Sunday, June 23, 2024

To Cambridge Public Schools superintendent Kenneth Salim, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School principal Damon Smith, members of the School Committee, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and Cambridge Public Schools administrators:

As schools will be closed through the end of the year and perhaps beyond, we hope you will acknowledge the ways our Distance Learning Plan fall short for Cambridge Rindge and Latin School students and consider changing the approach.

For those who know me, you know I am a longtime booster of Cambridge Public Schools. For those who do not know me: I was a teacher at Amigos, assistant principal at the Fletcher School before the merger with the Maynard School and principal of the Morse School. I also worked for mayors E. Denise Simmons and David Maher as education liaison. I then worked in the state’s Executive Office of Education during Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration, and now work with former secretary of education Paul Reville as managing director of Harvard’s Education Redesign Lab.

I have two daughters who have attended CPS since kindergarten and are now at the high school, having just finished grades 9 and 12.

I love the Cambridge Public Schools because over the last 28-plus years I have felt the district led the way on many important issues, including integration and academic practices, though knowing we have never fully achieved the ultimate goal of serving all children and youth well. I have always felt that CPS held hope for a better future.

The last three-plus months have broken my heart, because I have seen my daughters get seriously subpar engagement from the high school – and as a caregiver, have received insufficient communication about expectations and updates along the way. 

I fully appreciate how hard the past months have been. I know there are countless teachers and administrators in the district doing heroic things. But as a system we are failing our high school students.

At the risk of annoying my daughters, I will share their experiences at the high school this spring. 

My daughters had Community Meeting only once a week, and got the message it was optional. They attended but complained to me that since it was optional, other kids weren’t. At one Community Meeting, my daughter was the only student who showed up. She did not want to attend again. 

The once-a-week 30- to 45-minute classes were not sufficient. Please remember that our high school operates on a semester schedule, so each of our classes during the spring counted for two classes in a typical high school. Once-a-week classes at our high school actually equal two weeks in most other high schools.

With that in mind, I share with you that one of my daughter’s math teacher stopped communicating with her class a month before school ended. Kids showed up to class and no teacher or administrator showed up. Kids began saying “I guess our teacher gave up on us.” After bringing it to the attention of the school, no adult showed up for the kids the following several weeks. I’m not sure the school would have even known this was going on had I not emailed them. I can only assume they were rightfully overwhelmed, but this harmed our kids. 

When progress reports were sent out, I had to log on to Aspen and download the report on a computer – it would not work on my phone – to find out one of my daughters (formerly an A student) was getting no credit in three of her four classes. No one from the high school ever reached out to me. Based on my experience, I am sure there are many families that didn’t go through all these steps required to access the progress report and may still not know how their children are doing. This troubles me deeply.

I watched the School Committee meeting Tuesday and am concerned by the description of a CRLS student survey as the equivalent of K-8 caregiver-teacher conferences. Caregivers were not surveyed, and I’m not sure my daughters know what they should have gotten this semester – so their replies to the student survey may not have been a good gauge for what they should have received this spring. 

Additionally, my daughters did not have live classes for the last week of school, as most of their teacher told the kids they were not having “formal” sessions. What this translates to for our kids is no last class for the year. If we, as a community, are truly committed to our kids’ social and emotional well-being , closure and time with our kids would be a priority.

Please understand that I share my daughters’ experiences not to seek a solution for them specifically, but to give you a view into the experience of what’s going on at CRLS that is alarmingly problematic. I am deeply worried about our high school student body as a whole.

Some of our students rely on the school more than others. The support, engagement and communication from the high school has meaningful impact on all of our kids but not equally –which is all the more reason we need to be sure our high school delivers to all of them. 

Thank you for your attention. My hope with this letter is to garner the attention and support necessary to ensure that the jewel of our system, CRLS, can support every one of our youth effectively in the coming year.

Bridget Rodriguez, Larch Road