals, it was met with real pushback from the unions. Change is hard those for those getting what they need. Principal Paula Evans made equity her priority and become unpopular. Exhausted with politics, she later left to start a charter school.

Superintendent Kenneth Salim courageously proposed longer school days to help close the achievement gap, and initiated laptops for all CRLS students – which showed he gets it. I am very optimistic about Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and the new School Committee. We should rally behind them. More important than more funding is building consensus, changing the culture and doing additional work. Moving toward actionable steps is the hard part. Endless debate means status quo. Compromise and sacrifice are integral to the process. Here are some actionable steps to move the conversation forward:

Parent engagement. Teens often keep things from parents; we need new strategies, such as going to homes and holding interventions with all stakeholders. It is a myth that minority and low-income parents care less. Beyond emails and access to grades, all parents and guardians must be engaged with teachers, coaches, guidance counselors and administers.

Early identification of students getting behind. Cambridge is small enough that we can see everything coming. Elementary and middle school teachers, youth center workers and coaches all are aware of depression, trauma and family issues, but we have yet to create a blanket that is woven by all stakeholders. A child struggling in middle school might be removed from youth programs and bounced around, advanced by grade and land at CRLS. We need responses to early indicators and intervention.

Higher standards. Let’s have strict enforcement of community service, behavior, attendance and drug and alcohol policies at CRLS, some of which are red flags when violated. This must be restorative, with parents and guardians at the table.

Alternatives to college. Life skills, financial, entrepreneurial programs and internships must be considered as schoolwide options. Our technical program should be a prominent national model and include high academic standards. Focusing only on college leaves many kids hopeless and left out. Students of color and low-income students should not be targeted for alternatives, which should be readily available and a respected track for all students.

In-school supports. For instance, take a day just for scholarship applications, FASFA, College applications, enrollment in job training programs and career goal setting. Current guidance is not enough, in part because low-income kids do not have the same resources at home and bad choices or no choices can follow.

Communication with students. Having students on the School Committee is great, but students need a greater voice at the high school and in the upper schools. Fostering civil, respectful dialogue is a life skill.

Accountability and tracking. It’s not sufficient to look at graduation rates or what boxes kids check; Cambridge Public Schools graduates should be tracked for five or more years after high school. We all see the post-high school disparity, and for $360,000 per student from kindergarten though 12th grade (at $29,000 per year) we should own the outcome. Students without resources cannot go to prep school to make up for bad years; minority students who are not prepared cannot make up lost ground as easily as white students. Society does not allow it.

Teacher recruitment. The average salary in Cambridge is $89,000 per year. Cambridge is a good place to teach, and a better place to be a principal. It’s a hard job but, if this is a declared crisis, let’s make sure new teachers are up for the task of embracing the entire agenda. Cambridge can put a loan fund in place to offer contractual loans to students of color leaving the high school to get them back there to teach.

After-school organized activities. These should be required. Not necessarily a school-based program – but something. Necessary work can be satisfactory. Students must be engaged in value-rich activities. Speaking as a onetime teen without a father, after-school activities are critical.

These are just examples of ideas for consideration. Ultimately, if the School Committee adopts specific goals, personnel must be held accountable to those goals. Consensus-building is the critical first step, but not everyone will be happy. Accountability is next. The outcome must result in real gains in closing the achievement gap. There is enough blame to go in all directions, but that will not address the problem. Trying new things require courage, risk and often more work. Our kids deserve our best efforts, and we will be a better city for declaring this to be our challenge and taking actionable steps together.

Anthony D. Galluccio is a youth sports coach and resident and is a graduate of the Class of 1985 at CRLS. He is a former mayor and School Committee chair.