Today is the first day of school in Cambridge. Like every parent - and policy maker - I have a larger range of questions and emotions than in most years. How will our children engage, learn, and connect with peers? When can everyone safely return to in-person learning? Can we meet the growing mental health and social needs of our young people? How will we sustain our educators and staff? Despite a spring and summer full of School Committee work, there are many unknowns, most of which are the result of the broader uncertainties in the world, but some of which are of our own district’s making.
Here are a few key developments since I last wrote:
- We are preventing the spread of Covid-19. In early August, the School Committee passed the Superintendent’s reopening plan with seven contingencies. In short, we said that no one would return to learning inside of school buildings until it was safe. CPSD has more sophisticated health metrics than most districts and a much stronger surveillance testing plan, thanks to Mayor Siddiqui’s months of pushing for it. The School Committee will soon take up air ventilation thresholds and mitigation measures.
Just last night, we heard updates from the Superintendent on planning for substantially separate special education classrooms, supervised remote learning spaces, and social emotional learning, which we required be collaboratively designed with scholars, families and community partners. To get a taste of the wisdom of our young people, check out their recommendations in the series of School Climate Subcommittee meetings I facilitated on supporting the mental health of our youth.
[Hear these CRLS scholars and others here.]
- The School Committee also completed its annual performance review of Superintendent Salim. You can view our conversation here. I am eager to see the Superintendent (and all his successors) benefit from feedback from cabinet members, principals, and teachers, as well as caregivers and community partners with whom he works closely, rather than only from Committee Members. The Vice Chair will be appointing an ad hoc committee to put together such a “360 degree” process.
- We had the pleasure of hearing from Educator Collaboratives earlier this month. The Collaboratives are teams of teachers in a particular elementary grade or subject area working across the city’s schools to develop standards-aligned curricula and lessons that are rigorous, joyful and culturally responsive. These teachers have created documents that will help families understand what their children are supposed to be learning at each grade level. As someone whose other job is supporting collaboration between district, charter and Catholic school educators in Boston, I believe that these collaboratives exemplify the best of using this crisis as an opportunity; we will do a better job supporting and retaining teachers simply by giving them time to learn from one another, and our children will benefit.
[‘Some of the Cambridge educators participating in Educator Collaboratives.]
The challenges ahead are plentiful. And, tired as every caregiver, educator, administrator and elected official is, I remain deeply committed to helping our young scholars learn and connect. Knowing that growth is rarely linear, I expect there will be further bumps as our administrators try new scheduling techniques, educators refine their remote practices, and school staff start routine check-ins with families. Our School Committee has additional work to do, too, in healing racial harm to CRLS students from last year and to the Educators of Color Coalition last month. As I think about the organizational culture changes I want to see in our district, I remain interested in having the Committee, administration and schools adopt more restorative practices.
Much has been said about how the Covid-19 pandemic and the era of racial reckoning have exposed our interconnectedness. Let us use these crises to build the relationships that support our young scholars, the adults who guide them, and the community which we collectively comprise. Time to build back our district better!
(From left: Mayor Siddiqui, myself, and Member Wilson at a Back to School Resource Fair)