‘Alarmingly problematic’: CRLS parent shows how three months of distance learning failed
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
I wanted to add a few thoughts based on some replies to my letter.
First, there isn’t a group of people I am more grateful to than our CPS teacher and administrators. When my older daughter started kindergarten it was shortly after I had recently left my position as principal of the Morse School.
People would often ask me if it was hard not to offer suggestions. My consistent and honest answer was “no”. Knowing what I know about how hard it is to be a principal and teacher in the district, I really just wanted to thank the principal and teachers everyday for doing the job. This is why it was truly with a heavy heart that I wrote and shared my letter.
Secondly, the range of expectation and needs of our Cambridge kids and families is breathtakingly wide. It is this diversity that breathes life into our city and makes our schools among the most diverse across racial, ethnic, learning difference, and socio-economic dimensions. Our beautiful and worthy challenge as a community is to create a common space that serves all these kids and families well. I know it’s not easy, and yet there are many teachers and administrators who manage to do this well in our system.
Having said both of these things, the reason I took the uncharacteristic step of writing this letter was because, even for all the good work as individuals that is going on, something wasn’t right at the high school this spring. What I shared about the experience of our family, doesn’t square with what I know of Cambridge teachers and the prior experience of my 12th grader at CRLS over the last four years.
I am a member of the district Covid 19 task force and am committed to helping improve the situation for the fall. I wrote this letter because this issue is urgent and we need to bring our collective wisdom and energy to bear on an anchor institution in our community.
There’s nothing that truly shows appreciation quite like a scathing review of a new model for education, 3 months after its inception. Why not show gratefulness for the teachers and support staff who had to figure out a new form of teaching, while also finding ways to get students “to class”, and hold them accountable for their work. As a former teacher and admin, you should be sympathetic for something so new, and really give something a chance to become better. You should definitely reflect on how you could have been providing opportunities for your children during this unique time, and not bash those for genuinely trying their best.
To contrast your experience, my son thrived during this time, and he was one that struggled with in person schooling. It was due to the tireless efforts of his teachers that allowed him to feel cared for and gain confidence. Even if he hadn’t, it wouldn’t feel appropriate to write something off as soon as it begun. What does that teach our children about patience and resilience when we can’t show respect for those in our community working so hard for their benefit?
Let’s think about the fact that these educators were also doing this work… during a pandemic! This opinion piece doesn’t do what we ask our kids to, be constructive and not complain about things without offering potential ideas to make them better. Was it the same experience the students would have had in person? No. However how could anyone set that expectation? For those out there who may feel dejected by this article, just know that I appreciate your work.
I agree with Bridget. My son had a similar experience at CRLS. The teachers were out of there element, and it showed. The volume of teaching was significantly diminished, and the quality of the interactions between students and teacher were limited. A lot of this had to do with the nature of remote learning. But less than one hour a week per class was nowhere near what was needed. The administration and the faculty need to learn how to better carry out meaningful learning if online classes are ever implemented again. The students deserve better.
I agree that the remote learning schedule of a class session only once a week was too little at CRLS. However, I had a far different experience re teachers. The 9th grade English and History teachers reached out frequently to update on activities, and responded quickly to the one query that I had. Two other course teachers had set up a very good remote program of several classes a week in March prior to the school-wide once/week program. I wished that they had been allowed to keep their system because it was far more engaging and productive than the school-wide one that replaced it. So many teachers were stepping up to the challenge.