Rachel for Cambridge

January School Committee News

Dear Friends,

We have a new School Committee!  This month, I’ve enjoyed getting to know my new colleagues, Mayor Denise Simmons, Member Elizabeth Hudson, and Member Richard Harding.  I also was delighted to nominate and join my colleagues in electing Vice Chair Caroline Hunter.  I’m confident that the Committee will continue to be a team that works together well, even when we disagree on particular matters.

Inauguration Day (I go by “Member Rachel,” since two of us have the last name Weinstein!)

January also means that the budget season is ramping up.  The Committee has reviewed the budget process, enrollment, and financial projections.  At this stage, my top priorities are:

  • Securing appropriate funding for implementing new curricula, which – to be successful – take extra training in the first few years.  With CPS’ adoption of Illustrative Math and Fishtank for English Language Arts, we must provide our teachers with the time and support to make these significant shifts in instruction.

 

  • Seeing sufficient resources allocated to launching Individualized Student Success Plans, with Navigators (adults who connect students with opportunities and resources aligned with their interests and needs) perhaps working with students in a particular grade band.

This slide made my heart sing - it’s like my slogan of a Champion for Every Child.

  • Completing the third year of summer camp scholarships for families with low incomes.  The district previously committed to using ESSER funds (COVID relief from the federal government) in this way through summer 2024.

 

Of course, I haven’t seen the Superintendent’s proposed budget nor heard from community members yet, so I reserve the right to amend the list of items for which I advocate. 🙂

The best part of the job remains seeing students and teachers engaged in learning.  I greatly appreciated visiting with sixth graders at PAUS, who shared their Stories of Self, as well as with the many CRLS students who participated in Youth Equity Summit assemblies, resource fairs, and workshops.  Thank you to the high school administration; Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging; and the many teachers who supported our students in this effort.

2024 Youth Equity Summit at CRLS

As always, I welcome your questions and suggestions.

In collaboration,

Rachel 

P.S. Do you have time to help people in Cambridge and/or fight to preserve our democracy?  Here are two volunteer opportunities:

We are so excited to be launching Cambridge for Biden/Harris and look forward to working with many of you in the coming months! Please write to both Nancy ([email protected]) and Maura ([email protected])  to let us know about your interest and availability. We will be working to ensure that Biden receives a very large turnout in the Massachusetts primary on Super Tuesday, March 5. This is a priority for the Biden campaign, given that there are two other candidates on the Democratic ballot in MA. While Biden is certain to win here, we want to see him win BIG!! 

Once the MA primary has taken place, we plan to begin partnering with a location in New Hampshire, as well as with the Biden campaign overall, to start holding regular phone banks and canvasses. There is also an open Governor’s race in NH that we will likely be coordinating with. In addition, we hope to support people who would like to go to other swing states to coordinate with each other. We will keep you posted on all of this as well.


Year-End Headlines

Dear Friends,

I hope this finds you and your loved ones as well as can be. During this time of such horror, including the unmitigated violence in Gaza and the traumatization of both Palestinians and Israelis, I am quite concerned about our Cambridge Public School students. The young people I have spoken with feel unsafe and misunderstood, regardless of their different religions, nationalities, or politics. I am in frequent communication with the administration about what we can do to provide students (and staff) with spaces to listen to one another, process together, and learn through building community. I hope to have more to report on this front in the coming weeks.

Students and Math Coach Ms. Vincent at CPS’ Math Pop-Up last week

Holding on to small successes and joys is critically important in moments like this. I’m grateful to have numerous pieces of positive news to share with you!  Since Election Day, we have:

  • Settled the contract with units A &B in the Cambridge Education Association. The new contract provides teachers with raises totaling 18.8% over three years. It also ensures that teachers have more time to collaborate with colleagues, and K-8 students have 30 minutes more of instruction four days a week. Here is the full agreement.

I was inspired observing this Mandarin immersion class at the MLK school recently.

  • Adopted a new policy regarding transgender and gender-nonconforming students. As the lead sponsor, I am proud that we are taking new measures and making other practices official to keep our trans and gender-diverse students safe. (You may recall that CPS data is in line with national data. For example, more than half of our upper school students who identify as trans or gender-nonconforming report they’ve considered hurting themselves in the last 30 days.) I'm deeply grateful to the students, caregivers, and educators who contributed to the language of this policy, as well as those who contacted the Committee in support.

