School Committee is sworn in, electing vice chair and gearing up to address Covid and other issues
School Committee members were sworn in Monday, elected Rachel Weinstein to be vice chair for the term and agreed to hold off on changing the rules under which they operate until the amendments could be reviewed fully.
Voting on those rules will be a small addition to the challenges facing the committee in its two-year term, including the impact of Covid-19 on staffing, student learning loss and the school community’s overall social and emotional health; evaluating a large dip in lower elementary enrollment; deciding whether to grant acting superintendent Victoria Greer a long-term contract; and working with the superintendent on a new district plan. The next committee meeting is Tuesday.
“The last term, the School Committee went through a number of challenges, and it’s clear that we still have a significant amount of work to do,” said Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, who leads the committee. “I feel honored to be able to continue to work with all of you and our new member as well. I’m really looking forward to the many months ahead – I know we’ll get even more quality time.”
The 6 p.m. ceremony in City Hall’s Sullivan Chamber was the second of the day after a morning City Council inaugural held in Central Square. City clerk Anthony Wilson, assisted by deputy city clerk Paula Crane, administered the oath of office to incumbents Ayesha Wilson (no relation to the clerk), Rachel Weinstein, David Weinstein (no relation to Rachel Weinstein), José Luis Rojas Villarreal and Fred Fantini, as well as to first-termer Akriti Bhambi, who won the seat made available when vice chair Manikka Bowman decided not to run after serving three terms.
In the new committee’s first official action, Rachel Weinstein was elected unanimously as vice chair, responsible for naming members and chairs to subcommittees and presiding at meetings when the mayor is not present. She was nominated by member Ayesha Wilson, and the motion was seconded by member David Weinstein.
“I appreciate the vote of confidence of my colleagues, and I have such respect for all of you. It’s really a privilege and an honor to get to serve you as a body,” Rachel Weinstein said. “I look forward to our work together and to working with you, Mayor Siddiqui and Dr. Greer as well. I’m really moved.”
The second item on the agenda was to approve operating rules amended by executive secretary Ariel Kennebrew and a committee team. Several members said they wanted more time to understand the changes; Siddiqui recommended that the rules of the previous term carry over for now. After referral to the appropriate subcommittee they could likely be approved within the first two meetings of the year, Fantini said.
“The new member needs to be able to appreciate a discussion about all the amendments,” Fantini said. Bhambi agreed, with the stipulation that remote participation in meetings was affirmed by the state through at least April.
The inaugural was opened by student School Committee member Anaïs Killian and run by Wilson. Siddiqui – reelected unanimously as mayor earlier in the day by the newly installed City Council – announced a short organizational meeting, first by welcoming former Cambridge mayor Kenneth Reeves, first-time councillor Burhan Azeem and former School Committee members Richard Harding. Other former members in the audience included Fran Cronin and Larry Weinstein, who is Rachel Weinstein’s father. Many people were watching the ceremony from home due to the rise in Covid cases in the community, she said.
It was a ceremony with less ceremony than usual, and wrapped up in only about a half-hour.
Members were invited to introduce the few friends and family they brought to the event. Fantini and Rojas said theirs were watching from home in light of the rapid spread of Covid cases. “Since this is my 20th term, I asked my relatives and family to watch it virtually,” Fantini said. “I hope they’re all watching, anyways,” he added to laughter from those in Sullivan Chamber.