For many of us, the most timely school-related issue is the unfolding coronavirus. You may have received the Superintendent’s direct communications to families (if not, sign up here). This past Tuesday night, the School Committee also unanimously passed two “late orders” (timely motions that are submitted past the deadline for regular agenda items) related to the Covid-19 pandemic. One order specified handwashing opportunities and supplies needed for all Cambridge Public Schools. The other, which I co-sponsored with Member David Weinstein and Vice Chair Manikka Bowman, called upon the district to remain in constant communication with public health agencies and to update the School Committee on plans -- and the implementation status of such plans -- at each of our meetings until the pandemic has passed, as well as to ensure that hourly employees are not negatively impacted by school closures, and that, in the case of school closures, we provide for the needs of students and families who rely upon school meals. While no one knows how this virus will impact Cambridge, we are fortunate that our city has abundant resources and expertise to respond. I am grateful for the parents who testified at Tuesday’s meeting and the young woman who reached out to volunteer to help clean schools. We will fare better in meeting this challenge if we come together for that purpose, which I believe we will.
(CLRS Falcons came in 2nd Saturday night in the North Girls Basketball Finals. Impressive team!!!)
A more predictable challenge at this time of year is the shaping of the district’s budget. As of last month’s newsletter, Committee Members were receiving orientation from the administration as well as hearing from families and educators about their budget priorities. The conversation has heated up since then. At a joint School Committee-City Council roundtable February 11th, it was abundantly clear to me that all these stakeholders are requesting a budget that is framed in terms of measurable, equitable outcomes for all our students. A few of the strategic investments for which I am personally advocating include an Office of Equity that is designed by a diverse array of CPSD stakeholders, resources to expand conflict resolution and restorative practices in schools, and enhanced career technical education (CTE). The Superintendent shares his proposed budget with the Committee on March 12th, so stay tuned…
(Vassal Lane Upper School hosted a wonderful Cultural Night last week.)
The Rindge School of Technical Arts (RSTA) is our district’s CTE program. As I see it, RSTA plays a critical role in our school district for two reasons. First, not all of our students want to - or can afford to - go to college right after graduating high school. There are many jobs that offer living wages and economic mobility for young people with industry or state recognized licenses. Second, all our schools should be engaging students in deep thinking, interdisciplinary, hands-on experiences. For both of these reasons, I submitted a motion with my colleagues Fred Fantini and Ayesha Wilson to review what is working in our RSTA program and what needs to evolve. The Committee will have a conversation about RSTA enrollment and outcomes as part of a budget workshop later this month.
There’s too much to share for a brief newsletter! To connect about inspiring student events and get more commentary on news, please be in touch via social media. You can find me @RachelforCambridge
What a month since our inauguration January 6th! I am truly enjoying serving as one of your School Committee Members, appreciating both my steep learning curve and early accomplishments.
As you know, advancing racial equity is a personal mission of mine. I believe we have a unique opportunity in this term - because of the work of the Building Equity Bridges movement, student activism and the broad community attention on issues of race - to become a more anti-racist district. With this clear priority and a sense of urgency, Committee Member Wilson and I introduced our first motion at our January 21st meeting. Motion 20-12 prioritizes anti-racist work, calls for robust response to each of the 12 areas outlined in the Building Equity Bridges commitments, requires a School Committee retreat by the end of March to determine how the Committee will advance particular commitments, and calls upon the Committee to partner with community stakeholders.
I was heartened to hear the widespread support for our motion during the public comment portion of the meeting. One parent called on the community to “bring fierce, unyielding urgency to our work… to be bold and creative.” Another reflected on the distance we have to go and how a mandate from the Committee would help us go further faster. Additional family members spoke to the need for a paradigm shift in the district. These parents were joined by the President of the Cambridge Education Association, the Principal of the Vassal Lane Upper School and the President of the Cambridge branch of the NAACP, who also each endorsed the BEB commitments and our motion.
On a related but distinct front, one of the Committee’s greatest responsibilities is approving the district’s annual budget. With five of the seven School Committee Members being new to our roles, the Superintendent’s team has spent much of this past month orienting us to the budget and organizing community forums to hear from educators and families about their priorities. Having participated in all of these meetings and forums, I am eager to see how the Superintendent’s proposed budget reflects the concerns of key stakeholders.
Finally, I am pleased to share that the Committee has decided to use gender neutral titles (I asked to be referred to as Member Rachel, so as not to be confused with my colleague Member (David) Weinstein). In addition to being an inclusive practice, I appreciate the collaborative spirit that went into this move, which bodes well for our ongoing work together.
My plan is to send this newsletter monthly. Between these updates, I hope you will remain engaged with the work. One easy way is to stay in touch via social media. You can find me on Facebook and Instagram @RachelforCambridge, Twitter @RachelforCamb. (I welcome emails and calls too!)
Thanks to you, in just a few days, I will be sworn-in as a Member of the Cambridge School Committee. What an honor and privilege to work with and for you to improve our schools.
As you may know, this is a particularly difficult time for our school community. Our students, teachers and many residents are in pain over how racist incidents have – or have not – been addressed in our school system. While I remain deeply troubled by the process used to respond to the School Committee incident with CRLS students last year, I believe we have an opportunity to move the needle on racial equity. In this moment, students, teachers, families, elected officials and district administration all acknowledge that bold, systemic change is needed. I ran for this office to work on racial equity and look forward to working with all of you, with fellow policy makers, students, teachers, and the Building Equity Bridges movement to leverage this opening. In fact, I did not wait to be sworn-in to share my perspective about how we need a new culture of accountability and healing: here is the public comment Members-Elect Wilson, Villarreal and I made collectively on December 10th.
On a different front, many of our neighbors are legitimately concerned about plans for the new Tobin/VLUS building. As the public comment I submitted to the City elaborates, I share the concerns about the size of the footprint and the loss of open space. In my mind, in addition to addressing these issues, we need a comprehensive facilities plan, one that looks forward at least 10-15 years and includes enrollment projections, programmatic shifts and equity throughout the city. That is, how should a new Tobin/VLUS building fit into citywide plans?
Two closing requests:
First, before the hard work is fully underway, please participate in the inauguration! I am excited to join School Committee Members Manikka Bowman, Fred Fantini, Ayesha Wilson, José Luis Rojas Villarreal, as well as our to-be-named new Mayor and colleague, this Monday, January 6th for our swearing in. We will gather in the Cambridge Public Library Main branch at 6p.
Second, I have no doubt that my learning curve will be steep in 2020. I ask that you help me have impact by sharing your reflections, questions and ideas. Please share this message with your friends and neighbors too.