 

  • Renamed the Vassal Lane Upper School the Darby Vassall Upper School, changing the honoree from a man who enslaved people to a man who, after enslavement, went on to advocate for civil rights and educational justice.  This is the final stage of a long process, which began with VLUS students a decade ago, included school community conversations and student research last spring, and culminated in a School Committee decision. Students, educators, and community members, such as those in the Cambridge Black History Project and the Slave Legacy History Coalition, have been instrumental in this process. At our meeting Tuesday night, when talking about why I authored this motion, I quoted the writer and poet Clint Smith: “Symbols and names and iconography aren’t just symbols, but are reflective of the stories that people tell. And those stories shape the narratives that communities carry, and those narratives shape public policy, and public policy shapes the material conditions of people’s lives.” 

 

In addition to this policy news, two longtime pillars of the Cambridge Public Schools and its School Committee have retired in the last month:

I will miss sitting next to Dr. Turk at School Committee meetings.

  • Dr. Carolyn L. Turk was Deputy Superintendent during my tenure on the Committee, but has held many positions in our schools, including that of a student! I often refer to Dr. Turk as the heart of the district, because she has cared and tended to countless students, staff, and families. Her retirement party was, appropriately, filled with love. (Stay tuned for a school space being named in her honor.)

 

  • Fred Fantini, the Dean of the Committee, has retired after 40 years of service. I’ve learned a great deal from Fred. I will be ever grateful for his collegiality, mentorship, and friendship. I will continue to call him for advice, but first we’ll celebrate his legacy!

 

May we bring peace, health, justice, and joy to 2024.

In collaboration,

Rachel


THANK YOU

Dear Friends,

Thank you for your support and work on our campaign.  Because of you, voters across Cambridge reelected me to the School Committee.  Not only that, but we topped the ticket!

I'm honored and humbled by your confidence in me.  I promise to keep working hard so that all our students receive the education they deserve.

In collaboration,

Rachel


Statement on Violence in the Middle East

ICYMI, here’s the statement Mayor Siddiqui and I put out about the violence in the Middle East.  With antisemitism and Islamophobia on the rise even locally, it’s critical that we hold space for everyone’s pain and work to build bridges in our own community.






September Success and October Opportunities

Dear Friends,

There is so much to share!

First, this is the peak of the campaign season.  I’ve seen mail-in ballots arrive at homes I’ve canvassed.  There are events and candidate forums and and and… I was delighted to be joined by many of you, including Mayor Siddiqui and “the Dean,” retiring School Committee Member Fred Fantini, at our campaign coffee a couple weekends ago.

Second, I continue to hear from educators and families troubled about our elementary school schedules.  While there is widespread agreement that our students should have the same amount of instruction in core subjects across all our schools, teachers and caregivers remain concerned that the lack of transition time and recess is making adults and children unnecessarily anxious.  I’m pleased to share that the School Committee unanimously voted to adopt my motion clarifying that the guidelines are just that, and not rigid mandates.  I will remain engaged on this topic as the administration takes action in accordance with that motion.

Third, last week’s School Committee meeting included a review of the Cambridge Public Schools’ 2023 MCAS results.  While standardized tests are an imperfect metric, the results do point to continued systemic challenges in CPS.  Yes, as a recent Boston Globe article noted, Cambridge is one of few districts in the Commonwealth to return to 2019 achievement levels.  However, while the aggregated averages of our students are back to pre-pandemic levels, there were huge gaps correlated with demographics before the pandemic and they’ve WIDENED.  Disaggregating the data shows that we are continuing to fail our students who are Black, multilingual, disabled, and/or from families with low incomes.  This holds both for achievement and for student growth. (Here are summary slides the Superintendent's team presented last week.)  At the meeting, the administration presented plans to align curricula and implement strategic tutoring, which makes sense.  Also, though, I believe more is necessary if we are going to truly prepare all our children for success after high school.  My personal theory is that we are not approaching instruction with the needed equity lens, accounting for our own implicit and explicit biases to the degree needed.  I shared this view at our meeting, and was pleased to hear Superintendent Greer say that she has instructed our Chief Equity Officer and Chief of Academics to be attached at the hip.

Less than four weeks remain until voting closes!  If you are able, I would LOVE to have your help canvassing and/or holding a sign on Election Day.  Please reply to this email to sign up.  Thank you!

In collaboration,

Rachel


Updates...and an Invitation!

Dear Friends,

I hope your school years are off to a promising start.

I am sorry to share that the CPS community is in a period of mourning, as one of our students, Jaden McDaniels, passed away last week.  My heart goes out to Jaden’s family, friends, and educators.

