I imagine we’re all grateful to see spring blooming. I’m also very grateful to see more students blossoming at school – how wonderful it’s been to get back to classroom visits!
Last month, I had the pleasure of attending an eighth grade English Language Arts Symposium at the Putnam Ave. Upper School. In a lesson designed to showcase argumentative writing and public speaking, Ms. Federico’s and Ms. Escamilla’s students responded to prompts about critical race theory or proposals to name a school after Malcolm X. The young people had clearly done their research and presented clear, compelling arguments. It was an inspiring event.
I also had the opportunity to stop by the high school’s Readathon, where students were selecting the next School Book to be read by all students over the summer. Our all-star librarians and teachers at CRLS had developed a process that engaged students in reading multiple novels over the course of a day, with breaks for hula-hooping, silly photos, and food! The event, which went until midnight, included a sports-like tournament bracket of the final books. What a fun and wonderful way to build buy-in for the School Book while simultaneously building community and a joy of reading.
CRLS Readathon silliness and book bracket
At the policy-making level, I’m pleased to report that the School Committee passed Superintendent Greer’s proposed budget unanimously. I believe Dr. Greer’s budget was made stronger by incorporating significant community input and building upon the findings of the process she used to assess the state of the district, her “entry plan.” The City Council voted to adopt the CPS budget last Wednesday. We will build upon the priorities in this document as we embark on the district planning process this year.
I’ve mentioned previously that the Committee has been working with students to advance gender equity. Mayor Siddiqui, Member Bhambi and I have been in close collaboration with the Title IX Aurelia Advocates (a student organization) that has resulted in an updated Title IX policy for the district. This policy comes back to the full School Committee tonight for what I hope (and expect) will be its official adoption.
One area where the district has not made as much progress as I expected is the review of the Rindge School of Technical Arts. After the administration presented its plans for that review last month, I spoke with the Mayor and Superintendent about needing more oversight and frequent updates on this initiative. We have added quarterly roundtable meetings to the Committee’s calendar in order to monitor this effort more closely. I look forward to sharing more with you as the review and plans unfold.
As always, I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.
P.S. For those of you curious about our labor negotiations, I share this statement from the Committee: The Cambridge School Committee has a strong commitment to providing an inclusive and productive learning environment for its students, and a supportive, respectful workplace for its employees. The Cambridge School Committee has negotiated and reached agreement on successor union contracts with five (5) of the eight (8) bargaining units of unionized staff and continues good faith negotiations with the remaining three (3). For Units A&B, the teachers and administrators bargaining unit, the Cambridge School Committee continues to engage in good faith negotiations directly with the Cambridge Education Association (CEA) with the shared goal of reaching agreement on a Units A&B contract as soon as possible. The School Committee and CEA have several upcoming bargaining sessions scheduled with the hope and expectation of continued mutual progress toward an overall agreement. The School Committee respects the collective bargaining process between the designated bargaining teams and, accordingly, does not want to make public comments about the details of negotiations at this time.
I hope the emergence of spring is lifting your spirits!
As you likely know, students and staff are now allowed to choose whether or not to wear their masks in the Cambridge Public Schools. For many, this is a relief and great joy. For many others, concern about COVID safety at school persists. My inbox is filled with heartfelt messages from both perspectives. While I wish we were done with COVID, it is here for the foreseeable future. Accordingly, the School Committee directed the Superintendent to shift to managing schooling with the existence of the virus, rather than to go on trying to prevent transmission entirely. The Committee, Superintendent Greer, and Chief Public Health Officer Derrick Neal are committed to continuing many safety protocols (surveillance testing, symptomatic testing, improved ventilation, etc.) and to monitoring the virus carefully. We will adjust as needed.
The end of winter and start of spring means we are also deep into the budget season. Superintendent Greer’s proposed FY23 budget is organized around her entry plan findings. For example, she lists budget priorities around mitigating and recovering from COVID, supporting healthy students and school cultures, and building educator capacity. I am particularly eager to further discuss the efforts included in the Strengthening Academic Outcomes priority. Dr. Greer includes better coordinated work-based learning and expanded partnerships with local employers under this heading. I want to see such initiatives advanced, as I know our students benefit greatly from internships and other work-based learning. There’s more to say about the budget than I have space for here, so you may want to review the budget presentation in its entirety. The public hearing on the budget is this Thursday, March 24 – please add your voice as you are moved to!
(You can hear more of my initial thoughts about the proposed budget here.)
As always, I welcome your questions and ideas.
There’s a lot moving in the school district right now – I’m excited to share updates with you on a few issues I’ve discussed in the past, as well as on some new issues.
