Advocating for Mental Health and an Equitable Budget while Remote - Rachel for Cambridge

Advocating for Mental Health and an Equitable Budget while Remote

Dear Friends,

I hope this finds you well and safe.  Please reach out to me if you are struggling to secure support from the schools or elsewhere.  Really.

I invite you to take literally one minute to stop and breathe before reading further.  

Here is a lovely, short video to help.

As was true for our last newsletter, there are two major categories of updates: the Covid-19 remote schooling and the FY21 budget.  I expect this will be the case for the whole spring.

Let’s start with coronavirus and remote schooling.  This is a stressful, challenging time for all of us. I am hearing of students, parents and teachers who are struggling mightily - and we should expect their numbers to grow.  Teachers, administrators, non-profit partners and others are working round-the-clock, but we are not yet as coordinated as we should be. Thursday morning, the School Climate Subcommittee, which I chair, met to share efforts across the school district, Agenda for Children and Cambridge Health Alliance.  Among other topics, we discussed the tiering of mental health supports.  I have been advocating for weekly 1:1 outreach from someone at the school to each student/family, so am pleased that this is something all families can expect, along with access to age appropriate, school-based groups and online tools.  There is much more to be done to support our community through this crisis, including determining how to help our teachers sustain themselves, so stay tuned.

(Alice Cohen is the CPSD Lead Teacher for Social Emotional Learning.  The context she provided during this meeting is useful for everyone. She speaks at the 1 hour 3 minute mark.)

Beyond the immediate need we all have for mental health assistance, we have a moral imperative to use this pandemic to rethink and strengthen relationships among our educators, students and families in a manner that will close racial and socioeconomic disparities in our schools.  I elaborate on this in the column I wrote for the Cambridge Chronicle this week, linked here.

Closing racial and socioeconomic gaps and making the Cambridge Public Schools an anti-racist district is also the lens with which I analyze the Superintendent’s proposed budget.  The entire School Committee and administration wants these outcomes, and we have different perspectives on the most effective strategies for reaching them.  As I see it, transforming the district requires a substantial culture shift. Having tried top-down reforms for generations and seeing persistent disparities, we should be working collaboratively to identify policies and practices that both close gaps and dismantle white supremacy culture.  We are blessed to be in a community in which teachers, students and families are eager to do this work and are doing so. I am urging Superintendent Salim to adjust his proposed budget to sustain and expand efforts such as the Educators of Color Coalition, Equity Fellows, Building Equity Bridges and Level Up.  We need to endorse the engagement of these leaders and bolster their work so that the to-be-hired Chief Equity Officer can access a deep base of community knowledge and a dynamic, deeply committed coalition. The findings of current efforts must inform the development of district-wide anti-racist, equity and inclusion plans.

The budget timeline has, understandably, shifted due to the coronavirus.  Having heard from many families that they needed time to review the proposed budget, I proposed adding a second public hearing date and multiple other means for collecting input.  I’m pleased that the Budget Co-Chairs added a second hearing date and the Committee adopted it.  That means that public testimony is welcome this coming Tuesday, April 14th.  The form to sign up is here.  We haven’t yet adopted innovative ways for soliciting other feedback, so I encourage sending emails to the entire School Committee at SchoolCom@cpsd.us

On other fronts, I’m working with Mayor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Mallon, Member Wilson and the administration to ensure we provide meals to families over the April school vacation.  A similar team is focused on how to best engage out-of-school-time partners, and Member Weinstein’s Subcommittee on Curriculum and Achievement (of which I’m a member) will be meeting regarding expectations for remote learning next week.  

In closing, I invite your ideas for innovative ways to build community during this time.  I wish you a happy Passover, Easter, (almost) Ramadan and spring. We will get through this.

In collaboration,

Rachel

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