On a much brighter note, I’ve enjoyed seeing excited students, families, and educators on their first days and at Mayor Siddiqui’s & CPS’s resource fairs.

(Photo credits for two of the pictures go to Elizabeth Pierre, Mayor’s Siddiqui’s Office)

Many of you have asked for updates on the new elementary school schedules.  I introduced a related motion last week that would address some of the concerns I’ve heard from our community.  Here is the text:

Whereas the administration developed elementary school schedule guidelines to ensure that students receive adequate instruction time in core academic subjects; and

Whereas the guidelines address significant differences between individual Cambridge Public Schools’ instruction time for particular subjects; and

Whereas schools have created their SY23-24 schedules accordingly; and

Whereas some have interpreted the scheduling guidelines as detailed mandates rather than guidelines, resulting in concerns over rigid learning conditions; and

Whereas caregivers from every CPS school have contacted the School Committee and Superintendent with concerns about reduced play, nutrition, rest, and transition times; and

Whereas the Superintendent’s team clarified, at the August 8 meeting, that the guidelines would neither prevent extending class meeting times when students need longer nor providing requisite transition time between classes; now therefore be it 

Resolved that the administration issue written communication to CPS staff confirming that the elementary schedule guidelines are advisory, and that principals and educators have the trust of the Committee and Superintendent to adjust as they see fit. 

Member Rojas exercised his charter right, which means that the discussion of the proposal was stopped until our next meeting, on September 19th.  In short, now is a good time to contact the Committee ([email protected]) if you have strong feelings about the new schedules.  Stay tuned!

In other news, the campaign is in high gear!  MARK YOUR CALENDARS to join us for coffee, conversation, and (for those who want) canvassing voters on Saturday, September 30 at 10 a.m. in Joan Lorentz Park (in front of the main library, by the corner of Ellery and Broadway). Please please DO bring your children!  It’s a crowded field of strong candidates, and I need your support to power through these last 8 weeks.

In collaboration,

Rachel


Abundant August Update

Dear Friends,

I hope you’re enjoying the summer warmth!

It’s unusual to have a five-and-a-half-hour School Committee meeting in August, but there were two controversial topics on the agenda last week, namely elementary school schedules and Algebra instruction.  Here are summaries of the latest developments (and a few photos of uplifting summer student showcases).

Elementary School Schedules

For context, Superintendent Greer informed the Committee months ago that her team was engaging in an independent audit of how CPS schools use their time.  In the last couple of months, through conversations with educators and families, we became aware that the administration had issued new scheduling guidelines for elementary schools.  As I stated at last week’s meeting, I am troubled that the Committee and the broader community (teachers especially) were not engaged in conversation about these districtwide changes earlier. 

At the meeting, we learned that there was a wide variation in how much time students in our elementary schools were spending on individual subjects such as Social Studies, Science, and Math.  I agree with the Superintendent that all our students should receive roughly the same amount of time on core subject instruction, and appreciate that this is a problem her team is trying to address.  I was further reassured that the guidelines will allow for interdisciplinary curricula, as well as teachers adjusting schedules in real-time to meet the social-emotional needs of their students.  

Photo caption: North Cambridge Courageous Conversations guided ten Mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program students in identifying issues and possible solutions through photography.

My sense is that these guidelines have been received as a detailed mandate rather than a guide.  At this point, I want to know that our educators understand they have flexibility – including flexibility about whether to pull students from "specials" (e.g. art, music) for interventions.  I also still have questions about ensuring that our students, particularly our youngest learners, have sufficient time to run around, as well as to rest and digest all they have experienced in the day up to that point.  I have requested further written communication from the Superintendent to educators, families, and the School Committee.

Algebra I in Eighth Grade

From many conversations with educators, alums, and families, I’ve come to recognize that requiring Algebra I in eighth-grade math classes throughout the city is a more complicated topic than it might seem.  On one hand, we want all students to have the opportunity to take Algebra in time to take the more advanced, high school math courses that would show colleges they are prepared for college-level STEM programs.  On the other hand, we’ve heard important cautions about how students who are struggling now might fall further behind.  CPS Math leaders and other educators have highlighted the fact that Math is taught differently from Math pre-2010: now, students are introduced to deeper learning concepts, including algebraic equations, in earlier years, without a specific course title related to algebra.

Makeda was one of the photographers in Not Just Screenagers.