First, I am pleased to report that the School Committee unanimously voted to revise our high school graduation requirements to include a second semester of Health and to end the waiver for scholar-athletes to opt-out of Health classes (students can still opt-out of Physical Education classes if they participate in sports teams). These changes were included in my motion 22-21, a response to the CRLS student walkouts regarding sexual assault and harassment, as well as to related student requests to add more education about consent. The stellar team that drove this change included Student Members Killian and Vera-DeGraff, Deputy Superintendent Dr. Turk, Health/PE/Wellness Curriculum Coordinator Jamie McCarthy, as well as Mayor Siddiqui and Member Wilson.
The Title IX Aurelia Advocates testify at the Feb 1 School Committee meeting.
A second development of note – also an outgrowth of the CRLS student walkout this fall – is that a group of impressive, dynamic students calling themselves the Title IX Aurelia Advocates have dived into research about Title IX (the federal regulations that prohibit sex-based discrimination in schools) and identified a number of opportunities for strengthening our district’s practices.
Thirdly, you may recall that the 2021 Teen Health Survey revealed that our students who identify as LGBTQIA+ are struggling with well-being disproportionately to their peers. I wanted to hear directly from more of these students about their school experiences, so I met with Project 10 East, the high school’s gender and sexuality alliance. Here, too, our young people moved me with their insights and recommendations. I am concerned about LGBTQIA+ students feeling unsafe and about their having to shoulder the burden of teaching their educators and peers about their identities and experiences. I am committed to working to address this situation at all grade levels, so stay tuned!
Finally, my December newsletter referenced updating Dr. Victoria Greer’s contract. If you haven’t heard, she is now Superintendent Greer, as the Committee voted to drop the “Interim” part of the title and extend her contract through June 2023. Both the Superintendent and Committee have to let one another know by the end of this June if we are interested in renewing the contract for a longer term.
As always, I welcome your questions and recommendations.
I hope this finds you well and warm!
Though we are less than a week into the New Year, there is an abundance of news, so I wanted to share a couple of quick updates.
First, the new School Committee was sworn in on Monday. I am humbled and honored that my colleagues voted unanimously to name me Vice Chair for this term (2022-23). As Vice Chair, I will appoint subcommittees and work more closely with the Mayor and Superintendent to coordinate the Committee’s work. I am eager to use this opportunity to help improve our students’ experiences and academic outcomes.
(The new Committee took our masks off for a quick photo. We were masked and distanced throughout the inauguration itself.)
Second, I appreciated that Interim Superintendent Greer, with guidance from the Cambridge Public Health Department, decided to postpone the opening of school by two days in order to test students and staff for COVID. This was a seemingly prudent move that required long hours of work by teams in both departments over the winter vacation. Unfortunately, a number of missteps on multiple fronts resulted in students and families waiting multiple hours for tests in below-freezing weather, as well as incomplete lab results. Yesterday, Mayor Siddiqui and I released a statement reflecting on this troubling start to the year. You can read the full statement below this message.
I wish us all a healthy, joyous year full of learning and community.
CPS students, families, and staff,
This was not the way we wanted to start 2022. We are truly sorry that you have had to bear the brunt of others’ mistakes. From long, freezing lines to get tested Monday to delayed results and difficult decisions about sending your own children to school Wednesday, we hear you and are responding to these challenges. We recognize that Cambridge Public Schools and Public Health staff have been working around the clock and appreciate their commitment to our students and families.
We and our colleagues on the School Committee have been in frequent communication with Interim Superintendent Greer this week. We will have an action review about how plans (and contingency plans) were made and communicated. We are committed to learning from this difficult experience to ensure that families are never put in this position again. As we debrief with the School Department, the Cambridge Public Health Department, and CIC Health, we will continue to push for safe, in-person learning and better communication.
CIC has taken full responsibility for mismanaging the testing results and, with the support of the state, provided additional testing teams from the National Guard to conduct rapid tests for us today. Additionally, routine surveillance testing for staff and students has restarted.
Please know that we are dedicated to seeing the district do better as we move forward over the days and weeks ahead.
Do not hesitate to reach out to us with questions or concerns.
Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui
Vice Chair Rachel Weinstein
As we finish 2021, I wanted to share a few recent Cambridge Public Schools headlines with you.
First, I have received a couple questions about the postponed meeting regarding Dr. Victoria Greer’s contract. The proposal that the Committee will consider is to extend Dr. Greer’s employment for a year and to drop the “Interim” qualifier from her title, officially making her Superintendent through June 2023. In our original contract, we included a clause which allowed us to stretch the interim position for a second year. I have been pleased with Dr. Greer’s leadership, and hope that having the title of Superintendent will better position her to drive timely, needed change in our schools. I look forward to hearing your thoughts via email, phone, or public comment at the meeting.
