Saturday, July 20, 2024

Challenger running for committee for the first time

The candidate’s website | Email | (857) 209-1117

Background: Urban policy and education policy  | Focuses: Closing racial and economic opportunity gaps, educator labor and replacing the MCAS


Compiled by Alex Bowers

1. What are the top three issues you would like to address if elected?

  • More teaching, less testing: The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System testing has failed to close racial and economic opportunity gaps in our schools. Meanwhile, it has prevented many students from graduating, narrowed the curriculum and led to drill-and-kill test prep over deeper learning. It is a poor measure of students, teachers, and school progress. I will collaborate with others in the city and state to promote the Thrive Act, end the graduation requirement, and push Cambridge to adopt authentic forms of assessment such as those proposed by the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment.  
  • Elementary school schedule changes: Ensure that the implementation of the new schedule respects the fact that these changes are “guidelines” for each school, not prescriptive rules; that the wisdom and direct experience of educators and parents are taken into account as the changes unfold; that the social/emotional needs of all students are considered; that the youngest learners, especially, have sufficient time for play, rest, and transitions; and that the schedule changes are carefully monitored and modified as necessary to meet these goals.
  • Algebra I for all 8th graders: Ensure that the district moves, in a deliberate way, to provide Algebra I for all 8th graders, in heterogeneous classrooms with sufficient staffing and resources, to allow all Cambridge students, including those who need extra supports, to receive the rigorous math instruction they deserve. That is the best way to ensure that all students have access to advanced math classes in high school. 

To support all three of these goals, we need a fair contract for our educators now to ensure the excellent pay and working conditions they deserve! See question #5. 

2. Using the Excel tutoring initiative as an example, explain how you would identify goals, monitor progress, and evaluate the effectiveness of a district program.

The Excel strategic tutoring initiative includes some useful components to help students who are performing below grade level in reading and math. It uses i-Ready, a computer-administered diagnostic tool to identify what students do and don’t know and then provides computer-generated learning content tailored to the individual student. Where is the human interaction in all of this? I believe that, while computer programs such as this can be valuable if used sparingly, we should trust our educators to be the primary creators of content, teachers, and perceptive “assessors” of student learning. The relationships and interactions between teachers and students are crucial, along with project-based learning, and assessments including teacher-based tests, projects, performances, and portfolios. I would seek regular, structured (and publicized) feedback from the administration on the one hand, and parents/caretakers, students, and educators on the other, to assess how well all parties believe a new district program is working. This community feedback will be essential in evaluating other school system changes, such as the new elementary school schedule. 

3. What processes would you put into place to encourage parents and caregivers to have a voice in shaping the district’s priorities?

Meaningful family engagement is crucial for the life of a school and for student success. I will work to ensure the superintendent does not make decisions and implement them without families’ full knowledge and participation. I support increased resources and staff to strengthen family outreach and engagement structures in order to ensure meaningful involvement and leadership opportunities for marginalized parents and collaborative school decision-making at all levels. This includes open, culturally-responsive communication with families in their home languages; conducting outreach to meet families “where they’re at,” at home or in the community; and events, trainings, and school committee hearings that are accessible to all parents and caregivers. 

4. 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 experiences? 

I’ll promote anti-racist, culturally responsive teacher training to combat racial bias among educators and challenge deficit-based views of families of color. We need an anti-racist, inclusive curriculum that represents the diverse cultures and histories of all students to improve student engagement and student-teacher relationships. Robust efforts to recruit and support more educators of color will improve racial representation for students and feelings of belonging. We must reduce focus on MCAS standardized testing which narrows the curriculum at the expense of creative teaching, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, and disrupts the necessary time for teachers and students to form meaningful connections. 

5. How do you propose to improve educators’ experiences (for instance, professional development, workload, and evaluations) in the district?

Educators are the heart and soul of our public schools. Our students’ well-being is dependent on the well-being of their teachers. First, our Cambridge educators deserve a fair contract, with excellent pay, benefits, and working conditions. It’s shameful that they’ve had to start school without a contract this fall. Many teachers are experiencing burdensome workloads; our special education teachers feel stretched beyond what they can possibly do. We need sufficient staffing and supports for all educators, and in particular, teachers of our scholars with special needs. Educators should be evaluated mostly by direct observations, meetings, and feedback from principals, certainly not by students’ MCAS scores, which studies have shown to be an inaccurate and misleading measure of teacher effectiveness.