For at least two years, I have been asking questions behind-the-scenes and at some meetings about this equity issue.  It got to the point where Members David Weinstein (no relation), Caroline Hunter, and I crafted a motion that would offer opt-in Algebra I immediately to all interested students and make eighth grade Algebra a citywide mandate in 2025.

A public School Committee roundtable meeting on this issue will take place in the fall with participation from Math education experts. 

Photo caption: Betsy Bard, Micaela Leon Perdormo, and Allison MacLaury worked with another team of Mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program students to create the moving We Were Here play about Polish women working at The Foundry in 1911.

I hope that implementing the Illustrative Math curriculum across grades K-12 will mean that all Cambridge students receive the rigorous Math instruction they deserve and we no longer can tell which feeder school a sixth grader attended by their Math proficiency.  Certainly, CPS needs to provide training and support for teachers as they adopt this new curriculum and to use it in heterogeneous math classes. 

Campaign News

This election cycle promises to shake up both the City Council and School Committee, with multiple incumbents deciding not to run again.  There are eleven(!) candidates vying for six seats on the School Committee.  While I love proportional representation for its democratic nature, it is dangerous for incumbents, as voters assume we’re safe and give their number 1 votes to new candidates.  I still need your #1 vote to be reelected!  If you have time to canvass voters, write to your friends, and/or donate, I would be grateful for your help.

In collaboration,

Rachel


Three Quick, Important Updates!

Dear Friends,

I hope your summers have started well.

As I mentioned in my June newsletter, this is *not* a sleepy summer for the School Committee.  Here are a few brief but important updates:

First, the School Committee gave Superintendent Greer a “needs improvement” rating on her annual evaluation.  We appreciate her leadership in significantly moving student academic growth, as reflected in iReady data.  We also are pleased to see progress in making Universal Pre-Kindergarten a reality, an undertaking that requires deep partnership with the City.  At the same time, we continue to have significant concerns about hiring processes, community relations, management, and communication.  We want Dr. Greer to be successful and are working to support her growth in these areas.  If you’re interested in the details, the full evaluation is here.  (Our individual evaluations are also public documents.  As Vice-Chair, I coordinated this process and wrote the composite – my takeaway is that the Committee was exceptionally unified in identifying strengths and growth opportunities.)

(Vassal Lane Upper School Students shared research and recommendations about changing the school’s name at a June School Committee meeting.)

Second, the Boston Globe recently posted an article on Math instruction in Cambridge Public Schools.  The journalist quotes me from a recent meeting where I noted that the School Committee has not backed away from a commitment to all students receiving Algebra I in eighth grade.  He also wraps the piece by quoting Benjamin Moynihan, Executive Director of the Algebra Project, who said, “Even despite the pandemic, is it possible?  The Algebra Project would say yes.”  I will have more to share on this topic in the coming weeks.

(With my daughter at the Election Commission – I am “preliminarily certified” to appear on the ballot this fall!)

Finally, if the governing excitement were not enough, the campaign season is heating up!  As you probably know, Fred Fantini, whom we affectionately refer to as the Dean of the School Committee, is retiring after 40 years of dedicated service.  On top of which, Ayesha Wilson is running for City Council!  In part because of these developments, there are many new candidates running this cycle.  I need your help reminding voters that I am a thoughtful, effective leader, one who truly collaborates with students, educators, and families.  Please donate here to help us get the word out!

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and suggestions.

In collaboration,

Rachel


Get Ready for Summer! Graduations, negotiations, evaluations, and campaigns

Dear Friends, 

I hope this finds you and yours well.

Before school lets out for summer, I ask that you stay tuned in over the break.  While usually a quieter time, the next couple of months promise to include important developments in the School Committee’s ongoing negotiations with our teachers' union, the Superintendent’s annual evaluation, and (drum roll, please) election season.  I am running for re-election and need your support!

Reading at Peabody Porchfest

In the meantime, I am delighted to share how inspired I’ve been by our students and the educators who guide them.  The end of the school year includes many occasions to appreciate what our children have learned and accomplished, and others to come together to celebrate the distinct and diverse identities in our community.  Here are a few of my highlights: 


I’ve attended multiple educational events at The Foundry in the last month.  The top right photo is of students from the Cambridgeport School who shared games from their families’ cultures at the Asian Festival.  The adults pictured are Superintendent Greer and Danielle Allen, who is both a professor and Director of the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.  The Center partners with CPS to engage our young people in civics education.  I was at The Foundry to hear students describe their civics projects, which included leading consent workshops (how to ask for permission from others and express one’s own boundaries) for elementary students and families, compiling and distributing resources about addictive substances and services, and advocacy for required Black history courses.  The third photo is from a CPS Community Social.  It shows an activity CRLS students designed to begin the conversation about consent – I watched an elementary student use a special deck of cards to engage on the subject with near-peers, who make wonderful educators.