Hundreds of high school students at the walkout
The second headline is not a happy one, nor is it a surprise: our students are struggling with mental health and general well-being. Beyond the data from last spring’s Teen Health Survey, our students have been vocalizing their concerns in real-time, organizing events such as a walkout at CRLS to protest sexual assault and a Day of Silence at one our upper schools to educate peers and the school community about what young people who are LGBTQIA+ experience routinely.
I continue to be impressed and inspired by our young people’s activism and leadership. I also continue to work to learn how, from my perch as a policy maker, I can help make our schools dramatically safer, more welcoming and affirming environments. At CRLS, my immediate action, having attended the walkout and spoken with a few of the organizers, was to amplify and endorse the student requests, all three of which struck me as entirely reasonable. The students asked for adult-facilitated conversations about sexual assault, an incident-reporting system that followed-up with each individual who filed a complaint, and a mandatory consent curriculum for all students. At my request, Dr. Greer updated the Committee and community on these requests at our December 7th meeting (minutes 0:41-1:03).
Breaking ground for the new school building
Finally, the end of the calendar year coincided with the symbolic transition from an old school building to a new one, as elected, city, and school officials gathered to break ground for the building that will house the new Tobin Montessori School, the Vassal Lane Upper School, and four preschool classrooms run by the Department of Human Services. As a parent in the old building for a full decade, I will always remember that the foreboding exterior concealed the warmth felt by young and adult members of the communities inside. I am excited for our students, educators, families and community members who will have a beautiful, healthy, thoughtfully designed new building in which to thrive, come 2025.
I wish you and yours a healthy, joyous 2022 full of learning and growth! I look forward to our work together in the new year.
P.S. The new School Committee will be sworn in on Monday at 6p. With COVID precautions, the in-person capacity is quite limited, but you can catch the live-stream at www.cpsd.us or Cambridge Educational Access TV Channel 98/99.
Whether you marked Thanksgiving, the National Day of Mourning, Hanukah, or none of the above, I hope you were nourished by friends, family, and community this past weekend.
Believe it or not, though I last wrote to you with election results, I’m reaching out to you today about another election in two weeks. I have endorsed Lydia Edwards for the First Suffolk & Middlesex Senate seat, and this district includes Cambridgeport! This is a special election, and we need Lydia Edwards to win.
For those of you who are not yet familiar with her, you can meet Lydia through this education OpEd she wrote last week.
Will you commit to voting for Lydia on Tuesday, December 14th? Early voting starts in one week, and voting by mail starts even sooner! Learn more at LydiaEdwards.org/Vote. Sign up to help get your neighbors out to vote -- hop on a phone bank or knock on some doors!
In other timely news, the School Climate Subcommittee, which I chair, is meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, November 30 from 6-8p via Zoom) to discuss results from the 2021 Teen Health Survey. To say our middle and high school students are struggling is an understatement. I hope you will join us to make sense of the data and explore policy and systems improvements. Please note that you can watch the meeting live without registering, but participating in the conversation requires signing-up here by 5p tomorrow.
As always, please reach out with questions, concerns or ideas.
I'm pleased to share that Cambridge voters have sent me back to the School Committee! Notably, we won in the "first count," which means that we reached quota for a seat on the Committee with #1 votes alone. THANK YOU for your votes of confidence.
Extra thanks to all of you who knocked on doors, emailed friends, donated money, and held signs at the polls. We had ourselves a great team!
In the next term, I look forward to working with you all - students, caregivers, educators, and many other devoted community members - to advance our shared goals of making our schools antiracist, increasing academic rigor for all students, and preparing all students to thrive upon graduation from CPS.
Five days! That’s how long I have to talk to voters and ask them to support my reelection with their #1 votes. If you support me but haven’t yet let all your friends know you do, there’s still time to email your network.
When I was sworn in to serve on the School Committee in January of 2020, I had no idea of the extraordinary challenges ahead. Through the ups and downs of COVID-19, an interim superintendent search, and the ongoing challenges of improving our schools, I have walked my talk, promoting the policies, processes and expenditures that I have believed will help our students recover and thrive. My approach has included regular collaboration with students, families, staff, community members and colleagues to forward antiracist efforts.
Leading effectively comes at a cost, and I have faced vocal opposition in recent months. A group of residents is working against my reelection, as is their right. These families are upset because I have advocated strongly for vaccine mandates (now in place for all staff and soon in effect for students twelve and over at CPS-sponsored extracurricular activities). I have taken this position because I trust the Cambridge Department of Public Health, the Cambridge Public Schools’ Health and Safety Advisors, and the FDA. For me, the immediate, proven risks from COVID outweigh potential side effects from vaccines that may or may not emerge in the future. In our current circumstances, I see the need to put the greater community’s health ahead of personal choice. While I am clear about my position, I respect those who disagree, and I will go on engaging with people who hold different perspectives. That said, I would appreciate your help explaining my position on vaccines to your own concerned friends, especially before they vote.
