Fred Fantini for School Committee, 2021
Incumbent first elected in 1981 and seeking 20th term in office
Background: Accounting and finance | Focuses: Community and family partnerships, curriculum improvements
Why did you decide to run for another term on the School Committee?
I feel I can continue to contribute to making our schools better. I served on the most challenging subcommittees this term, co-chairing on budgeting and negotiations and serving on building and grounds. Experience makes a difference, and having someone with a strong historical knowledge of the system and is an expert in budgets and negotiations was critical to reopening our schools successfully.
What are the top three issues you would like to address if reelected?
- Making up for the loss of learning that students experienced during the pandemic and providing supports and strategies to accelerate learning.
- Working with the superintendent to bring forward a revised district improvement plan that will challenge and guide our school system over the next several years. Closing the achievement gap will be a top priority in this plan.
- Reviewing and implementing recommendations to expand and improve our vocational education program. The current limited offerings do not allow our students to take advantage of the opportunities in the Cambridge economy.
In your experience, what are the most effective ways to strengthen the district’s initiatives to promote social justice and racial equity?
Our School Committee unanimously adopted vision statements supporting the importance of social justice and racial equity – an important first step. We have also provided significant financial resources to support the creation of an Office of Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, led by Manuel Fernandez, former principal of the Cambridge Street Upper School. The office will include a family engagement component and will work to dismantle the root causes of inequity as identified by the Building Equity Bridges project. The School Committee and leadership are fully committed to promoting social justice and racial equity. The most important way to succeed is to remember our commitment to these initiatives when it comes time to vote on matters affecting social justice and equity. Not only should we talk the talk, but walk the walk.
How can the district improve its efforts to provide culturally sensitive instruction tailored to student interests, skill sets and ambitions in light of the diversity of student backgrounds?
The strength of our school system is its diversity, where everyone can respect and learn from other cultures. Diversifying our staff is critical to this work. This year, working with Lesley University, I helped create an opportunity for a diverse group of paraprofessionals who have bachelor’s degrees to get their master’s degrees in education at no cost and become teachers in our schools. Students relate to teachers that look like them and have similar cultural backgrounds. Recommendations from our OEIB will provide important guidance. In short, to achieve these goals, we must not only make it possible for people to become teachers and then better teachers, but also provide professional development and training for everyone who deals with kids and families.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on students and staff since March 2020 has revealed strengths and weaknesses in the system – are there specific items that you would review or revise?
Cambridge’s response to getting students and staff back to school safely was second to none in the state. Our School Committee, district leadership and families worked together to step up for our most vulnerable students, and when many safety provisions were put in place, for all our students. America was blindsided by Covid. What I would change is that we learn from the crisis: That is, the need to have remote learning capacity ahead of time and to make good use of it during other disruptions to the school year. Also, we might make sure that our capacity to feed students and to provide health services would be more powerful.
Takeaway from me: How can we take advantage of our learned technology skills and practices to support student learning going forward? This is very important. Finding ways to better support the social and emotional health of our students and families is important. Maintaining our infrastructure, such as buildings and systems, we now know is critical. We need to be always investing in improvements. There is no way around the impact on the minds of students and staff whose lives and education have been disrupted. We have to remain attentive to their needs as we return to a normal situation.
As a School Committee member, how would you encourage the district’s after-school providers and partners to improve or expand their services?
Our partners play a critical role in providing supports to many of our students. Programs such as Breakthrough, Enroot, the Work Force Youth Program, Aspire, Upward Bound, Cambridge School Volunteers and the Crimson Summer Academy are examples of programs that provide great services. I support efforts to get all the agencies that serve children to collaborate and, when it is appropriate to do so, to share contact information so more people could benefit. Many agencies that support services don’t always talk to each other. And the school department often has no way of knowing who can provide services and what services are available.
We need to have a better assessment system or evaluation system in place that shows the value-adds the programs provide, so we can make the appropriate investments.
We also need to find ways to engage these partners to help us meet our goals. These programs provide a lot of talent and expertise, and as partners they are valuable assets. Its very clear that schools cannot do this work alone.
What processes would you put into place to encourage parents and caregivers to have a voice in shaping the district’s priorities?
We have created a family engagement specialist position associated with OEIB that is already working with parent’s groups to empower them and give them a voice. Parents can anticipate a Parent University that will provide courses and create discussions on how to be more involved. Also, each school’s improvement council is a place where parents can and should be involved to help establish priorities at their schools.