With Chief Equity Officer Manuel Fernandez at Peabody Pride

The Peabody School invited School Committee Members to both the Peabody Porchfest (reading aloud in classrooms) and the first annual Peabody Pride (June is LGBTQIA+ Pride Month).  At these events, I was moved to hear fifth graders speaking about the need for more gender-neutral bathrooms, and to see many families affirming and celebrating diversity in gender identity and sexual orientation.

Top photo is with School Committee Student Members (and graduates!) Escamilla-Salomon and Clemente, as well as Member Caroline Hunter.  Bottom photo is of RSTA students at their Health Assisting Pinning Ceremony, joined by the educators who guided them through the program. What an impressive group! 

It was a joy to hear  8th-grade capstone presentations at the Cambridge Street Upper School and Equity Fellowship grant recipients’ share-outs, as well as to see the talent on display at the Fletcher-Maynard Academy Talent Show.  In addition, of course, recognizing our students graduating from high school is always a delight!

With some of the students and caregivers that planned and staffed the wonderful Asian festival! (Photo credit: Cindy Weisbart)

This summer includes many opportunities for you to share your perspectives, as well as help elect a thoughtful School Committee.  Our July 11 special School Committee meeting will focus on the Superintendent’s annual evaluation, and you are welcome to email the Committee your thoughts about this or any other topic at [email protected].

In terms of my upcoming run for a third term, I would be honored to have your help, whether that looks like going door-to-door with me in your neighborhood, making a donation to my campaign, or hosting a house party.  Please let me know how you want to be part of the team!

As always, I welcome your questions and suggestions.

In collaboration,

Rachel


Spring Policy Update

Dear Friends,

I hope you are enjoying the May flowers!  

(Cambridgeport School students plant a tree for Arbor Day.)

Since my April newsletter, the School Committee unanimously passed the FY24 budget.  Last week, the City Council approved the school district’s budget, bringing the annual undertaking to a close.  I am taking the feedback you shared into our after-action review conversations and am committed to continuing to improve upon the process.

As for policies beyond the budget, the School Committee recently passed two policies that I introduced:

  • After Register Forum reporters approached the Committee about antisemitic graffiti at CRLS, I reviewed our related policy and decided it needed elaboration.  My motion 23-047 updated our policy on “non-tolerance of hate crimes” to include text reflecting our belief in the importance of affirming and celebrating the diversity in our schools.  The revised policy calls upon our schools to use hateful acts—and acts of unconscious bias— as teachable moments, to invite those involved to opt-in to restorative practices, and to offer counseling to students.   (Here is an update from the Register Forum writers.)  

 

  • In the absence of sufficient federal gun control, it falls to us locally to do all we can to protect our students, staff, and families from gun violence.  I am grateful to Moms Demand Action for partnering with us in this effort.  I learned from local activists that secure firearm storage practices are associated with a 78% reduction in the risk of self-inflicted firearm injuries and an 85% reduction in the risk of unintentional firearm injuries among children and teens.  Also, I learned that in incidents of gun violence on school grounds, the US Secret Service found that 76% of shooters under age 18 acquired their firearm from the home of a caregiver, relative, or friend.  My motion 23-058 directs the Superintendent to inform families yearly about how to safely store any firearms.

 

(I had a wonderful visit to the Peabody School, where I observed classrooms with Principal Sepulveda and Dr. Madera.)

In addition to these motions, I authored policy orders urging our state delegation to support legislation funding school meals for all students in the Commonwealth, and a bill that would address systemic barriers to credentialing more educators of color.  I also joined School Committee colleagues in bringing forward multiple local proposals, including those to expand space, staffing, and transportation for Department of Human Services Programs after schools; to strengthen CPS’ policy regarding access to free menstrual products in school bathrooms; and to assist students with scholarships for field trips.  

I anticipate having more to share about Math instruction and hiring processes in future newsletters.  In the meantime, you may be interested in viewing the roundtable meeting we had on Math last week (my questions and comments about Algebra One start at around 1 hour 39 minutes).  Mayor Siddiqui and I pushed for this conversation, which proved illuminating.

As always, I welcome your questions and suggestions.

In collaboration,

Rachel