There are still five days until voting ends. If you support my work to see a champion for every child, a district plan that translates into all of our students meeting or exceeding grade level expectations, the advancement of universal pre-Kindergarten, improvements in our career technical education, and, yes, adoption of vaccine mandates that will help students and staff continue to learn in-person safely, then I ask you to help before the polls close. Join me to talk to voters over the weekend or to hold a sign near a polling place on Tuesday. I am truly grateful to those of you who’ve helped so far, and I am excited to see more of you involved in the final push! Simply reply to this email to let me know when you’re available.
Finally, please grant me a moment to acknowledge the loss of one of our great Cambridge Rindge and Latin School educators last month. I was fortunate to have Donald Burroughs as an English teacher and community-builder in the Pilot School at CRLS. I will always remember him for introducing me to the author Gloria Naylor and for his singing in the Pilot plays. Donald, along with his amazing colleagues, gracefully held space for his students to reflect on controversy within the school and in the world-at-large. All of our children deserve teachers like Donald, who connect with them, hold them to high standards, push them, and laugh with them. May we honor his legacy by, among other things, continuing his work to advance racial equity in our schools. (You can hear School Committee Member Wilson’s and my tributes, as well as the memorial resolution for Donald, at the 3:32 point of this meeting.)
As always, I welcome your questions, ideas, and feedback.
We’re off and running, with both the school year and the electoral race! My heart has lifted as I’ve welcomed students back to school and heard the happy sounds of young friends reuniting. Last week, I was pleased to see most of the ninth-graders in the classes I visited give thumbs up about their first days at CRLS.
(Gorgeous art at KLo and new students at VLUS)
One of the good things to come out of this COVID era is the expansion of voting by mail. In Cambridge, the Election Commission sent every registered voter an application to mail in their ballots. I wholeheartedly support this expanded access to voting. It does, however, mean that Cantabrigians begin casting their votes THIS WEEK, so time is of the essence in letting your networks know you endorse my candidacy!
Please let me know how you can help between today and November 2. Here go some options:
- Meet voters at their doors
- Host a backyard or Zoom house party
- E/mail your networks of friends, neighbors and colleagues to encourage them to vote #1 for Rachel
- Take a visibility shift and hold a sign on Election Day
In our proportional representation system, incumbents are not safe. I need your help securing #1 votes so that we can continue the work we’ve begun towards making our schools antiracist, more rigorous, and more full of joy and collaboration!
Click on this image for a 3-minute reminder of my values and goals.
As always, I welcome your questions and ideas.
I write this while thinking of our siblings in Haiti and Afghanistan. The world holds so much pain, and we each have to find our way to respond. The classic “Think Globally, Act Locally” bumper sticker is a helpful frame for me. Those able to support Haitians and Afghanis financially in these moments of crisis might consider contributing to Fonkoze, Hope for Haiti, and/or Women for Women.
Rally For Our Youth, organized by My Brother’s Keeper Cambridge 8.2.21 - Wicked Local Staff Photo/Ann Ringwood
Locally, our young people are experiencing an uptick in violence. I’m grateful that My Brother’s Keeper Cambridge, Councilors Simmons and McGovern, Vice Mayor Mallon, and Mayor Siddiqui have convened various meetings to address the shootings in the Port as well as tensions between young people in North Cambridge and the Port. I continue to believe that, if we were to provide every child with a champion -- an adult who helps them navigate school, connect with opportunities that excite them, and secure needed resources -- we would effectively prevent most violence amongst our teenagers and emerging adults. I remain committed to advancing this cause in our schools and community, and I’m also eager to support complementary efforts.
As our children get ready to return to school September 9, we continue to work to protect them and everyone around them from COVID-19. I have been pleased to see the recommendations from Interim Superintendent Greer and her team, which have included universal masking inside school buildings and outdoor lunch as much as possible. The School Committee has passed these proposals unanimously.
On the Committee, I have been the most vocal advocate for mandating vaccines for anyone in schools who is eligible and does not have a medical or religious reason not to get vaccinated. You can read the joint Cambridge Chronicle OpEd piece City Councilor Patty Nolan and I wrote on this topic here (or the shorter letter to the Boston Globe editor here). I know that many of you have weighed-in with the City Manager and School Committee about a vaccine mandate - thank you for speaking out.
In closing, the stretch between Labor Day and Election Day is peak campaign season! Your campaign help could make the difference in sending me back to the School Committee. Please sign up to write to your friends, knock on doors, and/or host a yard sign. Strengthening our schools and improving outcomes for our children will take all of us. I am very grateful to count you as partners.
As always, I welcome your ideas and questions.